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Massive Scouting Report: Portland Timbers

Not having a home game until June, Portland limps into Columbus for another away match Saturday night.

MLS: Portland Timbers at Columbus Crew SC Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

Last week’s matchup against the Montreal Impact didn’t produce the end result many were looking for, but that doesn’t have Columbus Crew SC head coach Caleb Porter and his team down in the dumps as spirts remained high for the Black & Gold this week.

The Crew head coach identified 15 passages of play throughout last Saturday’s match that he defined as “leading to a clear chance or led to a clear position where it should have created a clear chance.” Unfortunately, Columbus couldn’t convert. But despite the result on the scoreboard, the team remains confident and focused heading into this week’s matchup against the Portland Timbers.

It’s been a dreadful start to the 2019 season for the Timbers and head coach Giovanni Savarese. It’s difficult to say whether its poor form or the fact that Portland doesn’t have a home game coming until June 1, when renovations are completed on Providence Park.

Regardless of the reason, members of Timbers Army may want to begin looking for the panic button because their beloved club hasn’t claimed a point in MLS competition since a 3-3 draw opening day against the Colorado Rapids.

Despite their slow start, Portland comes into Columbus hungry and ready for a win. Let’s take a look at what the Crew can expect from the Timbers on Saturday inside MAPFRE Stadium.

Timbers at a glance

Form: L-L-L-L

Leading Scorer: Jeremy Ebobisse (2)

Assists Leader: Diego Valeri (3)

How they play

Despite lining up in a 5-3-2 formation two of its last three matches, it’s likely that Portland will matchup against Columbus in a traditional 4-2-3-1 with some subtle tweaks. Where the attack varies is that Diego Valeri frequently moves alongside Jeremy Ebobisse and joins him as a second striker, while David Guzman or Sebastian Blanco moves to the No. 10 role.

The trio combines with winger Dairon Asprilla and the four players attempt to unlock the opposing defense with various passing combinations in an effort to create overloads on the right side of the pitch. This combination is also possible on the left with the assistance of Jorge Villafana or Zarek Valentin.

A proper series of one-touch passing unlocks the defense and allows Portland an easy attempt on goal and many times they convert.

Here’s an example of when it works:

Argentina’s Finest

Entering his seventh season in Major League Soccer, Diego Valeri continues to play at a high level for the Timbers. Like his Black & Gold counterpart and fellow countryman Federico Higuain, Valeri contributes a lot to the Portland attack. Crew head coach Caleb Porter broke down the similarities and difference between the two players this week.

“Both are top professionals, good guys, (and have) extremely good character,” Porter said of the midfielders. “So I’d say the big difference is the way they move around. Pipa’s a guy that helps us keep the ball and Valeri’s almost more of a second forward in that regard and does most of his work in that final third.

”(Valeri’s) not a guy that comes in the middle third or the back third to help you start attacks or keep the ball and create overloads. That’s where as a classic 10, Pipa is known a little more as a classic playmaking 10, Valeri is more of a scoring final-third type 10. For me, being able to work with two of the best 10s in the league is a real blessing and maybe why I have a few wins.”

How the Crew win

The Timbers have allowed the second-most goals in the league so far this season. Saturday’s match could provide an opportunity to give some much-needed confidence to the wingers and allow the Black & Gold to score in bunches.

Columbus should look to begin their attack wide on either side of the penalty box with runners taking a spot on the near post, far post, and at the top of the six-yard box. Portland hasn’t demonstrated a proficiency in clearing the ball in these tight spaces, struggling with sliding and picking up the open man if a defender goes in for a tackle.

If the Black & Gold can pass quickly to feet, the Timbers defense will be slow to recover, leaving goalkeeper Jeff Attinella on an island and creating some very easy opportunities for Columbus to capitalize and take the win.