Pair of PTFCs Need Monday Momentum Swing

by Charlie Folkestad

Photo by Frenchieinportland via  Wikimedia Commons  (CC BY-SA 4.0).

Photo by Frenchieinportland via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0).

Soccer is back, and no matter how medically-inept it is to be playing matches in the States, fans of Portland soccer will have an exciting—albeit distanced—doubleheader to look forward to.

Thorns playing catch-up in Utah

Under most circumstances, the Portland Thorns mustering only two points from three matches would be serious cause for concern. Yet, the Thorns are not phased in the slightest. In a group stage that promotes squad rotation and chemistry over results, Mark Parsons and the Thorns have very little to worry about.

The thing is, the NWSL Challenge Cup group stage is almost pointless. All eight teams competing for the Cup will automatically advance to the knockout stage. The sole looming catastrophe would be finishing eighth—and probably eliminating oneself against North Carolina in the quarterfinals—or perhaps catching an injury.

With all bets hedged, however, there’s certainly no downside to winning. As the fourth and final match in the group stage, the Thorns will probably need at least a point to keep the last-place Chicago Red Stars at bay.

Standings provided by SofaScore LiveScore

So while the Thorns sit at seventh in the Challenge Cup standings, the upcoming match against OL Reign (yes, that is their real name) presents a chance to show the league they mean business. If the long-term goal is to compete with the Courage, the Thorns need to take the logical first step: win matches.

Chicago will play on Sunday night, so the Thorns will have a clear goal ahead of them. Regardless of that outcome, Thorns fans are expecting the club to show a certain amount of cohesive determination; as Bella Bixby, Lindsey Horan, and Rocky Rodríguez have thus far.

There is a lot to be said about the decline of ferocity in the Thorns/Reign rivalry in recent years, and I won’t say it here. Bottom line: Play well, hopefully win, and be ready for the quarterfinals.

NWSL Matches to Watch

  • Chicago Red Stars vs Utah Royals FC

  • OL Reign vs Portland Thorns

MLS Matches to Watch

  • L.A.F.C. vs Houston Dynamo

    • Monday, July 13th, 2020 @ 5pm PT

    • Watch on Fox Sports 1/TUDN

  • Portland Timbers vs L.A. Galaxy

    • Monday, July 13th, 2020 @ 7:30pm PT

    • Watch on Fox Sports 1/TUDN

Timbers face late date in Group F

In the final opening match of the MLS is Back Tournament, the Portland Timbers will take on the Los Angeles Galaxy roughly eight hours after the conclusion of the Thorns-Reign match.

Group F has been dubbed the “Group of Death” by many around the league, with the two Los Angeles clubs as the favorites. Even those two would be remiss to ignore Portland and Houston, however, especially with LAFC star Carlos Vela sitting out of the competition.

This match will be an important test for the Timbers, who are given the third-highest chance of advancing from Group F (59%) by FiveThirtyEight’s MLS is Back Predictor.

Major League Soccer has had a worrying number of COVID-19 cases inside the “bubble” in Orlando, but the tournament trudges on. The most recent positive tests postponed the DC United-Toronto FC match mere minutes before kickoff.

Relative to the rest of the league, the Timbers have benefited from the COVID-19 delay with the addition of Polish signing Jaroslaw Niezgoda to the squad. Niezgoda, who is yet to appear on a matchday roster for the Timbers, was acquired over the offseason as a Designated Player and presumed starter. Now fully fit, expect Niezgoda to make an immediate impact on Portland’s attack.

Apart from the added talent of Niezgoda up top, Portland (theoretically) have a roster built for success in this type of tournament. Summer Central-Florida climate and lack of match fitness means squad rotation is a huge factor for every team in the MLSiBT. The Timbers now have three capable center forwards in Niezgoda, Felipe Mora, and Jeremy Ebobisse. Additionally, what Portland’s midfield lacks in quality is made up for in quantity.

The most concerning area of the field for the Timbers is the same as when we left off: defense. New center back Dario Zuparic has had a tough time alongside mainstay Larrys Mabiala on the back line, and Jorge Moreira’s replacements at right back are yet to be tested in a significant capacity. All this comes with questions surrounding Moreira’s return to River Plate.

No one knows how Monday night’s match will go. Any detailed tactical preview will likely be scrapped 10 minutes in. If what we’ve seen from the MLSiBT so far is any indicator, the teams that can sustain any discernible style of play are the most successful. Bottom line: We don’t know what to expect, but we’ll learn a lot about Giovanni Savarese and the character of this team based on their performance.

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