Two of the league’s most in-form teams will be at Allianz Field this weekend for a matinee matchup when Minnesota United take on the Portland Timbers. The Loons current unbeaten streak sits at six, while the Timbers boast a seven-game streak of their own. On top of two streaks being at stake, MNUFC will be seeking revenge for their early playoff exit at the hands of the Timbers last season.

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The Occasion: MLS Week 23; Game No. 23; Home Game No. 12

The Opponent: Portland Timbers

Head-to-Head:

Portland and Minnesota United have met 11 times, with the Loons accumulating a favorable 7-3-1 record. Last time they met was in the MLS Playoffs last season, when the Timbers moved on with a 3-1 win to end MNUFC’s season. This is the first matchup between the two this season, with the reverse fixture scheduled to take place on September 10 in Portland. 

Their Run of Form: W-D-W-D-W

Week 18 – 2-1 W vs. Houston Dynamo FC (2 goals from Santiago Moreno)

Week 19 – 2-2 D at Nashville SC (goals from Dairon Asprilla and Jaroslaw Niezgoda)

Week 20 – 3-0 W at Seattle Sounders (goals from Jaroslaw Niezgoda, Santiago Moreno, and Dairon Asprilla)

Week 21 – 1-1 D vs. Vancouver Whitecaps (goal from Felipe Mora)

Week 22 – 2-1 W vs. San Jose Earthquakes (goals from Jaroslaw Niezgoda and Dairon Asprilla)

Much like the Loons, Portland find themselves in the midst of an impressive unbeaten streak. Their last loss was in May against Inter Miami, while they have earned four wins and three draws since then. They’ve managed to score in each of their last eight games and appear to have found the kind of rhythm and grit that are synonymous with the Portland Timbers. When this MLS giant is firing on all cylinders like they are now, the rest of the league needs to watch out.

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Last Season

In 2021, Minnesota United played both a home and an away fixture against the Timbers during the regular season. Both games ended with MNUFC victories, though they provided plenty of excitement.

The first match started with a bang, as Adrien Hunou found the net in just the second minute of action. Clinical passing from the Loons saw them tear through the Portland defense, leading to Franco Fragapane laying the ball across the six for an easy finish from the Frenchman. Portland put forth a mighty comeback effort, registering 22 shots before full time. Despite their best efforts, the Loons escaped Oregon with a 1-0 win and all three points.

When the second match came around, the storyline was different, though the result was familiar. A Felipe Mora goal in the 10th minute put the Timbers ahead early. After accumulating 28 shots and maintaining nearly 60% possession, the Loons powered to a late comeback win behind a goal from Chase Gasper and Robin Lod’s 85th minute winner.

After two exciting battles in the regular season, the real test came in the first round of the 2021 MLS Cup Playoffs. Per usual, there was an early goal in this one, as MNUFC went up 1-0 following a Franco Fragapane goal in the 11th minute. However, this time, Portland refused to fall prey to the same old story. With a goal just before and immediately following the half, the Timbers flipped the script. In the 66th minute, Sebastián Blanco scored his second of the game to put his team up 3-1. Portland got the win when it mattered most.

That was then, this is now

The Portland Timbers are one of the oldest teams in the league. While they weren’t part of the original 10 MLS teams, the Timbers have existed in various leagues on-and-off since 1975, when they began playing in the NASL. Following the league’s collapse, Portland’s team cycled through several attempted leagues before finding their way to USL for nine seasons, ultimately being awarded a spot in MLS in 2009. They began MLS play in the 2011 season, and it’s been an impressive run the whole way. 

In just 11 full MLS seasons, the Timbers have gone to three MLS Cups, winning the 2015 edition. They’ve only failed to make the playoffs in four seasons, with 2011 and 2012 being the only consecutive seasons without playoff soccer. MLS legend Diego Valeri helped to put this team firmly on the map, while their strong supporters have shown that MLS executives made a good choice when they granted the city a team in 2009. 

No matter what the circumstances, this is a team that can’t be counted out. Whether they’re reviving the team when a league collapses or fighting to recover lost ground in the playoff race, the Portland Timbers find a way to get things done more often than not. Manager Giovanni Savarese has been around since the 2017 season, making the playoffs each year and bringing the team to two MLS Cups. While they are currently sitting in eighth place, don’t sleep on this team.

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The Attack

Portland have scored an impressive 35 goals this season from 10 different goal scorers. Jaroslaw Niezgoda leads the team with 8 goals this season, while seven players have contributed more than one goal thus far. Argentinian winger Sebastian Blanco has been fantastic this year, contributing six assists and three goals of his own. Attacking has not been an issue for this team, as they average 1.6 goals per game.

Typically, the Timbers line up in a 4-2-3-1 formation. Niezgoda leads the line, with Santiago Moreno, Blanco, and Yimmi Chara acting as the bank of three just behind him. This formation allows the team to stay compact and close when necessary, creating easy passing lanes and allowing the flexibility to break wide when a fullback can join the attack. 

Other players to watch out for include Dairon Asprilla (5 goals this season) and Felipe Mora. Regardless of who gets the start, Portland will have goals waiting on the bench. MNUFC’s defense will have a tough task on their hands come Saturday.

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The Defense

On the other side of the field, the Timbers have found a groove recently. Across the season, they have averaged 1.4 goals conceded each game. However, in their last seven games, they have allowed just six goals. Something is clearly starting to click.

A huge part of Portland’s defense rests on the shoulders of their double pivot in the midfield. Diego Chara and Christian Paredes have gotten things under control as of late, helping center backs Larrys Mabiala and Dario Zuparic to clean up the center of the field.

Out wide, Josecarlos Van Rankin has provided stability in the back, but not much going forward. Likewise, Claudio Bravo (no, not the Chilean goalkeeper) has done the same as of late. Aside from some good crosses, the two fullbacks have taken up a more reserved role, and it appears to be working for the team.

Final Thought

With both of these teams playing fantastic soccer recently, this game is all but guaranteed to be one of MLS’ best matches this week. A surging Minnesota will have to try to cope with a long list of injuries, a tall order even when you aren’t playing one of the league’s hottest teams. On top of that, there’s a bit of history here. For any Loons who were around for last year’s playoff loss, there will surely be an added edge to this game, as if this one needed anything else to spice it up.

MATCH INFO

Minnesota United FC v. Portland Timbers

Allianz Field | St. Paul, Minnesota

07.30.22 | MLS Game 23

2:00 pm CT (ABC, ESPN Deportes, 1500 ESPN)