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MLS Preview: Portland Timbers at Sporting Kansas City

Apr 27, 2013, 10:30 AM EDT

San Jose Earthquakes v Portland Timbers - Portland Timbers Tournament Getty Images

As a contest of fan enthusiasm, this would be a real doozy. Both clubs enjoy tremendous home support, boisterous and knowledgeable, and the houses are always packed.

As a soccer game, it doesn’t look bad either.

Portland has found its way recently under Caleb Porter (pictured). Meanwhile, Sporting KC was unbeaten in five consecutively before running into the LA Galaxy buzz saw (in a pretty unfavorable situation) last weekend.

So tonight’s match from inside Sporting Park should be a great one for viewing; kickoff is set for 8:30 p.m. ET.

Peter Vermes’ team from the Midwest was rolling until last weekend, a real tour du force in defense through most of April. Then came the Round 8 visit to the Home Depot Center, where a well-rested Galaxy took advantage of a team traveling in from the East Coast. SKC had just dusted off New York in mid-week, so the trip into Southern California just three nights later was always asking a lot.

Honestly, we should just write that one off. The Matt Besler- and Aurelien Collin-led back line, backstopped by goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen and bracketed by two of the league’s underrated defenders (outside backs Chance Myers and Seth Sinovic) will still be tough to penetrate.

But the Timbers will have a chance, especially if playmaker Diego Valeri is on his game. The Timbers are undefeated in their last five and have scooped up 7 of a possible 9 points in April. During the five-game run, Porter’s team has managed draws in Seattle, Colorado and (most recently) San Jose. In fact, the Timbers were a minute away from collecting their initial road win under Porter until a stoppage time goal for the Earthquakes meant another set of split points.

Still, not bad for a team that was a perfectly yukky 1-12-5 away from Jeld-Wen Field last year.

Said Porter of last week’s result: “We knew it would be really difficult to go into San Jose and get another win. … In the end, the perspective is positive that we get a point, but we were a minute away from getting three points.

“What’s even more impressive is we’re not happy with the draws. That means that you genuinely have belief in your group. These guys, no matter if we’re home or away or who we’re playing, they believe we can get a result.”

One bad issue for the Timbers: midfield engine Will Johnson may miss due to some family issues, and that would be a big loss for the visitors.

Both teams play a possession game. Sporting Kansas City has tamed the go-go, high-pressure ways that served to keep opponents pinned in – but a style that wasn’t translating into playoff success. So they are keeping the ball more patiently now, playing through Oriol Rossell and Benny Feilhaber in midfield. That deliberate, ball-on-the-ground style was always the plan for Portland under Porter.

With patient possession so valued for both sides, don’t look for a high-scoring contest. Especially not considering the teams’ defensive form. Prior to conceding last weekend, the Timbers had gone “clean sheet” for 312 consecutive minutes, thanks in some part to former Manchester United center back Mikael Silvestre, who has recovered from those early MLS wobbles to become a trusted figure around Jeld-Wen. Which looked impressive enough until you noticed SKC’s own defensive streak.

Vermes’ team had went 546 minutes, which was the fifth longest in MLS history.

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