Preview: Battle up the Union left, early goal key vs Portland

No shutouts, no points from any game they were down at halftime, five goals given up in the first 15 minutes of games, and only nine goals from open play this season.

The surface numbers do not like Portland Timbers.

But last season Jim Curtin argued that the league should respect DC United because once they got a run of home games, their record would look a lot different. Sure enough, United slipped into the playoffs by going on a late-season tear (though they did pick up an important attacking piece near the same time).

And oh look — it’s 2019 and Curtin is once again saying a team that has started with a long string of road games is far better than the numbers suggest, and, once again, that team has just picked up an expensive attacker.

Maybe we should listen to him…

At least the Union get the Timbers at Talen Energy Stadium, where Philly has controlled every match since a disappointing opener against Toronto FC. Portland is going to come to town looking to pull a Seattle while adding a twist of Montreal. That is, they want to use Diego Valeri to run through the gears in a hurry and break out against Philadelphia’s stout defense.

When asked about his defensive system midweek, Curtin said guys had bought into the idea that it’s better to stay focused and sprint five yards forward than lose focus and end up making a 40 yard defensive sprint. Valeri’s career has been built upon making opposing players move into areas they don’t want to be in. He’s a master of making you forget about him and then instantly turning that moment of freedom into a big chance.

Valeri’s pals

Valeri, Sebastian Blanco, and Jeremy Ebobisse are the only Timbers with more than one goal this season, but new signing Brian Fernandez has a strong offensive record in LigaMX and will look to challenge Kai Wagner from the outset.

This is the matchup to watch — if Head Coach Gio Savarese uses Fernandez on the right of midfield, he’ll be looking to control Wagner’s forward runs and press Auston Trusty when he’s on the ball. Philly has been pushing their fullbacks — particularly on the left — far upfield during buildups, so watch carefully to see how deep Fernandez is willing to be pulled.

Finishing boots

Brenden Aaronson is likely to continue in the center of the pitch with Marco Fabián still on the comeback trail. The teenager was at the heart of many of the Union’s best moves against Seattle, but he couldn’t get his shot off with the speed and accuracy desired. Aaronson’s success comes from hard work off the pitch, so be assured he has been taking to heart the coaches’ advice about how to get that slight edge needed to finish one off.

Chara vs Medunjanin

It might seem strange to highlight a matchup of defensive midfielders, but Diego Chara is exceptionally good at opening space for others with surprising runs forward that pull defenders out of position. If he makes forays into the Union half, Medunjanin needs to be able to maintain his zonal positioning and keep an eye on Portland’s most dangerous attackers, including long-shot artist Sebastian Blanco.

Putting pressure on Blanco and Valeri is absolutely key to protecting the box because both players can pick out anybody at any time once their heads are up.

The Union look to maintain their hold on first place when the Timbers come to town for Dollar Dog Night on Saturday, May 25 at 7:30 p.m. Get out to Talen Energy Stadium to see it all go down!

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