Match Preview: Portland Timbers vs. Sporting Kansas City

It’s that time again folks. Time for us to dust off our chainsaws, grab our scarves and sled, um, run to Providence Park, jump, clap and sing.

MLS and the Portland Timbers are finally back.

Portland’s home game, originally scheduled for last Saturday, has been rescheduled for Monday, but while we had to wait another 48 hours, the fact remains that the Timbers will still start their 2023 MLS season against Sporting Kansas City under the lights of Providence Park will start.

A look at the opposition

Portland’s opener is a meeting between teams that both missed the playoffs but ended the season in two different ways. The Timbers, of course, missed the postseason by a single point on the final day, losing their last two games. Kansas City finished the season seven points behind a playoff spot, but they ended the season on a tear. They lost only two of their last ten games and won six of their final games.

All of this coincides with the arrival of striker Willy Agada. In just ten games, Agada has scored a whopping eight goals and recorded two assists. The man is a handful on the field, as Portland naturally noted when the Nigerian forward pulled two past them and assisted in another in those two teams’ last meeting: a 4-1 drubbing suffered by the Timbers on the road at KC .

Agada will be the focal point of Sporting’s offense and they will certainly lean on him in this event. They will also rely on the new defensive midfield signing Nemanja Radoja to shore up a leaky defence. SKC scored 54 goals in 2022 and had a goal difference of -12 and 30-year La Liga veteran Radoja has the pedigree to help them improve on those numbers in 2023.

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Sporting appear ready to continue their late-season form from last year and appear to be a much-improved side in 2023. They might not be able to show it right out in front of the gates, but the fact of the matter is Portland are up against a team with talent and faith in the first half of the new season.

If the Timbers want to start the season with a win (which, incidentally, they haven’t done since 2017), they can’t afford to start slow or settle down into this season.

Like the Timbers, Sporting will be short-handed on Monday with the ever-dangerous Johnny Russell unavailable for the visitors.

News and outlook from the Timbers team

After the most disappointing offseason in a while, the Timbers were under pressure to get their roster back on track after missing the postseason for the first time since 2016.

So what did they do? Get out there and splash the most money they’ve ever had. For a reported club record fee of $10 million, the Timbers brought in what is sure to be the most momentous transfer in years: Evander.

The Brazilian attacking midfielder should be The Offensive type for the Timbers who initiates attacks and scores goals. Monday will see Timbers fans in action for the first time (unless you were one of the lucky few at Coachella last week), and I think it’s a fair assumption to say everyone is excited to see what he’s doing can.

Fans are also excited about the rise of young players in the squad, namely Zac McGraw and Colombian duo Santigao Moreno and Juan Mosquera. All of these players are lined up for bigger roles in 2023, and for Portland to succeed in their opener tonight they need to step up and fulfill that request.

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Alex has written a number of excellent words about these players, other reasons to look forward to this season, and more in his Season Preview, so check this out if you want to dive deep into what’s in store for you this year.

For this game, however, the Timbers seem to be grappling with a problem that seems to come up every time the season starts: injuries.

Several key starters and depth pieces are either questionable or off for the opener. They include attacker Sebastian Blanco, forward Felipe Mora, forward Dairon Asprilla and left-back Claudio Bravo. None of those three are expected to appear tonight, leaving Portland with sophomore left-back Justin Rasmussen and maligned centre-forward Jaroslaw Niezgoda in their place.

Though listed as questionable, head coach is Giovanni Savarese seemed more optimistic about the chances of Moreno, Mosquera and goalkeeper Aljaz Ivacic seeing the field.

On the field, Timbers must be ready for Sporting’s signature intensity. SKC has caused problems for the Timbers in the past with their rough, aggressive and direct style of play. Visitors are likely to spend more of their game on the backfoot and reacting, so Timbers must be prepared to seat down quickly, use that space efficiently, and be deadly in their attacking opportunities. In short – they need to be locked in and focused from kick off.

Estimated starting XI

Portland (4-2-3-1): Aljaz Ivacic; Juan Mosquera, Dario Zuparic, Zac McGraw, Justin Rasmussen; Diego Chara, Eryk Williamson; Santiago Moreno, Evander, Yimmi Chara; Yaroslav Niezgoda

Kansas City (4-3-3): Tim Melia; Graham Zusi, Robert Voloder, Andreu Fontas, Tim Leibold; Remi Walter, Nemanja Radoja, Erik Thommy; Marinos Tzionis, William Agada, and Daniel Salloi

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Score Prediction

Preseason MLS is like that feeling of going to college for the first time: you have no idea what exactly is going to happen, you don’t know who’s good or not, and you really don’t know what you’re doing.

In other words, predicting the game is a piece of cake. Teams are probably still rusty, form hasn’t really settled yet and this year’s opening weekend has been as wild as it gets. So there really is no telling what will happen under the lights of Providence Park.

Nevertheless, we try anyway. Nine goals were scored when these two teams last met in Portland. I don’t think there will be many goals this time, but I expect goals. I experience a little déjà vu from last year’s opener and predict a 2-2 draw. Santiago Moreno scores and Evander opens his Timbers account. William Agada gets another brace against the Timbers as the loot is shared on opening night.

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