Portland Timbers vs. Minnesota United FC
Providence Park | Portland, Oregon
5.20.2023 | MLS Week No. 14 | MLS Game 13
9:30 p.m. CT (Exclusively on AppleTV’s MLS Season Pass)
It’s another quick turnaround for the Loons as they head to Oregon for a date with the Timbers this Saturday. Matches are coming thick and fast, with midweek matchups making everyone’s schedule all the more crowded. With the intensity ramping up, MNUFC will need to dig deep and utilize the whole squad if they want to build on Wednesday night’s victory over the Dynamo and rediscover their early-season road form. A talented Portland squad is waiting at Providence Park; this weekend’s match is going to be anything but easy.
Minnesota United -
Run of Form: D-L-W-L-W
Wednesday’s win against Houston was a much-needed pressure release for the Loons. Despite bits and pieces of promising play in previous games, the Black and Blue were stuck in a rut, incapable of connecting all of the dots. The effort was always there, but the devil was in the details. A few too many errant passes, a couple of shots not taken, and a couple of momentary lapses in concentration put the Loons on a six-game winless streak in league play, nullifying the cushion they earned from their fast start to 2023. However, some exhilarating U.S. Open Cup action seemed to right the ship, with their 3-3 shootout thriller against Philadelphia breathing life into MNUFC once more. An off night in Kansas City saw some costly mistakes, but the offensive production in their midweek display at home will inspire hope that more goals are coming.
Portland Timbers -
Run of Form: W-D-L-W-D
In their last five games, Portland’s only loss came in their U.S. Open Cup match against Real Salt Lake. That was a 4-3 thriller with a rotated squad, so it’s hard to take much from that one. However, wins against St. Louis and Vancouver showed that the Timbers have an edge to them once again this year, especially when Evander is playing at the top of his game. Their 2-2 draw with a lackluster Austin side proved that while their offense is good, the back line could use some work. Despite scoring 18 goals this season, their differential remains at -1, having given up the second most goals in the Western Conference (19).
Keys to the Match:
Play to Your Strengths
Though the Loons experimented with a 3-5-2 recently, they have found more success in their usual 4-2-3-1 formation. In fact, it was the shift back to this lineup that seemed to spark the attack against Houston. The tactics and ideas behind the original formation change are certainly sound; fullback play is meant to give the team the necessary width while leaving more players in the middle of the pitch to move the ball quickly in tight areas. However, there’s something to be said for simply doing what you’re used to. Switching tactics mid-season can be difficult; sometimes, riding out the old faithful is the only way to get back to winning ways.
It’s no secret that Bongokuhle Hlongwane has been in fine form recently. The winger has been showing a real nose for goal recently, which, paired with his endless energy, is starting to pay dividends for his side. Reliance on a single player is never a good thing, but it’s always wise to lean on the players who are in good form. Bongi shines most while playing on the break; given the reliability of MNUFC’s center backs, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to sit in against the Timbers for the opening minutes and try to find Bongi on the counter. His speed and sharpness make him the most dangerous scoring threat on the team at the moment, and it’s always best to strike while the iron is hot.
Given Portland’s dangerous attack, MNUFC may want to ease into this game. When the Timbers visited Allianz Field last year, they ended up scoring one of the league’s fastest goals. Needless to say, they’re ready to score right from the opening whistle. The best way to slow down a fluid attack is to stay tight and disciplined, clogging the middle of the pitch and forcing the opposition to move the ball around your low block. With speed up top, counter-attacks are always an option for the Black and Blue, and if Boxall and company can keep the Timbers quiet long enough, it’s likely that the game will open up and allow the Loons to come out of their shell safely.