Columbus Crew SC finally got their first win of 2017, but now face their toughest test of the year as the Portland Timbers come to MAPFRE Stadium. The visitors are perfect on the year with a 3-0-0 record after defeating Minnesota, the Galaxy, and the Dynamo behind an outstanding offense lead by Fanendo Adi and Diego Valeri.
The Timbers have battered defenses behind a league second 10 goals while only giving up three on the year. Valeri has four goals and two assists while battering ram Adi has chipped in with three more goals. The powerhouse offense will be without Darlington Nagbe who has chipped in two assists while providing assured possession in traffic.
Crew SC finally got that first win last week against a punchless D.C. United team, getting a shutout in the process. The talk was of the 3-4-2-1 that head coach Gregg Berhalter deployed and the performance of Alex Crognale. Tonight, the return of Jonathan Mensah may prompt a switch back to the 4-2-3-1 as the team tries to cope with the busy Portland midfield.
While Jonathan returns, Columbus will be without Jukka Raitala at left back. Waylon Francis is close to fitness, but Connor Maloney and Hector Jimenez may be deputized. Whoever steps in will have to face an attack that likes to play direct and fast. Those Crew SC wingbacks will have to pay extra attention to defensive duties or risked getting bypassed.
Keys to the Match
The Fill-in: At left back, Jukka Raitala is on international duty and Waylon Francis is the likely replacement. Francis has the skill, but how game fit will he be after a long injury layoff and only matches against college and USL teams to get ready.
Three vs. Four: Further along the backline, Jonathan Mensah will be available and is a near lock into the lineup. The other big defensive question is will he be flanked by another centerback or a pair. Berhalter said the formation is opponent specific and Portland uses counterattacking, but Berhalter may prefer an extra man on Adi.
Artur’s Midfield Matchup: Even without midfield cog Darlington Nagbe, the Timbers have more than enough firepower to have a top tier group in MLS. Sebastian Blanco and Diego Chara are the perfect compliment for Diego Valeri. That puts a lot of pressure on Wil Trapp and especially Artur. The young Brazilian hasn’t faced a midfield like Portland in his short MLS career and he’ll be asked to step up big.
How to Watch
Date/Time: Saturday March 25th, 7:30 p.m. ET
Venue: MAPFRE Stadium (Columbus, Ohio)
Watch: The CW Columbus, Spectrum Sports, BCSN2 (Channel Guide)
Stream: MLS Live
Listen: CD102.5 FM (English) La Mega 103.1 FM (Spanish)