The Portland Timbers will host the Columbus Crew May 5 at Jeld-Wen Field in the Rose City, and the game is as close to a must-win as we have seen since last October. If the Timbers are going to have a successful 2012 campaign, it has to start - well, very soon.
The Timbers are on the bottom of the Western Conference table, but it's still early enough in the season that they aren't that far out of the running. A turnaround in fortunes could get them back in the hunt at this point. Of course, that window won't be open for much longer.
The Rose City side play host to the Columbus Crew May 5. After a big win over Sporting Kansas City two weeks prior, the turnaround looked to be on the horizon. Then Portland went to the Montreal Impact and took a couple of steps backward.
A reckless tackle on the Timbers' goalkeeper was widely seen as turning the game. The Timbers were threatening before the incident sucked the momentum out of them, but in all fairness Montreal should have been up a goal or two by then. The Impact missed some giveaway chances provided by the Timbers' defense.
Perkins took a nasty hit to his nose that may or may not keep him out against Columbus. If he's in the game, he will be wearing a mask. He's been instrumental in keeping Portland in matches, but the biggest factors in the match won't have much to do with the lineup.
Concentration in the face of adversity
Timbers' coach John Spencer apparently recognizes that the issues befalling the team have more to do with focus and handling pressure than with actual playing ability. Keeping a good head on their shoulders is crucial for each individual in the unit to help get past the funk the team is in.
"I think we believe in ourselves, we believe in ourselves as a group," Spencer said. "We know I need to coach better, the players need to play better. We know what we can do. It's something that we need to try to keep high because eventually we'll come out of this rut."
There may need to be some changes in the midfield, and I wouldn't be surprised to see someone different from Jorge Perlaza pairing up with Kris Boyd at forward. Perhaps Darlington Nagbe moves back up front, or another option like Mike Fucito. The service in from the midfield needs to be better, and whoever the other forward is needs to take advantage of the defense covering Boyd.
The bottom line, however, is that everyone on the pitch for Portland needs to find a way to do their part to unlock the elusive winning formula. If they can, Portland will take three points from the latest incarnation of the must-win game.
Jeff Musall has been a fan of the Portland Timbers since moving to the area in 2001. He is excited about the 2012 season and wants to see the team turn things around.
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