After a glorious come from behind victory over FC Cincinnati in the US Open Cup semi-final, the New York Red Bulls take little journey to the West Coast to take on the Portland Timbers. Being the last of three matches over the last seven day period, fans should not expect to see a full strength side in Portland. The Timbers, unlike the Red Bulls, have had a nice six day break since their last game and should be fielding a squad full of talent.
Most of that talent consists of the two dangermen up top for the Timbers. The duo of Fernando Adi and Diego Valeri have yet again lit up MLS, scoring 23 goals and registering eight assists between them. Valeri, the playmaker in the team, has been in great form as of late, scoring three in his last three. His technical ability on the ball makes him a dangerous player and one that the Red Bulls defense needs to keep in check. If he is not setting the goals up he will gladly knock them in himself, so Luis Robles needs to keep his backline well drilled for the full 90 minutes.
Adi, the second half of the duo, could miss the match against New York. He picked up a hamstring injury in the Timbers 4-1 loss to a free firing Toronto FC team. This is a big loss for Portland and, despite being replaced by the experienced Darren Mattocks, could end up being an unfillable void for the team.
Portland will also be without starting goalkeeper Jake Gleeson after he too sustained an injury against Toronto. Having played the fourth most minutes on the team, Gleeson could end up being an even bigger loss than Adi. Back up keeper Jeff Attinella has been nothing special for the club this season, letting in 13 goals in just 5 appearances for the Timbers.
Regardless of the starting keeper, Portland has struggled defensively this season. They have let up 43 goals, putting them at fourth most in the league. Their inability to keep a clean sheet has also caused problems, as the club has just three on the season. Even still, the club finds itself in 5th place in the Western Conference and just three points from the top of the table. Portland will absolutely be going for all three points in this match as they aim for pole position in the West.
Being the last of three matches over the last seven day period, Red Bulls fans should not expect to see a full strength side in Portland. With the cup match taking a full 120 minutes to complete and many players tired, Jesse Marsch will surely be making at least six changes to the normal starting line up.
The first, hopefully most obvious change would be to give top scorer and hero of the semi-finals Bradley Wright-Phillips a rest. The Englishman outdid himself yet again, netting two headed goals, including the eventual game winner in extra time, in the game against Cincinnati. Maybe, just maybe, for the first time since May, Gonzalo Veron will actually start the match!
Partnering Veron up top will likely be Derrick Etienne Jr. and, if healthy, Sean Davis. Dan Metzger could also get his first start for the club this season as Felipe and Kljestan went the full 120 minutes. Tyler Adams could also be replaced by Connor Lade, with Aurelien Collin also finding his way into the starting line up.
Despite all these changes, the Red Bulls should still go into this match with confidence and high spirits. They have won their last two matches and will get a well deserved week of rest after the Portland match. Then, deja vu sets in and New York City FC comes to town yet again for the final regular season meeting between the rivals.
New York must first focus on this match against Portland, however, as it could be a vital three points in the playoff race. With just 10 matches left after the Portland meeting, the Red Bulls are really getting down to grind time. Every match will matter from here on out and a win away to Portland could be a perfect way to start their road to the end of the season.