The Portland Timbers will host Mexican giants Club América at 7:30pm on Wednesday, April 28th in the first leg of the Concacaf Champions League Quarterfinals.
Few opportunities to play a team of this magnitude are afforded in the history of a club. Timbers fans (and players) are approaching the fixture with uncertainty—Portland find themselves underdogs, even at home, against the biggest club in North America.
Club América are currently second in Liga MX and are the only ones within a sniff of Cruz Azul, who haven’t lost a match since January. In fact, América are one of only two teams that have won a single point from Cruz Azul during that span.
Cruz Azul beat Toronto 3-1 last night, but let’s get back to América. They were recently on an eight-match win streak, not including a 1-0 second leg loss to CD Olimpia which saw them advance from the CCL Round of 16. The aforementioned draw against the league leaders followed, but their latest result is intriguing.
América fell behind 2-0 to Toluca inside 11 minutes, and try as they might to break their opponents’ defense, they managed only three shots on target. An early second half VAR penalty drew them one step closer to getting back in the match, but they could never build up enough momentum to overcome Toluca, who would seal the match with a counterattack goal in the 73′.
América are most often in a 4-2-3-1. Roger Martínez has been the starting striker for the past year or so, and his 13 non-penalty goals in 21 starts make him América’s top scorer. But a recent injury has given others, such as Henry Martín, a shot at the starting job, and there has been an ongoing debate about who deserves the spot. (Martínez started against Toluca and struggled.)
If there was ever a time to be facing América, this is it. The team is having some internal issues with manager Santiago Solari, who is keen to only play his starters and a select few others. Additionally, many players are not as enthusiastic about the Champions League as usual.
Club América’s 23-year-old playmaker Sebastián Córdova will be unavailable for the first leg, which is a huge loss for them.
Pedro Aquino and Richard Sanchez are the central midfielders, with Álvaro Fidalgo playing in front of them as another creator. Mauro Laínez may flank the left side, while Martín could fill in on the right for Córdova.
In defense, Club América’s center backs may be exploitable. Sebástian Cáceres and Emanuel Aguilera are not the speediest, and they may lack the depth to stifle Portland’s dynamic attackers.
Onto the Timbers. Portland got their first MLS win against the Dynamo last Saturday, although it wasn’t always easy. The Dynamo exploited Portland’s left back, Claudio Bravo, quite a bit in the first half. The Timbers adjusted well after halftime, but if Tyler Pasher can give Portland fits, I’m sure Laínez and Martín can, too.
The Timbers are still without Jarosław Niezgoda and Jeremy Ebobisse, and Sebastián Blanco is listed as “doubtful” after Giovanni Savarese said he was “not as close [to returning] as we expected.” Starting goalkeeper Steve Clark is still out after leaving the Vancouver match early with a left thigh strain, but Jeff Attinella is a serviceable replacement.
I expect the starting XI to be the same as it has been.
It’s worth noting Jose Van Rankin has experience against this team, having played in Liga MX for years. Hopefully his sage presence will guide the back line, since this isn’t an area of overconfidence for me right now.
But as long as Portland can defend set pieces, they should be fine. Both goals they’ve conceded in MLS have been from corner kicks.
Overall, this squad is ready to pounce on an opportunity, and I think this is it. Racking up goals now is also important considering a trip to Estadio Azteca is looming in the second leg.
My prediction is one of the boldest I’ve had as a Timbers writer: give me a 3-0 win for the Boys in Green. Felipe Mora will score one of them.
Follow @doublepostpod for total coverage of tonight’s match (and every match!), including our postgame reaction podcast later this evening.
As always, RCTID!