Timbers ready for Cincinnati challenge
The Portland Timbers enter Tuesday's knockout match at the MLS is Back Tournament against FC Cincinnati with plenty to feel good about.
After winning their group — a group many felt entering the tournament was the most competitive — the Timbers are heavy favorites to beat the second-year club from Ohio.
Kickoff is at 7:30 p.m. The game at ESPN's Wide World of Sports Complex near Orlando, Florida, can be seen on ESPN.
It's a safe bet coach Giovanni Savarese is reminding his club not to take anything for granted. After leaking four goals to Columbus and looking outclassed in its tournament opener, FC Cincinnati focused on defense and blanked Atlanta United and the New York Red Bulls to become the surprise qualifier for the round of 16.
Therein lies the challenge for Savarese's side.
Since Savarese took over in Portland, the Timbers have been devastating in the open field. But, finding goals against opponents that focus on keeping numbers behind the ball has been troublesome. It was, in fact, a significant reason Portland struggled last season to produce results once Providence Park reopened.
"It's a challenging match," Savarese said during a Sunday video press conference. "(FC Cincinnati) first makes sure that you don't find space. We have to move the ball well. We have to find the right areas to unbalance them … but we have to be very careful."
If Portland is to keep going in what has been a positive tournament for the Timbers, the scoring chances must be converted.
For a sample of what the Timbers might face on Tuesday, consider Sunday's Sporting Kansas City match against outmanned Vancouver. The Whitecaps, significantly shorthanded and down to a rookie, third-string goalkeeper, held Sporting off the scoreboard despite being outshot 37-8. It was a gutsy effort, especially from keeper Thomas Hasal, who had eight saves. Sporting KC prevailed in penalty kicks, thanks to some big stops from Tim Melia.
Portland would certainly like to avoid such drama.
Continued quality from forward Jeremy Ebobisse would certainly help that cause. Ebobisse scored in each of Portland's group-stage games, helping the Timbers go 2-0-1. New forward Jaroslaw Niezgoda also scored in his first start, so the Timbers enter the knockout phase with confident attackers.
Portland has so far used 17 different field players. Other than goalkeeper Steve Clark, only Diego Chara and Sebastian Blanco played every minute of the three group matches. Every other field position saw multiple players get starts.
Breaking ties — If the match is tied after the regular 90 minutes, the match will go directly to penalty kicks to determine who advances.
What's next — Tuesday's winner advances to the quarterfinals of the MLS is Back Tournament and will face New York City FC at 7:30 p.m. Saturday (FS1 telecast). NYCFC beat Toronto, 2-0, on Sunday and will have five days off before the quarterfinal, whereas Portland or FC Cincinnati will have only three days to recover and prepare.
Monday matches — San Jose vs. Real Salt Lake, 5:30 p.m. (FS1). Winner will face the winner of Tuesday's Columbus-Minnesota match; Seattle vs. Los Angeles FC, 8 p.m. (FS1). A rematch of the 2019 Western Conference final, LAFC will be hungry for revenge. Winner faces Orlando City in the quarterfinals.
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