Adjustments galore for Timbers, SKC
The Portland Timbers and Sporting Kansas City will not put their best lineups on the field for Saturday's 4 p.m. match.
Injuries, international absences and a busy schedule mean both coaches will need to be creative.
Sporting Kansas City, which won 1-0 at Portland on April 15, leads the MLS Western Conference with 30 points (8-4-6).
The Timbers are tied for second with 25 (7-6-4).
Portland will be without regular starters David Guzman (Costa Rica national team duty), Diego Chara (injury) and Liam Ridgewell (injury). Also injured is Amobi Okugo, who likely would have played defensive midfield or center back.
Kansas City will be missing three players who are with the U.S. national team: forward Dom Dwyer and defenders Graham Zusi and Nick Besler.
Both teams have a key player listed as questionable. Portland's Darlington Nagbe and Kansas City's Benny Feilhaber figure to be game-time decisions.
The big question for Timbers coach Caleb Porter is who starts alongside Ben Zemanski in holding midfield. If Nagbe is healthy, it figures to be him. If Nagbe cannot go, then the options are few. In that case, might we see Porter adjust his formation?
If there is any good news for the Timbers it is that Sporting is playing for the third time in eight days, having won a Wednesday U.S. Open Cup match at Houston.
Also, there is the psychology of the match. The Timbers, given their challenges in finding players on the defensive side, should have nothing to lose. If they play with that kind of freedom, paired with the frustration from last weekend's draw with Seattle, the Timbers should have a chance to steal the win.
Kansas City has climbed atop the standings with defense. Sporting has been scored against only 12 times in its 18 MLS matches.
But with Besler and Zusi away and Portland at or near full strength in terms of attacking options, perhaps the Timbers can outscore Sporting.