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Portland Timbers Scouting Report: Cascadia clubs battle below the line

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The Timbers have had a better season than Seattle, but not by much.

MLS: Portland Timbers at Seattle Sounders FC Jennifer Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

It’s hard to believe that the MLS season is halfway through, and we’re only just on the eve of the first Seattle Sounders-Portland Timbers match of the season. All 3 of the matches have been squeezed into the second half, which should make for an exciting end to the season.

The Timbers have had a slightly better first half of 2016 than the Sounders, though not by much. They’ve played two more matches than Seattle, and currently sit in 7th place with a 6-6-8 record and 26 points. The Sounders no longer sit at the bottom of the table after Wednesday’s big win, and now find themselves in 9th place and 6 fewer points than the Timbers. Portland haven’t lost since May 16, when they were downed 2-1 at home by NYCFC. Of the 8 matches since, they’ve only won 3. This is kind of a reflection of their season as a whole, as they’re currently tied for second-most draws in 2016 with 8.

It’s been that sort of season for Portland, one in which a draw tends to feel more like a relief and less like a disappointment. Things have turned around a little for the Timbers in recent weeks, though, as the defense has started look more stout, even if they weren’t producing much on the other side of the pitch. The last three matches have been draws, only conceding once in the 1-1 with Montreal. But it says a lot about their attack, too, as the single goal against Montreal was their only one in those three.

Attack: To nobody’s surprise, Fanendo Adi leads the team with 9 goals in MLS this season, and Diego Valeri is close behind with 7. The latter leads in assists too, picking up 5 from central midfield. That’s out of 29 total goals scored for the club in MLS play this year, making the duo responsible for 55% of the Timbers’ goals. Valeri picked up an ankle injury on June 29, but coach Caleb Porter says that he’ll be available on Sunday.

Defense: Despite a few hiccups at times, Portland has been solid (if unexceptional) at the back, and they’ll be boosted by their new signing, Lithuanian left-back Vytautas Andriuskevicius. Injuries and the offloading of players before the season have made fullback a tetchy subject amongst fans, so they’ll be hoping that this promising 25-year old with international experience is the answer. Usual suspects Nat Borchers and Liam Ridgewell will surely start on the backline, though Adam Kwarasey’s injury has forced Portland to turn to 26-year-old Jake Gleeson. The young New Zealander has taken his opportunities pretty well—he was in the MLS Team of the Week last weekend.

Player to watch: Jack McInerney, who was drafted by Philadelphia in 2010, has been bouncing around MLS the past two years and has something to prove in Portland. Still just 23 years old, McInerney has picked up 5 goals from 15 total appearances so far this season. If Portland can’t find goals from Valeri or Adi, they’ll be hoping that McInerney can make something happen on Sunday.

Coach banter:

Predicted lineups:

Seattle: Frei; Jones, Marshall, Evans, Mears; Roldan, Alonso, Friberg, Ivanschitz; Gomez, Morris

Portland: Gleeson; Andriuskevicius, Borchers, Ridgewell, Powell; Chara, Nagbe, Valeri, Melano; Adi, McInerney