When: Saturday, February 25th, 2023 at 9:30 PM CT
When: Monday, February 27th, 2023 at 9:00 PM CT (9:09 kickoff)
Where: Providence Park
How to Watch/Stream: Apple MLS Season Pass
What do we know about Portland heading into this first match of the season?
They play on turf and it’s disgusting.
But what about the players on the disgusting turf pitch you ask? Portland returns more minutes than any other team in MLS. The 2022 Timbers finished one point out of the playoffs and decided to run it back.
Giovanni Savarese has previously played a 4-3-2-1 formation but typically plays a 4-2-3-1 with two defensive midfielders in the double pivot. Functionally, the 4-2-3-1 isn’t that different than the 4-3-3 that Sporting Kansas City fans are all too familiar with. The formation provides width through wingers/wide midfielders, likely to be Yimmi Chara and Santiago Moreno or Sebastian Blanco. Sporting Kansas City plays with a single holding midfielder and dual “8s” creating a midfield triangle. Savarese’s formation basically inverts that triangle to create a stouter bloc in front of the central defense.
Late in the 2022 season, Savarese started using formations that featured a back three, using Diego Chara and either Eryk Williamson or Cristhian Paredes in central midfield to break up play.
While Portland did not make many moves, they took a huge swing by signing $10 million Designated Player, Evander, from Midtjylland. Evander is a true attacking midfielder who was leading the Europa League in assists before his transfer to Portland. He’ll be relied upon to pull the strings like Diego Valeri did for a decade.
Center forward represents a real question mark for Portland. Jaroslaw Niezgoda is a Designated Player with two injury plagued seasons and one, mostly full season in 2022. When healthy, he’s shown an ability to bang in goals. Felipe Mora ended last season with cartilage restoration surgery on his knee. It’s unlikely that he’ll be full strength to start the season. Nathan Fogaca was brought back as depth and competition for Niezgoda and Mora. Overall, the Portland attack scored 53 goals last year, which was fourth in the Western Conference.
While Portland’s offense did not struggle, their defense did. The Timbers defense conceded 53 goals last year, which was the sixth most in the West. The Timbers have since transferred fullback Josecarlos Van Rankin back to Mexico and traded centerback Bill Tuiloma to Charlotte for General Allocation Money (GAM). Barring a major tactical change or leap in development, this Timbers defense looks to be the same leaky ship that was seen last year.
This match represents two teams that missed the 2022 MLS Cup Playoffs. Strangely enough, both have had minimal roster turnover and rely heavily on an aging core (Chara and Blanco for Portland, too many on Sporting KC). Each team had a porous defense in 2022 and made very few roster moves to shore those holes up. Each team will be relying on a newcomer in midfield to affect the tilt of the match — Evander for Portland and Nemanja Radoja for Sporting (assuming he’s healthy).
Sporting Kansas City’s ability to control the midfield will be pivotal in winning three points on the road. Portland’s front four is dangerous but they’re weak at the back. If Sporting KC can control the ball through the midfield and break up counterattacks, they can minimize Portland’s chances of scoring. That’s easier said than done.
I’m hoping to see SKC continue their momentum from the second half of the 2022 campaign. There are a lot of questions to be asked about central defense, but the return of Erik Thommy and Willy Agada should spark some beautiful attacking soccer.
Prediction: This will be more pleasant than the 2022 opener. None of our players will sub on for 27 minutes and then be jettisoned into the sun.