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Massive Scouting Report: Portland Timbers

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Breaking down Saturday’s MLS Cup rematch at MAPFRE Stadium.

MLS: Columbus Crew SC at D.C. United Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Columbus Crew SC and the Portland Timbers clash at MAPFRE Stadium on Saturday as both look to build off their prior week’s success. Columbus was victorious against D.C. United, 2-0. Ola Kamara and Federico Higuain both found the scoresheet as Crew SC improved to 1-1-1 on the season.

This week’s opponent, the Portland Timbers, were involved in a slugfest with Columbus’ week two opposition, the Houston Dynamo. Both teams earned penalties early in the match on controversial handball calls from referee Allen Chapman. Houston enjoyed a brief halftime lead before being outclassed by the Timbers, who created a high number of scoring chances as they maintained 59 percent possession throughout the match.

The Timbers demonstrated tremendous skill in the midfield as their trio of Sebastian Blanco, Diego Valeri, and Lakewood, Ohio native Darlington Nagbe acted as a catalyst for the offense. They created numerous goal scoring opportunities through the individual skill of the midfield. Portland has scored 10 goals and conceded only 3 so far this season.

Saturday will be a day of mixed emotions for Black & Gold fans. This will be the first time that the Timbers have come to town since the dreaded 2015 MLS Cup Final. No doubt Columbus and its fans will look to exercise the demons that haunt MAPFRE ever since that dreaded day even though both clubs have changed since then. Let’s take a look at what you can expect from Portland on Saturday.

The Maestro

Minnesota United FC  v Portland Timbers Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images

Valeri is revered as the heartbeat behind the Timbers offense. As Valeri goes, so does Portland. He has been absolutely lights out this season tallying four goals in the 2017 campaign. Through four seasons in Major League Soccer (116 matches) Diego Valeri had scored zero goals with his head. In 2017, he has remarkably has two.

The Timbers will call on Valeri and his fellow countryman, Blanco, as they look to compensate for the absence of Nagbe in the midfield due to an international call-up for the United States.

Despite Nagbe’s absence look for Valeri to push forward in the final third to feed striker Fanendo Adi.

For Club and For Country

2015 MLS Cup - Portland Timbers v Columbus Crew SC

When these two Argentines get together on the pitch, great things happen. Both players bring out the best in one another and rise to the occasion to lead their respective teams. Valeri and Crew SC’s Federico Higuain provide a visible lift to their teams, as they are behind the controls of their offenses. This will be a key matchup to watch on Saturday. Whoever is the first to step up and establish control of the match will undoubtedly have great success in the match.

Awesome Adi

Adi has come out of the blocks on fire this season. He has three goals so far and tortured opposing backlines. The target forward gave Minnesota United a baptism-by-fire by scoring two quick goals in stoppage time of the their first match to only make a bad situation worse for the Loons.

Adi is one goal away from becoming the Portland all-time leading scorer, due in large part to being the perfect blend of strength and agility that can be a real threat as an MLS offensive player. However, he can be a bit suspect and awkward when he plays with the ball at his feet for an extended period of time.

Adi generally makes his money in the air by getting consistent service from Nagbe and Valeri, among others. It will be intriguing to see how he responds to Nagbe’s absence. The Black & Gold will look to keep Adi from receiving balls near the goal by attempting to deny service to the striker.

Counter Attack

So far this season it appears that Portland’s offense thrives on a good counter attack and this is thanks to quick disbursement from the back by Timbers goalkeeper Jake Gleeson. Portland then works the ball up through a quick sequence of short passes. Occasionally they try to catch the opposition off balance by playing a long through-ball to Adi or Valeri. They will try to work the ball in by getting the ball in from the flanks or unleashing a shot from distance.

Defense

There were a lot of questions about the Timber’s defense coming into this season. Chief among them was if veteran Nat Borchers would return after tearing his ACL. Borchers was forced into retirement, leaving a hole in Portland’s backline that has been occupied by veteran journeyman Lawrence Olum.

The health and disciplinary issues of Liam Ridgewell have been documented. Ridgewell has only appeared in one match for the Timbers this season and looks poised to miss the match versus Columbus due to injury. In Portland’s three matches, head coach Caleb Porter has trotted out three different lineups to protect Gleeson. This could be a spot that Crew SC could look to exploit.

One of the staples of the Timbers defense is midfielder Diego Chara. The Columbian, who shields the back four a bit further up the field, is pesky and an nuisance for the opposition. Chara is a master at gamesmanship and can borderline infuriate his competition quickly. Just ask the LA Galaxy. If Crew SC can limit his involvement in the match it only bodes well for them.

How Crew SC Win

This game will offer a very good early-season test for Columbus and could act as a make or break game. Portland are the class of the Western Conference and are only being outscored by upstart Atlanta United. The Black & Gold will have to be dialed in on both sides of the ball from the moment they hear the opening whistle.

Regardless of what formation Crew SC appear in, the team will have to play compact and force Portland to play the ball to the wings. This is where Designated Player Jonathan Mensah will be called into action against Adi. Expect these two to have some great aerial battles in this match.

The Timbers have a nasty tendency this season of fouling in dangerous areas. If Higuain can maintain possession in the final third and draw some fouls, Columbus will have the opportunity to create quality scoring chances. Portland has also found it difficult to defend set pieces this season, so Crew SC could be especially dangerous on restarts and get on the scoreboard in that way.

It is imperative that the Black & Gold penetrate the Timbers’ midfield and get to the backline quickly. Since they are prone to fouling, look for Columbus to get after the defensive pairing of Roy Miller and Zarek Valentin/Marco Farfan. This combination on the left of the defense will be the most suspect since they have been a rather makeshift backline this season.

This will be a hard-fought and gritty affair between these two sides. After last week’s performance in D.C., and finally seeing Pipa hit the scoresheet, this could be the game Crew SC sets course for the top of the table. If Columbus can come away with points in this affair, that will only allow the team’s confidence to grow because waiting in the wings are a very hungry Orlando City team.

The game between the Black & Gold and the Timbers kicks off at 7:30 p.m. ET on Saturday night.