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Preview | Taking the Oregon Trail All the Way to Stumptown


Portland? Isn’t that in Maine? YES! I bet you’d like to know why Oregon stole a city from the East Coast, and I’m happy to oblige before we get to the soccer part of this preview. You see, back in 1845, business partners and happy Oregon Trail travelers Asa Lovejoy and Francis Pettygrove decided they would flip a coin to decide which of them would get naming rights for the town they were about to start. Pettygrove was a Portland, Maine, native, while his constituent, Lovejoy, hailed from Boston, Massachusetts. Luckily, the former won the toss and saved the world from having another Boston. Thank you, Francis. Now, let’s talk about Minnesota United’s match against the Timbers this weekend.

Minnesota United (8-6-5)

Run of Form: L-L-L-D-W

The Loons have come upon a bit of a rough patch recently, and while just four points from their last five games may generally indicate a team lacking direction, that certainly isn’t the case for MNUFC. Instead, the club is lacking depth due to international call-ups, injuries, and suspensions. It’s been a perfect storm of misfortune for Eric Ramsay and company, and though they’ve lost three on the bounce, the intensity and principles guiding the team have hardly wavered at all. It’s easy to get caught up in results and stop believing what’s actually happening in front of you. Sometimes, we even start to only see the things that reinforce our thinking, whether that’s negative or positive. Yes, the Black and Blue have lost three in a row, but the season is 34 games long, and they’ve remained faithful to the principles that got them near the top of the league to begin with. This is no time to throw in the towel or pivot; this is when they need to double down on their identity and prove themselves. The Loons will only get stronger from these struggles if their belief holds up.

Portland Timbers (7-7-6)

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

Despite starting the year slowly, the Timbers are firing on all cylinders right now. They’re unbeaten in their last six games, though their last loss came at the hands of MNUFC back in mid-May. This weekend’s reverse fixture finds these teams coming into this one with flipped form, as Phil Neville’s men are among the most in-form squads in MLS and the Loons are certainly not. Portland is winning on the road now, as well as at home, and I don’t think there’s a team in the league that would be excited for a trip to Providence Park at the moment.

Keys to the Match:

Trust the Process

I already referenced this above, but the Loons haven’t been playing bad soccer during this tough stretch. Some may disagree with me on the finer points, but what I’m looking for isn’t always reflected in the scoreline. The effort has almost always been there, the style of play has been consistent enough, and the intent behind it all has been constant. Isolated mistakes are not a good enough reason to blow up your entire system, nor is a single bad game like what we saw against Seattle. When you string together results like a 2-0 loss in which you couldn’t get the attack firing with a 5-3 loss where everything the other team touched turned to gold, it’s easy to think that the problem is with your own tactics. However, the issues presented in each match were totally different and, ultimately, temporary. The backline has shown its ability to stand firm; they just had an off day against Dallas. The attacking play has produced plenty of goals this year, there are just a few pieces missing at the moment, which disrupted the rhythm. The Loons just need to take a breath and trust themselves; the good times will roll again before long.

Win it in the Midfield

It’s cliche to say that games are won and lost in the midfield, but cliches often become cliche because they ring true. While the principles that the Loons have been implementing are sound, they hinge on a strong midfield pairing. Wil Trapp has been massive this season, dealing with a rotating cast of partners without dropping the level. However, against Austin last weekend, he was often left to control the middle of the park totally by himself. Obviously, the red card and subsequent in-game adjustment contributed to this issue, but the point still stands: one man cannot be expected to handle the entire midfield on their own, regardless of how talented they are. No one has complemented Trapp’s game quite as well as Carlos Harvey has this year, and that connection was built mostly on the two’s instinctive tendency to stay in line with one another rather than one in front of the other. Whoever fills in to replace Dotson this weekend while he serves his suspension, they need to follow Trapp’s lead and support the midfield engine with a more consistent presence than we’ve seen since Harvey’s departure for international duty.

Quite the Streak

Portland’s goal scorers are HOT right now. In their last five games, the Timbers have scored eight goals, with Phil Neville’s side notching two goals apiece in four of those matches. Attacking midfielder Evander has scored two or assisted three of those eight, while Jonathan Rodriguez has three goals and an assist to his name in the same span. Felipe Mora has added two goals as well, and with these three firing like they are right now, it feels inevitable that they’ll be creating dangerous chances against the Loons this weekend. Whereas the Timbers looked a bit toothless in the first meeting at Allianz Field, they appear to have gotten their hands on a serious pair of chompers since then. They won’t threaten the backline in the same way that Dallas did, but different isn’t necessarily better in this case. A defensively disciplined, 90-minute performance will likely be the key to success against Portland this weekend, and even with that, they may bag a goal or two. If the backline can stay slightly more compact than they did against Austin, they’ve already proven that they can handle high-caliber attacking players comparable to Rodriguez and Evander.