5 Things to Watch Ahead of Portland Timbers vs Philadelphia Union

Philadelphia Union is still looking to break their current drawing streak as they head into this weekend’s matchup with Portland Timbers. Here are my 5 things to watch going into the game.

Union
ORLANDO, FL – AUGUST 05: Portland Timbers midfielder Diego Chara (21) and Philadelphia Union defender Kai Wagner (27) go for the ball during the MLS is Back Semifinal soccer match between the Philadelphia Union and the Portland Timbers on August 5, 2020, at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, FL. (Photo by Joe Petro/Icon Sportswire)

5 Things to Watch: Union vs Timbers

Another Game Without Uhre… 

It’s been pretty well documented over the past few weeks that the striker depth Union fans thought their team had, isn’t actually up to the level that they first thought. Burke and Santos have both been burdens to the team when they play and it’s not looking like that will change anytime soon. 

Jim Curtin confirmed that Mikael Uhre, while managing to train by himself in the week, isn’t going to be making the trip to Portland and it’s a major blow to the team, but should Union fans be worried about Uhre’s constant injury issues this season… 

I can see why fans may be feeling worried about Uhre’s injury issues so far in his early Union career, but looking over his career, there are hardly any injury issues that suggest this will be a regular thing. Obviously, injury issues can harm you at any point but there’s nothing in the past that should really worry people, in my opinion.

Portland Out of Form 

It was just last season when Portland looked set to win the MLS Cup until NYCFC spoilt the party and beat them on penalties, unfortunately for Portland, things have gotten even worse for them this season as they currently sit outside of the playoff places in the West and they’ve really struggled to get any type of consistency or form going. 

In terms of formation and style of play, Portland has changed between a 4-2-3-1 with Yimmi Chara as the solo striker or a 4-3-3, which they’ve played in their last two games, with Nathan Fogaca playing in the middle of the front 3. 

Portland is currently averaging just under 50% possession throughout their 13 games so far this season but has 20 goals to their name, one of the highest goals scored in the league. On the other hand, they’ve conceded 21 goals this year and look really bad defensively, something the Union needs to take advantage of.

The Kids Are Still Alright 

I saw a fair bit of criticism after the midweek draw with Inter Miami about how the homegrowns when they came on, didn’t look good and some were already writing them off as not good enough and they never will be. This is just pure stupidity and I really hope they were just ‘in the moment’ takes and not actual ones people will double down on now that the dust has settled. 

In my opinion, the homegrowns all played well when they came on in the second half and they were actually the only ones trying to make things happen. Paxten looked a handful when running at the defense and Quinn looked really good when he had space to run into and actually stretched the Inter Miami defense a lot. McGlynn only played 10 minutes so you can’t judge anything from those minutes. 

The thing with young players, and it’s something I’m really passionate about and specialize in when it comes to football, is they need proper playing minutes at a proper, senior level of football. You’ll learn way more about a young player in 10 starts for your main, senior squad than you will in the years you’ve watched them in the youth teams. 

Look at how every young player wants to play in Germany. German teams aren’t afraid to play a youngster for an entire season to see what they offer and if they’re going to be good enough in the future. The best young players in the world, across football history, all developed as well as they did because of the teams they played for, giving them meaningful starts in the best competitions. 

The likes of Jude Bellingham, Jadon Sancho, Kylian Mbappe, Erling Haaland, Marcus Rashford, and going back further, the likes of Wayne Rooney, Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Thierry Henry, etc. The list goes on and I could name names for the rest of time. 

If the Union are serious about seeing what the likes of Quinn, Paxten, McGlynn, and Bueno are all made of, then they need to make the brave choice and drop some players and make some changes. Martinez hasn’t been good in the past few games and might be off in the summer, so start one of the potential replacements for him. It worked with Harriel coming in for Mbaizo, and Leon Flach turned out great too. Start Quinn upfront with Carranza over Burke and Santos because it can’t be any worse than it currently is.

Portland Stars to Watch 

For this week’s stars to watch, I’m not going to pick the probable consensus pick of Sebastian Blanco because it’s not guaranteed he will start for Portland, however, if he does Union will be in big trouble as Blanco has been on fire when he’s played this season. Instead, I’m going to go with defender Bill Tuiloma and striker Nathan Fogaca. 

New Zealand center-back Bill Tuiloma has been really good in a Portland side that has struggled too often this season. Defensively, he leads the team in blocks, interceptions, and clearances while also being the top goalscorer for Portland with 4 goals this season. Tuiloma will have his hands full with Carranza tonight but his form says he’ll be up for the task and he’s also a threat for Portland from corners. 

22-year-old Brazilian forward Nathan Fogaca has looked pretty good in his last two starts for Portland and already has two goals to his name this season, with both coming in a 7-2 thrashing of Sporting Kansas City. He’s a very instinctive forward, who loves to find space in between the two centerbacks and make runs in behind. Union backline will have their hands full tonight if Fogaca carries on his fine start to his MLS and Portland career. 

Predictions 

I feel like it’s pretty obvious how this game will turn out, although it does feel a little too obvious at the same time. Portland has 6 draws already this season and the Union is on a current 5 draw streak themselves, so there’s only one way this game ends up. 

Yes, that’s right, it ends with a Union 2-1 win with goals coming from Gazdag and Carranza, with Portland’s coming from Yimmi Chara. It just can’t be another draw, right?

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Mandatory Credit: Joe Petro/Icon Sportswire

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