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Three Questions: Diving deep on the Portland Timbers

Our question series is back to help preview this weekend’s game.

MLS: Vancouver Whitecaps FC at Portland Timbers Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

The final home game of April is upon us here as FC Dallas welcomes the Portland Timbers into town on Saturday.

Just as we try to do with most games, we welcome in another blog on the network to help preview the upcoming game. This week we’re joined by Stumptown Footy’s Will Conwell.

BDS: With Diego Valeri likely out for Saturday, who will Portland turn to in their midfield to create in the attack?

SF: With Valeri out, the pressure will be on Darlington Nagbe and Sebastian Blanco to drive the attack forward on Saturday, while bringing in either Dairon Asprilla or Darren Mattocks to fill in on the flank. Nabge in particular is enjoying a strong run of form in recent matches, notching two goals and an assist in his last three matches including last week's golazo against the Vancouver Whitecaps. On the other hand, Blanco is the Timbers' new designated player signing for the 2017 season, but he has yet to really put his stamp on a match from his spot out on the right wing as he has acclimatized to MLS and dealt with an injury issue that kept him out of the starting lineup last week.

Without Valeri on the pitch, the Timbers will need to move either Nagbe or Blanco in to the center of the attack, freeing up space on one of the wings. Regardless of who plays in that center spot, expect both players to cut inside and look to play off each other and Fanendo Adi to attack through the middle, creating width through the play of their full backs and whichever player rounds out the side's attacking foursome.

Of course, the choice between Asprilla and Mattocks for that fourth attacking slot also comes loaded with ramifications for the team's overall approach to the match. Asprilla is the closest thing to a true winger that the Timbers have, feeling comfortable sticking out wide and using his work-rate and physical play to create chances from wide on the right. Mattocks, on the other hand, is institutionally a forward and will look to take players on and get in behind the opposition's back line from his preferred left-side spot.

BDS: While Portland's attack has been impressive so far this season, talk about how the defense is coming along? Despite giving up 10 goals so far, do you feel they are improving?

SF: The Timbers' defense started out 2017 in rough shape, losing projected starter Gbenga Arokoyo to a ruptured Achilles tendon during preseason, then losing Liam Ridgewell and Vytas to injuries after their season opener. Since then, the side has been scrambling to keep things together along the back, contending call-ups, more injuries, and several players suffering from the flu. Despite all of that, the Timbers defensive group have stayed remarkably average in the league -- despite the high bar set by the defenses of Dallas and Sporting Kansas City.

Currently the Timbers are without first choice keeper Jake Gleeson in goal as he deals with an injury of his own, but with Ridgewell and Vytas finally back, and respected back-up Jeff Attinella between the sticks, things look to have settled down somewhat for the Timbers defense.

The Timbers are still looking to improve along their back line -- the team have been looking for a replacement center back since Arokoyo's injury and have been rumored to be shopping for a TAM-level signing to replace him in the XI -- but in the mean time, veteran defender/midfielder Lawrence Olum is playing well alongside Ridgewell and the presences of David Guzman at the No. 6 and Diego Chara at the No. 8 means that any center back pairing will have plenty of support out of the midfield.

BDS: What will be the keys for Portland in getting a result out of this match?

SF: In the absence of Diego Valeri, the first key point for the Timbers in Saturday's match will focus on the return of Fanendo Adi to the lineup.

When he is in the match, the Timbers need to take advantage of Adi's ability to occupy multiple defenders and play quick combinations from the top of the lineup, creating space and chances for those around him. When the Timbers are able to do that and in turn draw defenders off the big man, Adi is then able to find himself in the sort of scoring positions in which he has thrived since arriving in Portland in 2014. generally it is Valeri who is able to capitalize on Adi's ability to draw in defenders, but against Dallas it will be up to Blanco and Nagbe to create danger out of this space.

At the other end of the pitch, the main point for the Timbers will have to be the careful balance of their full backs in getting forward and in not becoming disconnected from the rest of the back line.

While the Timbers will rely on Vytas and Alvas Powell at times to provide width in the attack, the Timbers will need to keep their back line organized against a Dallas side capable of taking advantage of any opening in their armor. The cover provided by Guzman will be key here, allowing the Timbers' center backs to step out wide and fill in for their full backs, something that both Ridgewell and Olum are comfortable doing.

Predicted lineup: Jeff Attinella; Vytas, Liam Ridgewell, Lawrence Olum, Alvas Powell; Diego Chara, David Guzman; Darlington Nagbe, Sebastian Blanco, Dairon Asprilla; Fanendo Adi