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Toronto FC vs Portland Timbers: What to watch for

Look for a more exciting game this time around.

MLS: Chicago Fire at Portland Timbers Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

For the first time in two years, the Portland Timbers and their beautiful kits will be at BMO Field this evening for an inter-conference tie with Toronto FC. TFC will want to start turning draws into wins, as they’re unbeaten in their last five games, but with just two victories in that stretch.

The Reds lost 2-1 in Portland last year, with Will Johnson’s goal not enough to match the Timbers’ contributions from Fanendo Adi and Diego Valeri. Toronto were successful the last time they saw Portland at BMO, though: Sebastian Giovinco’s goal stood alone in a 1-0 win.

Here are a few things TFC need to keep in mind tonight.

1. Goals galore

In some of TFC’s recent matches against D.C. United and the Colorado Rapids, the Reds have struggled while their opponents put everyone behind the ball and defended incessantly. That’s made it incredibly difficult for Victor Vazquez to unlock Giovinco and Jozy Altidore in the key areas.

When TFC played New York City, a markedly better team than either of the teams mentioned above, attacking seemed easier. NYCFC actually tried to go forward and score, meaning there were gaps to exploit rather than a brick wall around the 18-yard box.

This week, expect Portland to be a little more adventurous than either of the basement-dwelling teams. They have some highly potent attacking options, especially Diego Valeri (whose 12 goals are more than anyone on TFC this year).

The Timbers are one of the highest-scoring teams in MLS, leading the Western Conference with 42 goals (the same number as TFC, albeit in one more game). They’ve scored two goals or more 14 times this year. This should be a game with plenty of chances for both sides.

2. Hit the target

If, as I just said, this is to be a game with lots of goalscoring opportunities for both sides, TFC will need to make better use of them. Last week in D.C., the Reds had 14 shots, but just two of them (14%) managed to challenge the keeper. In the draw against Colorado, they hit the net on just 27% of their shots.

MLS: New York City FC at Toronto FC Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

This is not something TFC want to make a habit of. Several times this season, they’ve been killed by their own inability to capitalize. This week, it’s vital that Toronto not only challenge Jake Gleeson, but that they (Altidore especially) fight for the second chances in the box.

A couple of times against D.C., Toronto probably could’ve done a little better had there been somebody at the top of the box to shoot. That would’ve at least stretched out the defence a bit, and it could’ve provided Victor Vazquez or Michael Bradley a chance to go for goal from the back.

3. Use both sides

One thing that’s hurt TFC’s attack in Steven Beitashour’s absence has been how lopsided it is. It’s understandable, of course, but Toronto’s central midfielders and defenders definitely trust Justin Morrow (or Raheem Edwards when he’s on the left) far more than any of Oyvind Alseth, Tsubasa Endoh, or Nicolas Hasler.

This was especially apparent last week, when debutant Hasler had very little opportunity to engineer an attack. It seemed every effort from Toronto came from the left wing, which made it very easy for United to stack that side and put a stop to it.

Hasler will never mesh with the team if he’s not given a chance to play with the ball. He seems like a talented player with offensive ability, so TFC need to give him the benefit of the doubt and try to play through the right side as well as the left.