Top-tier soccer has been absent from "Soccer City, USA" since the NASL days, but on Thursday, MLS will enter Portland for the very first time with Chicago coming to visit.
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Portland Timbers: Portland is still winless in regard to Major League Soccer regular season. But in three matches -- win in a U.S. Open Cup play-in match vs. Chivas USA; draw in an MLS regular season match at New England; win over Oregon State University in training match Saturday -- the Timbers are heading in the right direction, and confidence is rising. And with team camaraderie coming into form, and a lot to prove as an expansion club, the Timbers are maturing at a decent rate.
Chicago Fire: Once again the Uruguayan sensation can be mentioned in this preview. With a goal in Seattle last week, Diego Chaves became the first ever player in a Fire uniform to score a goal in his first three consecutive appearances of the season. The speedy forward is not the only one to look forward to. Midfielder Marco Pappa was excellent on the wings last week and led the offensive third with dangerous runs.
Portland: After topping Chivas USA in a USOC play-in match in late March, the Timbers will move on in the qualifying stage of the tournament against the San Jose Earthquakes. It was announced the Timbers will host the Quakes on May 3 in another play-in match. Should the Timbers play the way they did against Chivas, and win, they will host their Thursday night opponent, Chicago Fire, with the winner advancing to the full tournament. If that is to be the case, this Thursday’s match will be huge in developing an edge for that match.
Chicago: We have to turn our concerns towards the defensive aspects of the Chicago Fire. The ball beat Sean Johnson twice in Seattle from what were two easily stoppable goals. Carlos de los Cobos started out with a four-man backline, yet that was not enough to withhold Seattle’s attack. The Fire have now conceded five goals in three MLS matches. If they want results, defensive aspects of the game need to tighten up.
Portland: All John Spencer’s club needs is time. As the team continues to gel and take shape, the 4-4-2 formation will eventually round into form. Defensively, the Timbers seem to already have an edge to them. After allowing five goals in the first two matches, they have buckled down to the tune of one goal in two -- including the USOC play-in match. Jake Gleeson has performed admirably in goal; defenders David Horst and Eric Brunner have helped guide the back four; and Jack Jewsbury has been picking up steam, controlling play in the midfield. All the Timbers need is the striking play, in 4-4-2, to pick up. Kenny Cooper will eventually have to live up to his expectations.
Chicago: Switching from a 3-5-2, Carlos de los Cobos started out with a 4-3-3 formation in Seattle - that coming most likely due to defensive issues. The inclusion of Gonzalo Segares in the back opens up some room for error although very little is allowed. Segares-Robinson-Anibaba-Gibbs would be the probable backline, putting Videira-Pappa-Pause in the midfield with Nyarko-Chaves-Puerari making up the three man attacking force.
Portland: Darlington Nagbe is the unofficial crown jewel of the Timbers. Nagbe, 20, was the Timbers first pick in the 2011 MLS SuperDraft, joining from the University of Akron with the second overall pick. After undergoing sports hernia surgery in early March, it appears that Nagbe could be ready to play a full match. In the 1-1 tie at New England, Nagbe played 24 minutes off the bench; in a training match vs. Oregon State University on Saturday, he played the full 90, scoring the game‘s lone goal.
Chicago: The Chicago Fire will open up Timbers’ inaugural season home opener this Thursday at JELD-WEN Field. The newly renovated stadium is bound to be a dominant force playing to the Fire’s disadvantage. No need to worry about that as the Fire are 9-3-4 against MLS expansion sides in their first year. Another fun stat is that the Fire have outscored expansion clubs by 27 goals, while conceding only 13. It will be a historic day in Portland and they will do everything for the Fire not to spoil their party. Long story short, the Fire have to double their efforts if they want to pack 3 more points before returning to Chicago.
Albanese: With over a week off to rest, heal and prepare, not to mention they have the flavor of success in their mouth of late, all things are pointing in the favor of the Timbers this weekend. Also, a midweek game, and it’s the club’s MLS regular season home opener. Chicago is coming off a hard-fought, evenly played loss in Seattle over the weekend. The Fire will be training all week leading up to the match in Portland. Expect the Timbers to jump on the Fire early and come away with a 2-0 victory.
Gubala: Being the event that it is, 1-1 will be the final score for the opener of Timbers’ inaugural MLS home match. Chaves will keep the trend going with a fourth goal for the club while Peter Lowry, with no love lost for Chicago, will net one in for Portland.
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