The Portland Timbers will be hosting Sporting Kansas City on Thursday for the first time in Major League Soccer (MLS) Cup Playoff history.
Fast pace attacking creative soccer will be on display at Providence Park when Portland faces Kansas City in the Knockout Stage. Both clubs love to run up and down the field and at defenders constantly. Moving the ball left to right, making sure every inch on the field has been used.
The Timbers and Sporting have playmakers that are not afraid to challenge an opponent or to attempt the impossible when a play seems dead.
Portland offense is powered by two engines: Darlington Nagbe and Diego Valeri. When the two are clicking the Timbers offense moves at a rapid pace and can easily dismantle a team.
Their best example was their 5-2 comeback victory against the Los Angeles Galaxy at the StubHub Center on October 18th. Valeri and Nagbe guided the Timbers to three unanswered goals after going falling behind in the first half. These two will need to be the driving force that leads Portland to a potential victory.
KC has a few options themselves in the midfield. There is U.S. international Graham Zusi, Soni Mustivar or someone else who can be the difference maker. However, make no mistake about it, Benny Feilhaber runs the offense.
He expresses his imagination with the ball at blinding speed and can navigate through defenses easily. He finished tied in second with 15 assists, just one away from first place, Toronto FC’s Sebastian Giovinco. It is not guaranteed whether Feilhaber will start the game on Thursday, according to Kansas City’s head coach Peter Vermes.
In KC’s last game of the season, Feilhaber entered the game as a sub and changed the outcome of the match. It was his assist that led to Dominic Dwyer’s winning goal that clinched their spot into the postseason. So make no mistake about it whether he starts or not he will impact the game one or another.
Yes, their midfield brings excitement to the game by watching them execute plays. However, these two clubs are not afraid to pull the trigger. The Timbers and Sporting combined for 891 shots this season. Portland led the league by firing 486 shots in 34 matches.
Timbers’ forward Fanendo Adi and KC’s strikers Dwyer and Krisztián Németh can easily change the momentum for their respective clubs in any given moment. The three of them added up to 38 out of the 89 goals Sporting and Portland combined for.
However, the forwards of the Timbers and Sporting are not the only players that can shake up the score. Portland’s midfielders have put the ball in the net 13 times; Nagbe led the way with five. In the last two games of the regular season Nagbe scored three of his goals.
Kansas City’s playmakers are just as lethal as the Timbers. They have notched 16 goals, with Feilhaber scoring 10 of them.
Now the real question is with two clubs who love to attack and are good at it, what will separate them in the end? Their defenses will be the sole reason of why either club moves on.
The Timbers defense has been stingy to say the least by only giving up 39 goals. They finished as one of the five clubs that conceded 39 times or less in the regular season.
In the cozy confides of Providence Park, Portland only allowed 18 goals in 17 home matches. Ghanaian international and Timbers goalie Adam Larsen Kwarasey recorded eight of his 13 shutouts at Providence Park. Kwarasey finished the MLS season tied in first in shutouts with Vancouver Whitecaps FC goalie David Ousted.
However, the Ghanaian keeper and his defenders have already faced KC three times this season. Yes, they failed to record a victory against them, but Sporting only managed to score one time. Kwarasey will be confident heading into this match, knowing that in the 270 minutes he faced KC’s offense he only gave up one goal.
Regardless, Portland’s goalie needs to be reliable if the Timbers want to win this match. They will need midfielder Diego Chará to be a menace. The Colombian native only job is to disrupt Kansas City and prevent them from developing any sort of rhythm.
However, if the Timbers defense is confident about facing KC, then U.S. international center back and captain of Sporting, Matt Besler and company are ecstatic. Portland has failed to score on Kansas City in three different occasions. Two of those matches were at Providence Park.
Regardless, of how strong the Timbers defense is, there is one advantage KC has over Portland, and that is championship experience. In 2013, KC won their second MLS Cup Final 7-6 in penalties against Real Salt Lake. Fourteen of the 30 man roster of that season is still on the team.
However, the more impressive part is that seven out of the starters who played in that final are still in the starting eleven. That list includes: Feilhaber, Zusi, Dwyer, Besler, midfielder Paulo Nagamura, defenders Chance Myers and Seth Sinovic. Not to forget that Vermes is still managing the team.
The Timbers only have three players out of the current 27 man roster with MLS Cup experience. Nat Borchers and Will Johnson both won the title with RSL in 2009 and Borchers was on the squad that lost to SKC in 2013. Jack Jewsbury was a part of the Kansas City Wizard team that lost to D.C. United 3-2 in 2004.
However, only two of the three players will be available for head coach Caleb Porter on Thursday. Johnson will most likely not be playing in this match since he is recovering from a minor surgery that he had on Oct. the 7th. The Canadian international had two screws removed from his right tibia.
Regardless of the amount of veterans Sporting has for this match, anything can happen in a knockout game.
Prediction: Portland 3-1 Sporting Kansas City
Nagbe has been on fire as of late. He has carried his club into the playoffs and with his confidence so high he will continue to lead the way for the Timbers. Also with the match at home, the Timbers Army will be in full force and ready to support their team.