Hudson River Blue spoke with Sam Svilar of Stumptown Footy, the former SB Nation that now lives on Substack, to learn more about the Portland Timbers, whose New York City FC face tomorrow for the first time since the 2021 MLS Cup Finals: Here is your NYCFC vs Portland preview.
1. When your house is not a home
Hudson River Blue: NYCFC travel to Portland for the first time since winning the 2021 MLS Cup — thank you for being such good hosts. This year, it looks like the Timbers run hot and cold: They dismantle the high-flying Seattle Sounders 4-1 and outfox FC Dallas 1-0, then they lose to lowly Chicago at home courtesy of AARP member Kei Kamara. What’s the mood in the stands at Providence Park these days?
Sam Svilar: .The mood is… not great! The Timbers have already lost as many home games in 2023 as they had all of last season — and there’s still eight home fixtures to go. This Timbers team has been rocked by injuries, and not enough of the rest of the roster has stepped up to vault the team into the “consistent contender” category. As you mentioned, that’s left them as a consistently inconsistent team that is capable of pulling it all together, but also falling flat on their faces (as they did on Wednesday night). After missing the playoffs for the first time under Giovanni Savarese last year, the lack of clear improvement from the team this year has left the fanbase anxious, frustrated, and antsy: a volatile combination for a fanbase as passionate as Portland’s.
2. Evander is a club-record signing, and worth it
HRB: We’re familiar with Portland players who featured in that final: Diego Chará, Santiago Moreno, Cristian Paredes, Claudio Bravo. Could you point our attention to some newer acquisitions?
SS: The biggest new face in town is Evander. The Brazilian midfielder was the marquee signing for Portland during the offseason, and they shelled out a club-record transfer fee (reportedly $10 million) to bring him to town as a Designated Player. Traditionally a central midfielder, Evander has been deployed primarily as an attacking midfielder in this current Timbers set up. While his numbers don’t jump off the page – four goals and three assists in about 1,300 minutes – his quality is evident whenever he takes the pitch. He is a dynamic passer and dribbler who is always looking to make things happen, and his main limitation seems to be gelling with his fellow attackers and starting to build some chemistry.
The other new name to know is Juan Mosquera, a young right back who has probably been the biggest revelation of Portland’s season thus far. He’s been on international duty with Colombia, but will likely be back in town in time for Saturday. He was acquired last summer, but has exploded onto the scene this season as potentially the best right fullback the Timbers have fielded in their MLS history.
NYCFC return to Portland in search of another Providence Park moment
HRB: Striker Franck Boli arrived this year and leads the team with five goals — that includes a first-half strike against Chicago on Wednesday. Who else could get Portland on the scoreboard?
SS: Boli’s production has been a huge relief to the Timbers, because nobody else has really been putting the ball in the back of the net. Portland’s biggest weakness recently has been their lack of goalscoring, and they have scored just three goals in their past seven games. Boli took a while to get fully settled, but the Ivorian striker appears to be coming into his stride, as he’s scored all three of those aforementioned goals
After him, Evander is probably the next likeliest candidate to score. After that…your guess is as good as mine. Portland hasn’t had consistent production from pretty much anyone else, so the chances that a member of the backline scores are probably just as good as a member of the frontline scores.
One name returning to the team sheet whom I’m sure that NYCFC fans will love to see is Felipe Mora. The Chilean forward underwent knee surgery in the offseason and is set to make his return from injury to be on the bench on Saturday. If he sees the field, he stands as good of a chance as any to score – and wouldn’t that be a nice bit of history repeating itself?
NYCFC vs Atlanta Player Ratings
4. The X-Factor:
HRB: What’s the X-factor that could decide Saturday’s game?
SS: There’s a number of factors on Portland’s side that could determine the outcome, but a key one will be the play of their midfield. Diego Chará and Cristhian Paredes have essentially been Portland’s sole two central midfielders, and both have been key to Portland getting positive results. When Paredes is doing good defensive work and connecting play to the attackers, Portland’s attack can look dangerous. When Diego Chará is doing Diego Chará things and snuffing out attacks, Portland’s defense can stay stable and compact.
When either or both of those doesn’t happen, the Timbers have a tendency to get stretched and disconnected. That would be a recipe for Portland dropping yet another result at home, and NYC celebrating on the Providence Park turf yet again.
5. Atlanta Starting XI
HRB: Prediction time: Starting XI, final score?
SS: While I would love to see Savarese rotate his Starting XI, I’m not sure he can afford to. So I see the Starting XI like this:
I’ll go ahead and predict a familiar scoreline: A 1-1 draw. Portland’s offense is potent enough at the moment, and their defense still can’t really be trusted. If that is the result, I suppose the small silver lining is that Timbers fans don’t have to endure losing a penalty kick shootout this time around.