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Crossing the Touchline: Crew SC at the Timbers

What do you need to know before tonight’s Crew SC match in Portland

MLS: Portland Timbers at Columbus Crew SC Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Columbus Crew SC is in the middle of another rough stretch. The Black & Gold played a tough 0-0 draw on Saturday at FC Dallas and travels to take on the Portland Timbers on Wednesday night.

It’s an interesting situation. Both teams sit on 44 points on the year but Crew SC is in a much more comfortable spot, sitting in fourth place in the Eastern Conference, while the Timbers are just inside the playoff line in the Western Conference.

To get a better sense of Portland in 2018, we reached out to Stumptown Footy’s contributing editor Will Conwell to talk about the Timbers

Questions for Stumptown Footy

Massive Report: Portland sits in sixth in the Western Conference. Tell us a little bit about what’s gotten the Timbers to this point for the Crew fans who haven’t followed the West as closely.

Stumptown Footy: This year has been an interesting one for the Timbers as the team leaves the shadow of Caleb Porter and is now guided forward by former New York Cosmos boss Giovanni Savarese.

Things started out poorly, as Savarese attempted to implement his preferred style of high tempo, high pressing, disruptive play early in the season, only for the Timbers to prove themselves to be fundamentally incapable of playing that style.

It took six games and a drastic change in approach for the Timbers to get their first win, but once the team changed over from their new direction into a set-up that emphasized deep, organized defending and gave space for their attacking group to hit out on the counter the Timbers appeared to have found their preferred style. Now on the same page and looking increasingly difficult to break down, that approach would carry the Timbers to fifteen straight games without a loss.

Eventually, however, fixture congestion and adjustments from their opponents seem to have caught up to the Timbers. Teams that sit back and hit the Timbers on the break have proven to be unfortunately effective at pulling them out of their defensive shell, while the attacking trio of Diego Valeri, Sebastian Blanco, and Samuel Armenteros have all put in significant minutes this season and have made themselves integral to the Timbers attack, making it it difficult for Savarese to rest any of the three.

And that brings us up to present. The Timbers got it wrong, then got it right, and now seem to be the victims of their own success.

MR: Both teams played on Saturday night. How do you think the quick turn around will impact this game? Do you expect much squad rotation?

StF: The Timbers rolled out a lineup for Saturday’s match against the Houston that was pre-rotated in preparation for their return home on Wednesday. Armenteros, Andy Polo, Jorge Villafana, and Liam Ridgewell were all either left out of the XI or out of the 18 entirely, while young players like Cristhian Paredes, Jeremy Ebobisse, and Julio Cascante were given the start.

It didn’t work out great. Although the Timbers have shown some capacity to perform despite rotating players in and out of the lineup this year, they seem to have lost something with this sort of mass rotation, particularly without first choice keeper Jeff Attinella there to help keep the side organized on defense.

Still, even the limited rotation will certainly help the Timbers to rebound from what was a pretty disappointing collapse against the Dynamo on Saturday. Bringing in players less burdened by the result, with fresh legs and the home crowd behind them, should provide a good lift for the Timbers.

MR: What are the expectations for the Timbers over the final six games of the regular season and, assuming the team makes it, how far do you think this team can go in the playoffs?

StF: Starting with the Crew, the Timbers do not have an easy run to the end of the season. Of their six remaining games, five are against playoff teams and the one that is not is on the road against a Minnesota side that gave them some serious difficulties in their first meeting earlier this year.

So, with the side currently sitting just above the red line in an always-competitive Western Conference, there is no guarantee that the Timbers will make the playoffs. As recently as two weeks ago the Timbers looked all but assured of a post-season berth, but the Seattle Sounders’ astounding winning streak, coupled with a Vancouver Whitecaps resurgence, has left the Timbers looking like they might just stumble their way out of the race.

All this has meant that a realignment of priorities are in order. The Timbers are no longer shooting for a bye -- and even a home play-in game feels pretty optimistic right now, they are simply looking to survive the final two months of the season.