Monday, June 23, 2014

Sporting Get to Know Portland This Week

Sporting KC and the Portland Timbers will get to know each other quite well over the next four days. The two teams will meet twice in short order in two separate competition. Tomorrow night at Sporting Park, the two will meet up in the fourth round of this year's US Open Cup. Then on Friday the two teams will meet in Portland as MLS regular season play returns.

Portland comes into the game after a comprehensive 3-0 win in the last round over the Orlando City U23 team from the PDL. Compared to their play last season, the Timbers have struggled this year in MLS play, currently 4-4-8 in league play. They've been decent on the road though, currently with a record of 3-3-1 away from Providence Park, including wins at New York and Salt Lake. In fact the Timbers have won their last three road games in MLS play. And after coming into KC last year and picking up a 3-2 win over Sporting, Portland has to have the confidence coming into this match up.

Sporting KC continues to suffer from a depleted roster mainly through injuries and call ups. Two more names were added to that list this week. Victor Munoz picked up an injury against Minnesota in the US Open Cup and I'd be surprised if he's recovered in time for tomorrow's game. Benny Feilhaber also looks like he's not quite ready to return from his shoulder injury either. And the team also lost Christian Duke to a stress fracture, but he wouldn't have been able to compete in Tuesday's game anyway after being cap-tied with Oklahoma City. What it means is that KC's midfield is going to get a work out over the next two games. The lineup will be interesting to see how much Peter Vermes values the tournament, but how much rest he'll give what he considers his best 11. One of the players I can't see not starting tomorrow is Toni Dovale due to his red card against Houston suspending him for Friday's game.

Peterson - EPB - Ellis - Sinovic
Olum - Martinez
Dovale - Bieler - Saad 

Number to Remember - 2 - In KC's prior 18 years of existence, they've averaged two games per year in the Open Cup. This match up will be KC's second this season in the US Open Cup, right in line with their average length in the tournament. It's also the number of losses in a row KC has against Portland heading into tomorrow's game.

Key Match Up - Claudio Bieler vs Portland defense - With my expectation that Dom Dwyer is going to be rested (at least to start) ahead of Friday's game in Portland, this is a big opportunity for Bieler to try to step up. He wasn't invisible against Minnesota last week, but was less than effective in the midfield behind Dwyer. Moving back to his more natural center forward position should allow him the opportunity to get into better scoring positions.

PREDICTION - This game will really show the importance that not just Vermes but Portland coach Caleb Porter is putting on the Open Cup. With a league game just four days later, the coaches could also tip their hand on lineups for Friday as well. While I'd like to see an extended run in the cup, the upcoming schedule for KC after this round, that sees them play 3 games in 3 time zones in 7 days, and further fixture congestion with the Champions League starting should KC advance from there won't have me crying if KC is eliminated tomorrow. That said I hate seeing Sporting lose. Without a good idea of how Portland's going to come out tomorrow, it's hard to make a prediction, but I think ends their current losing streak against Portland and earns a date with Seattle or San Jose (I'm expecting Seattle).

SKC - 2 (Dovale, Saad)
POR - 1 (Wallace)

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