Storylines is back and feeling like today is gonna be the day that we’re gonna throw it back to…well, Portland, actually. Following a much-needed first win of the MLS season at Allianz Field over Houston, the boys in Black and Blue have to get the plane gassed up and get their tails to the majestic, pine-tree-covered natural beauty of Portland, Oregon, to face the Timbers. It’s a tall order in terms of the travel aspect, but putting together consecutive wins for the week would be a jolt of optimism to coincide with the return of Emanuel Reynoso to the lineup in the near future. But, for the time being, the focus will be on building back up to the level of success that the Loons saw earlier this year. Now, with one-third of the season in the books, can the Loons overcome a Portland side that has been on the upswing themselves after starting the season slow out of the gates?
If the Loons plan on keeping Portland’s efforts at bay, it has to start with the MNUFC back line putting the clamps on the Timbers' big money signing, Brazilian playmaker Evander. After a club-record transfer fee in the neighborhood of $10 million from Denmark’s FC Midtjylland, the midfielder has begun to truly find his footing with his new club. The Timbers started out the season winning just one of their first seven contests, but have since circled the wagons by winning three of their last five games before settling for a 0-0 draw in the face of some severely inclement weather against Real Salt Lake on Wednesday night.
It’s not difficult to determine that his squad’s uptick in performance over the last few weeks bears a strong connection to Evander’s emergence from the slow start to his season. He has begun to look the part of “big-time playmaker” in recent weeks, registering three goals and two assists in his three games prior to the drenched draw on Wednesday night. For a Loons defensive unit which, for the most part, continues to provide a level of well-balanced protection around the goal box, Evander’s recent run of form will obviously be a high priority for Coach Heath and his defense to strategize against before taking the field in Portland on Saturday night.
As far as the Loons attack goes, the hope is that they can replicate the kind of action and shots on goal that we saw from them on Wednesday night against Houston. From the jump, Bongi and the boys looked poised to make the kinds of runs that get good results. Was it perfect? No, but it was definitely a better version of the off-the-ball counterattacking this squad has been accustomed to playing this year. And hopefully, without Houston’s keeper Steve Clark in goal making ridiculous saves as he did the other night, the Loons attacking third can make good on some of the more quality scoring opportunities that came to pass against Houston. The passing around the box felt cleaner, and the shots on goal looked far more accurate than they had in previous weeks.
With a Timbers squad that’s clearly on the rise, it will be crucial for MNUFC to convert on more of the quality scoring looks that weren’t able to come to fruition a saw against Houston. Of course, that’s always easier said than done, but if the defensive end can hold the line and prevent the same quality looks for Evander and company, the boys can put themselves in a position to leave the Pacific Northwest with three points. Hopefully, the early-week optimism can carry the boys through the weekend and help them move up in the Western Conference standings.
Portland Timbers vs Minnesota United FC
Providence Park | Portland, Oregon
05.20.2023 | MLS Game #13
9:30 p.m. CT (MLS Season Pass, 1500 ESPN)