Raised expectations will be the common denominator when the Portland Timbers open 2014 against the Philadelphia Union.
For the Timbers, the MLS Cup is the target. After nearly winning the Supporters' Shield last year with a 14-5-15 record, Portland retained its core while also adding a pair of Argentine veterans in center back Norberto Paparatto and striker Gaston Fernandez.
The Union, on the other hand, will have their sights set on a return to the playoffs after falling three points short last season at 12-12-10. Maurice Edu, Vincent Nogueira and Cristian Maidana should vastly improve the midfield, while No. 1 overall SuperDraft pick Andre Blake will push Zac MacMath in goal. The departure of center back Jeff Parke is notable, but 2012 Rookie of the Year Austin Berry is a promising replacement.
READ MORE: Goal's full 2014 MLS preview
Although Caleb Porter's 4-3-3 philosophy has been well-established in Portland, the Union are poised to shift to the same look after going with a 4-4-2 for most of last season. With Brian Carroll supporting Edu and Nogueira in a midfield trio, Maidana and Sebastien Le Toux should have more freedom to attack on the flanks and work with striker Jack McInerney.
But the Union could be without the overlapping presence of right back Sheanon Williams (questionable with a right quad strain) when the teams meet at 10 p.m. ET on Saturday at Providence Park in Portland.
Follow GOAL.COM on