Portland Timbers are a team we've seen repeatedly in the last few months, and as a result, we might be tempted to think they've remained static since we last met. Michael Orr of SB Nation blog Stumptown Footy talks to us about how they've changed and how they've stayed the same.
How is the team different from our other meetings?
Orr: Let's start with what's different for the Portland Timbers. Here are some of the players you are very unlikely to see start against Real Salt Lake on Sunday: Ryan Miller, Alvas Powell, Ben Zemanski, Rauwshan McKenzie or Andrew Jean-Baptiste. Each of those players started at least one of the four previous games against RSL in the league or the Open Cup but have been relegated to substitute roles, removed from the game day 18 or in Miller case, injured for the season. While it's not an excuse for the Timbers' record against RSL this season, some of the starting line-ups employed by Caleb Porter have been the weakest available all year. In particular, the three games played between August 7 and 30 represent the worst stretch of the season for Portland, beyond just the results against Salt Lake. One of the Timbers' hallmarks over the final two months of the season and into the playoffs has been a stout defense which has yielded a surprisingly small number of goals. Perhaps it's no coincidence that the players listed above are all defenders and were contributing factors in Portland giving up nine goals in the first three meetings of the season. One final thing, the Timbers absolutely will not playing playing three-at-the-back as they did in the 4-2 in Sandy.
How is the team the same from our other meetings?
Orr: So then what is the same? Most of the starting XI remains in tact on the offensive side. Importantly, the Timbers brought Will Johnson back into the fold after a series of international appearances and mild to serious injuries kept him out of the line-up for most of the late summer. That will be different from the first three match-ups but similar to the most recent, October 19's 0-0 at Jeld-Wen Field. In fact, nine of the starting XI from that game are likely to start again on Sunday with the other two, Kalif Alhassan and Jose Valencia pretty much locks to come on as substitutes at some point. Very much like that game, the Timbers will be a more cautious version of the high pressure, high octane team that tried to outsmart and outrun Salt Lake earlier in the year. While goals should be expected on Sunday, the atmosphere and intensity that surrounded the scoreless draw won't be hard to replicate given the stakes at this level of the playoffs. From a Portland perspective it's easy to want the first three games forgotten when comparing the two teams but it is absolutely fair to say that the Timbers of October 19 are a much closer representation of how the club is currently constituted.