The Portland Timbers host the Montreal Impact in a titanic tilt on Saturday evening. There is, though, one key advantage. It’s at Providence Park.
If every team at the top of the Western Conference was to win their games in hand on Sporting Kansas City, meaning that all would have played 20 games on the season, the Portland Timbers would sit in second position, just two points behind FC Dallas.
The longest unbeaten run in the league of 12 games is still intact, even if they lost the 14-game unbeaten streak in all competitions with a dramatic and pulsating 3-2 loss to Los Angeles FC on Wednesday in the quarterfinals of the U.S. Open Cup, the team is playing some of the best football in the league, and hopes are high for the latter half of the season and another run at the postseason.
This Saturday night, though, they face an extremely tough test. While the Timbers may have the best record when it comes to losses on the season, it is perhaps their weekend’s opponents, the Montreal Impact, that are in the best form.
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The Impact are flying after a tough start to the season. Remi Garde has engineered a system that gets the best out of Ignacio Piatti and the likes of Stephen Taider and an improving defence have provided the Impact’s three-time MVP with the support network that he requires to flourish. They have won five of their last six games, keeping clean sheets in four of them, and are one of — if not the — hottest teams in MLS. This is a titanic tilt of two teams enjoying rare runs of form as they prepare themselves for a playoff and MLS Cup push.
But there is a key advantage for the Timbers that may just give them an edge in this contest, an advantage that has little to do with them as a team, per se, but is so often overlooked in the sport. They are at home.
It may seem like an archaic concept, but playing at home makes a difference, especially when your home is Providence Park, your team has been perfectly suited to playing at home all season, and your opponents are not so comfortable on their travels.
The Timbers are yet to lose at home. In fact, only New York City FC have a better home record than Portland in the whole of MLS, although Portland’s record is slanted somewhat by having only played seven games at home all season. They have won three of their last four games at home in all competitions, the only draw coming against Sporting KC and tend to play with a greater energy and intensity when buoyed by the raucous home crowd.
Additionally, while the Impact may be running amock of much of MLS currently, of their five wins in the past six games, only one has come away from Stade Saputo. Moreover, their away form on the season as a whole is shocking, just two wins, nine losses and no draws.
This is set to be a wonderfully exciting and even affair. Both teams are in good form. Both teams are wanting to make a statement. Both teams have streaks to defend. But there is one key advantage, and it could be a crucial one for the Portland Timbers.