The Philadelphia Union faces Gio Savarese and the Portland Timbers on Sunday, the last match before a three-week break.
The inter-conference matchup will be one of the most anticipated contests of the weekend, considering the Union’s form and the Timbers are steadily climbing up the Western Conference table.
However, the focus of the game? Who is not going to be present.
The Timbers will once again be without multiple regular starters, including designated player Sebastian Blanco, who is out with a torn ACL.
First choice goalkeeper Jeff Attinella, midfield stalwart Diego Chara, and defender Larrys Mabiala are also included in the nine-player list of unavailable Timbers.
However, Union coach Jim Curtin isn’t going to pretend that the Timbers aren’t dangerous opposition, no matter how far they are traveling and who will be on the field.
“Gio and his staff have done an incredible job navigating the Champions League, getting results while missing so many key players. It just speaks to the depth that they have,” Curtin said.
In Portland, it doesn't matter who’s on the field as long as Diego Valeri is pulling the strings. The Timbers legend is still an instrumental part of the team at the age of 35, and has recorded a goal and an assist through 324 minutes of MLS play this season, as well as two goals in the Concacaf Champions League.
“Obviously, it starts with [Diego] Valeri,” Curtin said. “I believe [Eryk] Williamson is one of the best midfielders in the league. Maybe he doesn't get the accolades, but he’s had a great season and a great run over the past several years.”
Despite the injuries and fixture congestion due to the Concacaf Champions League, the Timbers are off to a relatively good start.
Savarese’s squad fell to the Seattle Sounders on May 9, but have bounced back with two straight wins over the past weekends at the San Jose Earthquakes, and a 3-0 demolition of the LA Galaxy back at Providence Park.
“You can tell his players have the same belief when they step on the field, they think that they can beat anybody, regardless of how many injuries they have,” Curtin said.
Curtin also mentioned Portland’s character as a big name club in the league as a big factor in their surprising success.
“Yes, they are missing a lot of great players but often times early in the season you learn a lot about your group when you have adversity, and certainly [Portland] had adversity with the injuries they’ve had,” Curtin said. “It shows the character of their team, that they have plugged away and gotten really good results in the recent weeks and most importantly, have kept clean sheets. At the end of the day, if you do that, you’re going to take points.”
While Portland is hit hard with injuries, Curtin may have a tough time with player selection on Sunday as well. Philadelphia’s head coach mentioned that Jack De Vries is still out with a concussion that has sidelined him all season and Ilsinho and Greg Ranjitshingh are all still out with injuries while Dániel Gazdag is back in Europe with the Hungarian national team ahead of the Euros.
Sunday’s spectacle will be a interesting test of seeing which side can take momentum into the break. Both teams have won two straight games following Champions League play, and are some of the more in-form teams in the league right now.
“It’s a tough test,” Curtin said. “We will have a real test on Sunday to get three points.”
The match will be broadcast live on FS1. Kickoff is scheduled for 7:08 p.m.