Yesterday, D.C. United boarded a plane for their first cross-country trip of the 2014 season, flying to Oregon in advance of tomorrow night's game against the winless Portland Timbers. Here's how the B&RU staff think the game will go down - be sure to share your predictions in the comments.
We're riding a wave of momentum and it seems like a slow March gave way to a hot April for United. I think the torrential rain the past couple days was just Benny turning on all the water sprinklers in DC to give us some preparation for the wet Portlandia atmosphere. Benny's tactics pay off in the end: Espindola continues his MVP pace and EJ finally nets one in front of Timbers Army. 2-0 to the good guys.
As said in this space, DC's not lost in their last 5, Portland's not won ANYTHING yet, and DC hasn't lost in Portland yet. Adding onto the news of Pa Modou Kah not in training and Diego Valeri dealing with tightness in his groin, this game smells so much like a trap that Dave Kasper is signing Admiral Ackbar to a Senior International roster spot. This game is one where Perry Kitchen is going to have to be up to the task of containing former Zip teammate Darlington Nagbe for the team to tamp down a Timbers team looking to start the beginning of a three game homestand right. 2-1 DC, with goals by the forwards for DC (one off a set piece as the Timbers are a dumpster fire on them at the moment) and Johnson by Portland.
There is no more desperate team in MLS right now than the Portland Timbers. After finishing third in last year's Supporters' Shield standings, Portland sits dead last after their first eight games of this season (0-3-5). This is a team, a coach, and a fanbase needing a win in the worst way (another draw just won't do), because their season is on the precipice of slipping away--so D.C. United needs to be careful on Saturday night. The key will be keeping the frenzied Timbers off the scoreboard early, because every minute that goes by without a Portland goal will add to their desperation and accrue to the Black-and-Red's advantage. Eventually, the Timbers will start to throw numbers forward allowing D.C. United to exploit them on the counter. So, expect to see D.C. United play a focused defensive strategy and earn the win with a 1-0 scoreline and a goal by EJ (finally!).
Adam M Taylor
This one screams trap game - riding a 5-match unbeaten streak into a building where we've never lost against a struggling side - and I think both teams simultaneously keep their respective streaks alive while still feeling meh about the result: 2-2 in a goal-fest, with a first-half Eddie Johnson brace netted out by goals from Gaston Fernandez and Darlington Nagbe on either side of halftime. (And if EJ can't go, just transfer his goals to Fabian Espindola and Nick DeLeon, but keep the same result, because why not.)
Only one streak ends in Portland tomorrow. The Timbers' winless streak continues. DCU's unbeaten streak continues. Portland's inability to defeat the Black and Red at Providence Park continues. But the pressure of the final month before World Cup selection finally gets to EJ. His scoreless streak ends. DC wins, 2-0.
It's very tempting to see this game through the perspective of the standings: United is 6 points ahead of Portland and has played one fewer game. Or maybe it's form: Portland is winless in eight, United is unbeaten in five. All those are fair, but I can't shake the suspicion that the Timbers have been unlucky while United piled up points without playing a truly satisfactory 90 minutes. Portland will own possession and probably get a lead, but United will grind and grind and grind, and eventually equalize on a set piece via Eddie Johnson. 1-1. Cue the rending of flannel garments.
D.C. United has been able to right the ship through the month of April primarily through results at home. And, a quick look at the standings could suggest that United should get able to get the full points here as well. However, an away game combined with a cross-country flight leads me to predict a 1-1 draw, which I am totally fine with.
I think this game is going to be fun. I'd like to know how much ground Michael Harrington, whoever lines up on the left wing for Portland, Nick DeLeon and Sean Franklin cover in this match, because Portland likes to attack down the left, and United down the right, which will actually be the same side of the field. With these guys overlapping each other and playing balls in from the wing, it's going to be on the forwards to finish, and they will. 2-2 draw.
Winless Portland is desperate as hell, and DCU is on fire. I'd say they even out in a 2-2 draw in PDX. Yes, all four of United's goals last week may have come with Dallas down to 10 men, but this is an offense - with Espindola on a tear - that should be able to put up more than one against the league's worst team. But after a pair of hard-fought, one-goal road losses to RSL and Houston their last two times out, Caleb Porter's side should be able to grab a couple of their own at home.
Your turn, dear readers.