Timing is everything. Riding a run of five matches without a loss, D.C. United returns to Comcast SportsNet Saturday with the team enjoying its best run of success in two years. Against the Timbers in Portland, United will be in search of its first road win of the season.
United is set to enter one of Major League Soccer’s most intimidating environments with the home team still in search of its first win in 2014. The Timbers are 0-3-5 and are coming off a 1-1 draw last Sunday in Houston. With only five points on the season, the Timbers are in last place in the Western Conference.
Four of the Timbers five draws have been at home. In the Timbers last game at Providence Park they took an early lead against Chivas USA on a Will Johnson goal in the seventh minute, but could only manage a 1-1 draw. Before the tie with Chivas, the Timbers supporters were stunned when Clint Dempsey scored two late goals to secure a 4-4 road draw for Seattle.
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- Disrupt Portland’s midfield. Portland operates with a 4-3-3 alignment. Will Johnson, Diego Chara and Diego Valeri form the three players in midfield of Portland 4-3-3 alignment. Given space the Timbers are dangerous. The Timbers lead MLS in shots outside the penalty area. Valeri is especially creative in the mold of Columbus’ Federico Higuain and Mauro Diaz of FC Dallas. Valeri alone has taken 22 shots and placed nine on goal. Last week in Houston the Dynamo gave the Timbers too much room to operate and that allowed forward Kalif Alhassan, who runs the left flank, to tuck inside and then slot a through ball to Gaston Fernandez for the game’s equalizer.
- Stay organized with special attention to Fernandez. The goal by Fernandez against the Dynamo was a wonderful lightning strike. Fernandez casually slipped into space and in one motion whipped Alhassan’s through ball into the upper right corner. Fernandez now has three goals in seven matches with the Timbers. He has a resume full of goals starting with his time back in his native Argentina with River Plate. To go with Fernandez, Alhassan and Darlington Nagbe are the three up top for the Timbers. They are crafty and sneak into dangerous positions and that will put a premium on United’s defensive organization.
- Continue progress on attack. Portland has not been a fortress on defense. There could be opportunities for United’s improving offense. Fabian Espindola has three goals in the last two games and has benefitted from a better flow from midfield. Nick DeLeon has been more aggressive and that will test the Timbers left back Michael Harrington. Eddie Johnson is still waiting to score, but his precise cross from the right flank led to Espindola’s first goal last week. There is a better understanding on offense and more depth. Luis Silva is back healthy and Conor Doyle has provided a spark off the bench.