After almost six months of action, the 2022 MLS season is down to just a few short weeks of football left to be played. By this point in the season, fans of MLS teams generally have an idea of which squads will make the MLS Cup Playoffs and which will be stuck on the ottoman watching the MLS Cup playoffs on television.
This weekend, two MLS sides who are still very much in the MLS Cup Playoffs discussion get the network television spotlight. Sunday afternoon, while many sports fans inside the United States are watching NFL action, two MLS cities will be tuned into ESPN for one of the most important contests of their teams" respective seasons.
Columbus Crew SC vs. Portland Timbers to Serve as ESPN MLS Match on Sunday
ESPN"s MLS match on Sunday afternoon (1 pm ET/ 10 am PT) will be an intraconference affair between 2020 MLS Cup champions, Columbus Crew SC (9-14-7, 41 points in the standings, 7th place in the Eastern Conference) and the visiting Portland Timbers (11-12-8, 45 points in the standings, 6th place in the Western Conference.) Columbus" Lower.com Field will serve as the match grounds for the Sunday matinee.
Entering Matchday 32 of the season, this game is a highly-critical 90 minutes of action for both Columbus Crew SC and the Portland Timbers. Each team would currently qualify for the playoffs in mid-October if the season were to end today. Columbus, the No. 7 seed in the Eastern Conference bracket, would progress to the knockout round to play the No. 2 seed, CF Montreal, on the road in Quebec.
As far as the Portland Timbers are concerned, they"d be locked into the No. 6 seed in the Western Conference. If the season ended today, Portland would be on the road in the knockout round versus the No. 3 seed, FC Dallas in Frisco, TX.
The Stakes Are High For Columbus Crew SC and Portland Timbers
It goes without saying that Sunday"s game has all the trimmings of a playoff with the postseason less than 30 days away, something that is reflected in the current 2022 MLS Cup Playoff odds (accurate as of 12 am ET on Sept. 16, 2022.) According to the FiveThirtyEight, both sides have a probability of greater than 50 percent heading into this weekend"s matches.
Numerically speaking, Portland has the better chance to appear in the playoffs of the two sides in Sunday"s ESPN match. Currently, the Timbers own a 70 percent chance at playing footy beyond the second weekend of October. In the other corner, the home-standing Columbus Crew holds a 67% chance of entering postseason play.
Columbus Aiming To Return to Win Column After Securing Two Points in Last Three Games
In recent times, Columbus Crew SC has had a rough go of things. On Aug. 31, Columbus bested Inter Miami CF, 1-0 on the strength of a 64th-minute goal from midfielder Luis Diaz. Since the calendar has turned to September, however, Central Ohio"s MLS team hasn"t been able to bag all three points in any of the three matches played.
The following Saturday evening, the Crew travelled to venerable Soldier Field in downtown Chicago to play Chicago Fire FC, a scoreless draw. A week ago Friday, Columbus took its talents north of the border to Stade Saputo for the game against Montreal.
That night, after a scoreless first half of play, Crew SC defender Jonathan Mensah opened up the scoring in the 66th minute with a tally, assisted by fellow defender Steven Moreira and mid-fielder Luis Diaz. Subsequent to the Diaz assist, he was assessed a red card in the 76th minute and was unavailable for selection against Miami on Tuesday.
Two minutes after the Mensah goal, Columbus doubled its lead with a tally by midfielder Lucas Zelarayan, but CF Montreal would not go quietly into the Quebec night. During the final five minutes of the match, Montreal stormed back with two goals of their own to eke out a 2-2 draw and salvage a point in the standings.
Inter Miami Gets Revenge on Columbus Crew SC in Midweek Fixture
Four days removed from letting three points slip away, Columbus Crew SC, much like LeBron James in 2010, took their talents to South Beach for a lightning-delayed match versus Inter Miami CF. This was the Crew"s sixth game to be halted by inclement weather conditions during the 2022 season, with the resumption of a suspended match from July 30 versus Charlotte FC to take place the night of Oct. 5.
Before the delay, Inter Miami forward/ striker Gonzalo Higuain gave his team a 1-0 lead in the 25th minute, followed up right before halftime by the equalizing goal from Crew SC forward Cucho Hernandez. The ensuing weather delay resulted in a resumption of action just before midnight ET Tuesday.
Higuain completed a brace in the 82nd minute of play. Just shy of 1 am ET Wednesday, Inter Miami outlasted Columbus Crew SC, 2-1. So, one question remains ahead of the national TV match on Sunday:
Can Columbus Crew SC stop the skid? Tune in and find out.
Portland Timbers Undefeated Since Late August
In the other corner, the Portland Timbers come into the ESPN game in the reverse scenario of Columbus Crew SC in recent weeks. After having only secured two points in the standings during much of August due to successive draws on Aug. 3 and 6, the Timbers have made victories a habit. Since Aug. 26, Portland has gone unbeaten in league play, bagging 12 points in the standings.
The Timbers have been buoyed by forward/winger Dairon Asprilla during their current four-match winning streak. He"s scored three of his eight goals on the season in these last four games, including the lone tally in a 1-0 victory last Saturday at home against Minnesota United FC.
If Asprilla can find the net again on Sunday against Columbus Crew SC, the Timbers have a good chance at sending the Nordecke home unhappy, but it"s not just Asprilla that"s been the cause of good news in Portland. Their defense has stepped up in recent weeks.
Defense, Defense, Defense
Throughout the Timbers" four-game win streak, they"ve only allowed three goals all told, surrendering one goal each during three of their most recent wins. Timbers goalkeeper Alijaz Ivacic has recorded 11 saves in this winning streak, five of which came a week ago against Minnesota.
At the same time, Columbus Crew SC"s defense provides the Portland Timbers with a difficult test on Sunday. The Crew"s defense currently ranks third in all of Major League Soccer in goals surrendered with just 35 entering this weekend. 14 of those goals allowed have been given up in the final quarter-hour of a game.
At the core, Sunday"s match is going to be a battle of which team"s defense is going to bend but not break. Although the playoffs don"t begin for another few weeks, it"s playoff time right here, right now for Columbus Crew SC and the Portland Timbers. This one should be a fun game to watch.
Who do you think comes away with the three points on Sunday? Let us know in the comments.
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