How do you beat the Timbers? Well only three teams have done so, only one of which is in the Western Conference. So maybe beating the Timbers and not losing to the Timbers are different arguments. However, there are a few trends that have run through the three Portland losses in 2013, as well as a few other possibilities that make Portland not winning much more likely.
Play against the Timbers when either Will Johnson or Diego Chara is out of the line-up.
Obviously this is not always true, as Portland has won on numerous occasions without one or the other of their normal starting central midfielders. But in two of the Timbers' three losses this season, including the last two, at least one of Johnson or Chara has been absent. On Sunday, they'll both be missing, Johnson due to a shoulder blade injury and Chara due to yellow card accumulation. There has not been a game this year where both midfielders were out, so maybe we'll see something completely different from Caleb Porter in terms of the set up.
Play against the Timbers when you're the best team in the league.
Admittedly, this has not been an automatic way to defeat Portland, as FC Dallas and Real Salt Lake have discovered. But when the Timbers played Montreal back in March, les Impact were playing extremely well and were top of the league. They've since come back to earth some, but at the time, there was not a more difficult team to play. That's not going to be an issue on Sunday, however.
Score on set pieces.
In each of the Timbers' three losses this season, at least one goal has come from a set piece. In fact, if not for Felipe's goal to put Montreal up 2-0 in Portland, every goal in Portland's losses would have come from set pieces. From Hasson Camara's bicycle kick to Steven Lenhart's toe poke and Bernardo Anor's free header, Portland is very frequently susceptible on free kicks. That doesn't just go for losses, as set piece goals have been killers for Portland all season and have prevented several wins along the way.
Only twice this season has Portland won a game when they gave up the first goal: in Kansas City in April and against LA Galaxy at home in July. Each of the three games the Timbers have lost this season came when allowing the first goal, if not two.
Stretch the field through the middle.
Who knows exactly what we'll see from Portland in central midfield (it could end up as a diamond 4-4-2 with Jack Jewsbury at the base, like the game in March), but if it involves two defensive central midfielders and Alvas Powell plays at right back, there can be opportunities in the space in front of the center backs. When the central midfielders drift forward into attack, especially in longer stretches of possession, and Powell streaks forward from the back line, Portland can get caught up field, just as you'll remember from the Eddie Johnson goal in Seattle in March. It need not be a quick-developing counter attack, but those are the most dangerous for Portland when they get into that situation.
Get Pa Kah riled up.
The Timbers' center back has been mostly fine this season but he has a penchant for talking to everyone on the field. That means his teammates, coaches, referees, opposing players, ball boys...literally anyone within ear shot. This helps him in defending and is why Porter prefers to have him on Powell's side. But he also cannot help himself when fouls are called and free kicks awarded. Kah has not yet played in a Seattle game, but more importantly has not yet played against a player as agitating as Eddie Johnson. It won't take much from Johnson to get under Kah's skin. Currently, Kah has four yellow cards, so the Timbers will not want him to miss a game due to the injury situation at center back, so he will likely be instructed to take it easy. But that is much easier said than done. Oh yeah, and when Kah got sent off in the 11th minute against Columbus Crew, the Timbers lost.