On the face of it, it doesn't look good for the Portland Timbers against the Houston Dynamo this Saturday, April 6, at Jeld-Wen Field.

The Timbers, with the worst defense in the league—with eight goals allowed in four games—will be facing off against a Dynamo offense that averages two goals per game.

The teams’ records are distorted mirrors of each other. Draw-happy Portland stands at 0-1-3, third from the bottom of its conference. The Dynamo sit at 3-1-0 and is a strong contender for its conference lead behind surging Montreal—who accounted for the Timbers' only loss this year, a 2-1 defeat at home March 9.

But the Dynamo—in a syndrome familiar to many Timbers fans—have been abysmal on the road even while nursing the league’s longest unbeaten home-game streak, at 34 consecutive games. Last year’s team was 3-5-9 on the road, and all of their victories this year have come at home, while their only loss was on the road, against FC Dallas on March 17.

The Dynamo have indicated this morning they’ll be down one of their star players. Will Bruin, their star striker, who’s only been on the boards once this year but scored 12 in the previous season, will be out with a hamstring injury. In his absence, Houston will likely draw back from its 4-2-3-1 offense into a traditional, possession-oriented 4-3-3. 

These factors offer the Timbers, perhaps, a fighting chance. But what has remained constant so far in the Timbers’ games so far is a consistent difficulty holding up its backfield against teams that are actively on the attack. The team has gone down early in each of its four games so far—fighting back to a draw in three of these.

Portland has been highly effective finding opportunities against teams that are sitting back on their heels in protective mode after early strikes, but not in preventing early goals. A blistering early attack and up-field defensive pressure from possession-oriented Houston seem almost assured in this game as well: The Dynamo are particularly skilled at keeping a game in the other team’s back half, an area where Portland has not shown particular comfort.

Look especially to the right side for the Dynamo’s attack. Oscar Boniek Garcia on the right attacking wing is a strong defensive counter attacker—a category of player that has proven especially deadly against this Timbers defense—while Kofi Sarkodie in the right midfield and right-side defender Corey Ashe have also shown strong offensive support. Expect Michael Harrington on the Timbers’ side to face a rough duel.

This match will be a difficult trial for a Timbers team that has shown mettle in fighting back to draws but not in taking control of games in the early minutes. The question is whether Portland can capitalize on Houston’s road woes and missing striker to eke out a desperately needed home victory.