1. Obviously, it hasn't been a great spell of games for Portland. What will it take to pull yourselves out of the rut you're in now?
For the Timbers, it is all about stabilizing the back line and limiting their mistakes.
Although the Timbers' attack has cooled off following its red-hot start to the season, the combination of Diego Valeri, Fanendo Adi, Darlington Nagbe, and Sebastian Blanco possess enough raw talent to suffer through a run of absences -- Nagbe is currently away with the USMNT for the remainder of the Gold Cup -- and poor form and still score eight goals in their last five games. While the West's most prolific attack is currently scoring at only a slightly above average rate, it is hard to put the Timbers' current struggles on them.
Of course, the Timbers have failed to win any of their last five games, going 0-2-3 during that period.
It does not help that during that same period the Timbers have played eleven different players in their back six, none of whom have played more than three matches in that period, and none of whom are team captain and defensive linchpin Liam Ridgewell, whose recent injury issues have been a significant cause for concern and consternation among Timbers fans. Even No. 1 keeper Jake Gleeson missed out on a match, forcing the Timbers to turn to former RSL back up Jeff Attinella in the side's 3-2 road loss to Minnesota United.
But, despite all the injuries and all the absences, the Timbers have looked aggravatingly close to putting it all together. Most recently, in the side's 2-2 draw against the Chicago Fire the Timbers put together an extremely strong and organized defensive showing, only to be undone by two crucial mistakes leading to the two Fire goals. The mistakes, while rarities in the match, were the Timbers undoing, and it is hard not to think that defensive group with some level of consistency and stability would not have cut out at least one of them.
2. How will international absences affect your lineup? Is that a bigger deal than injuries right now?
With all the players coming and going for the Timbers, it is hard to separate the injuries from the absences. Currently the Timbers are without Darlington Nagbe, David Guzman, Alvas Powell, and Darren Mattocks due to call ups -- that is two or three starters depending on how you feel about Powell, as well as the Timbers' first choice player off the bench in Mattocks. At the same time, the Timbers are without Liam Ridgewell, Gbenga Arokoyo, Amobi Okugo, and Diego Chara due to injuries -- that is another three starters, even though Arokoyo never got the chance to prove himself before going down with a ruptured Achilles tendon. Oh, and let's not forget new arrival Larrys Mabiala who is listed as questionable despite being neither injured nor called up.
Chara might be back to play alongside Ben Zemanski or Lawrence Olum in the midfield, and Mabiala might be ready to partner Roy Miller at center back, but no matter what their status is, this is yet another Timbers lineup that is going to have a distinctly patchwork feel to it.
All of that bring us back to the conclusion of question number one: there are more changes coming to the Timbers' lineup this week, next week, and the week after. The stability that Timbers fans crave -- the sort of thing that spurred the Timbers toward their playoff run in 2015 and defined the side's best ever year in 2013 -- is not going to come on a squad-wide level; at least not on Wednesday. That means that the Timbers are going to need a player to step up and be their anchor in the coming weeks. Hopefully Mabiala can step in and bring something new to the lineup, or Chara can make his return to the lineup in triumphant, smothering style, or Fanendo Adi can put the Timbers on his broad shoulders and score the team's first ever hat-trick in league play.
Whether it is one player or all of them, the Timbers need to step up in the face of all these absences, no matter what the cause.
3. What gives you the most pause for thought about RSL and your chances on Wednesday?
Watching the RSL first team's limited run out against Manchester United on Monday was an immediate reminder that when they are on the attacking group that RSL can field is extremely tricky and extremely talented. Maybe no such reminder should have been necessary after RSL's recent demolition of the LA Galaxy to the tune of 6-2, but the possibility of them going off again against a Timbers defense that has been the team's weak point this year is definitely a scary one.
If the Timbers can take the game to RSL, like they did for 95% of the match against the Fire, then the Timbers should be in a good position to break their winless streak. However, if the Timbers give up the sort of mistakes that a talented side can capitalize on, like they did in that other 5% of their last match, then RSL will have a pretty good chance of knocking the Timbers down below the red line on points per game, a spot that the side have not inhabited since the start of the season.
Lineup (4-2-3-1): Gleeson; Vytas, Miller, Mabiala, Valentin; Zemanski, Chara; Blanco, Valeri, Asprilla; Adi