By Dave Johnson
DC United and the Portland Timbers are both dealing with a congested fixture list and the loss of a key offensive player. That’s where the similarities end as United and the Timbers get set to meet Wednesday in Portland.
United and the Timers are both in the middle of a stretch of three games in eight days. Fabian Espindola, United’s leading scorer in 2014, is expected to miss a fifth straight game with a knee injury. For the Timbers playmaker Diego Valeri, who had 11 goals and 14 assists last season, suffered an ankle injury Saturday in Toronto.
The Timbers paid for a slow start last season and missed the playoffs. After Saturday’s 1-0 defeat in Toronto the Timbers are tied for dead last in the Western Conference with just 13 points from 12 matches—the same point total after 12 games year.
United earned a 1-1 tie with mixed emotions Saturday at New England. Jairo Arrieta provided the second-half equalizer that allowed United to snare the point in the standings and maintain first place ahead of the Revolution. Still United wanted more with the Revolution reduced to nine men for most of the second half.
- Turning opportunity into success. While United is enjoying life at the top of the Eastern Conference, it has been less than convincing in attack without Fabian Espindola. It took the introduction of Taylor Kemp at left back, and with the Revolution down to nine-men, for United to become more threatening in Saturday’s match. Over the last two games United has managed only one shot on target. There is an opportunity against Portland for someone to fill the attacking void. With a home game against Philadelphia ahead on Saturday head coach Ben Olsen will likely use different options. The match against the Timbers offers the opportunity for a second consecutive start for Conor Doyle. Perhaps Arrieta, who came on as a substitute against New England, joins Doyle as forwards in the first eleven. This would allow Doyle to play deeper which he often did against New England. Markus Halsti who played 80 minutes against Philadelphia in the center of midfield might be used again and his quality in distribution will be needed to help United maintain possession and find rhythm on offense. Miguel Aguilar also started against Philadelphia and could find his way back on the field in Portland. With a tight schedule and banged up bodies, there is an opportunity in Portland for several United players to seize the moment.
- Dealing with Portland’s sense of urgency. The need for a sense of urgency is something being openly discussed around the Timbers. Head coach Caleb Porter brought it up Saturday in Toronto as for the second consecutive game the Timbers conceded a goal in the opening 10 minutes. While the Timbers have a Western Conference game this weekend against Colorado, they cannot afford to lose at home to United and turn a slow start into a slide. Designated player and forward Fanendo Adi scored three goals in the Timbers first four matches, but he has only scored once since.