The promising signs were there through the first 180 minutes of Atlanta United’s season, but the Five Stripes put it all together with an exclamation point against Charlotte. Gonzalo Pineda’s side stormed to a 3-0 lead by halftime and cruised to the three points that took it top of the Eastern Conference. The next test up for the Eastern leaders is a visit from the Portland Timbers, who have apparently decided to get a season’s worth of injuries out of the way in the first three weeks of the campaign.
Portland began its season with a 1-0 win over Sporting KC but has since fallen to LAFC (understandable) and Saint Louis City SC (more understandable than we’d have thought a month ago). Though the results aren’t stellar, the general performances will be what has Portland concerned the most. So far this team looks all too similar to the one that missed the playoffs last season, both on paper and on the field. The capture of Brazilian attacking midfielder Evander from Midtjylland was the Timbers’ only big offseason move (presumed starting striker Franck Boli was added this week but his debut is to be determined). The departures of Bill Tuiloma (CB) and José Van Rankin (FB) have left Portland a little light defensively, but it’s the midfield where manager Giovanni Savarese will have to get creative this weekend. Evander (AM), Cristhian Paredes (CM), David Ayala (CM) Sebastian Blanco (AM), Felipe Mora (ST), Diaron Asprilla (W), and Yimmi Chara (W) are all unavailable for this weekend’s clash. That’s at least 3 penned in starters and almost all of the Timbers’ midfield depth. Savarese prefers a counter-attacking style even on Portland’s best day, but with so many absences the Timbers will park a fleet of buses in front of their goal come Saturday.
That’s going to make this a bit tougher of a test than last week for the Five Stripes. As we saw in the first two games, creating chances against a deep block is headache material for not only Atlanta but even more so those that are witnesses to such games. The possible introduction of Giorgos Giakoumakis into the starting lineup will add an X-factor that could be just what the Five Stripes need to break through Portland’s bunker, adding on to an in-form front three of Caleb Wiley and Luiz Araujo flanking Thiago Almada. Derrick Etienne will likely have to sit out another game on the bench thanks to Wiley’s Man of the Match showing against Charlotte, but that’s a problem that Gonzalo Pineda is all too happy to have. Either way, this feels like a game that just needs one goal to open the attacking floodgates. Getting that goal will be the hard part, though.
Atlanta has a slight edge in the all-time series against Portland, which stands at 2W-2D-1L in the good guys’ favor. The most recent of those meetings was the Timbers’ sole victory, which ended 2-1 in Oregon last September.
Predicted Starting XIs
Prediction: Atlanta United 2-0 Portland Timbers
Atlanta will stumble through the first half without creating much of anything despite sky-high possession numbers but super-sub Derrick Etienne will find the opener before Giakoumakis gets off the mark himself to seal a comfortable victory for the Five Stripes.