The Portland Timbers are back in play-off action on Sunday (5.30pm ET; Live on TV: ESPN), as they play host to Minnesota United in the first round of the postseason. The Loons travel to Providence Park looking to repeat their early-season achievement of beating the Timbers in their own backyard.
Here we preview this Timbers vs MNUFC MLS playoff matchup and offer our recommended predictions and betting picks.
For a large portion of the campaign, the Timbers found it tough to be at their best, so much so that a place in the postseason seemed far from guaranteed, but as the regular season wore on, Giovanni Savarese’s men got it together and dragged themselves into a more familiar position, eventually finishing fourth in the west. Sunday’s hosts also warmed up nicely for the playoffs, winning each of their final three matches, including a promising 3-0 win at this venue on the final day.
For Minnesota, the campaign progressed steadily, and it always looked as though the Loons would repeat their 2020 antics and reach the playoffs, so it was little surprise when they eventually finished just one place behind the Timbers in the Western Conference. They didn’t finish the campaign in quite the same style, winning only one of their final four games, but much of their work was already done. Although they didn’t pick up a win on the final day of the regular season, Adrian Heath’s men did score three goals away from home, so they did at least sharpen their attacking tools ahead of a fixture where final-third quality will certainly be required.
Best in the west
The Timbers don’t arrive at the postseason as the top dogs in the west, but they were the best home team in that division. They won 11 out of 17, losing only four times at Providence Park. An average of 2.06 points per home game shows a side that knows how to get it done on their own patch, while averages of 2.05 goals for and 1.87 expected goals for reflects a team with a very real attacking threat.
In the defensive third, the 2015 MLS Cup winners weren’t quite as good, conceding more home goals than all but three other teams in the west, though thanks to their excellent offense, they still offered the third-best home goal difference.
What to make of visiting away record?
If this was a home fixture for the Loons, it would be extremely easy to see them coming out on top without much of a fuss, but their away form doesn’t exactly inspire confidence, even if they did win at Providence Park earlier in the campaign. For starters, the visitors won just three times away from home during the regular season, and while they avoided defeat in seven of their other 14 travelling fixtures, their overall efforts don’t exactly point towards a team that is tough to face. Only one team in the Western Conference scored fewer away-day goals than Minnesota United.
However, they did produce the fourth-best expected goal difference away from home in the west, finishing the regular campaign with a road xG difference of -0.13. Although that is not impressive, it shows us they can just about give as good as they get in terms of creativity on their travels.
Loons on top in this fixture
This will be the third time that the Timbers and Loons have come together on the field in 2021. In June, the Minnesota boys returned from a fixture at this venue with all three points in their bag, thanks to Frenchman Adrien Hunou, whose first-half strike secured a 0-1 win for the visitors.
They repeated the feat a month later, beating Portland by two goals to one, this time at Allianz Field. On that occasion, Sunday’s visitors were vastly superior in an attacking sense, registering 28 shots and six shots on target compared to Portland’s eight and three. On Sunday, Heath’s men will be hoping to secure a hat-trick of wins against a team that hasn’t picked up a win in this fixture since 2018.
What’s the wager for this Timbers vs MNUFC playoff clash?
From a betting point of view, this is a difficult one. Minnesota’s excellent record against the Timbers, both this season and in recent years, makes it easy to lean in the direction of a visiting win, which at odds of +240 isn’t all that unappealing. Portland’s overall home record this term is far better than the Loons’ record away from the comforts of Allianz Field, which could easily sway a betting man back towards the hosts.
Perhaps the best option is to go down the goals route and Over 3.5 Goals catches the eye. There’s been no shortage of goals when the Timbers have played in front of a home crowd, with an average of 3.35 goals going in at Providence Park, where four or more have been scored in five of the last nine.
Moreover, the recent attacking numbers of both teams points towards no shortage of goal-mouth action. Both signed off the regular season with three-goal hauls, while Portland produced expected goals numbers of 3.0 and 3.9 in their last two at home. Minnesota delivered figures of 2.5 and 1.8 in their final two on the road.
Hunou to help himself?
If you want to go down the road of player props here, then visiting forward Adrien Hunou stands out as a player to support in the Anytime Goalscorer market. The 27-year-old scored at this venue earlier this year, while he arrives here having regained his scoring touch last time out, notching away at Galaxy, taking his tally to seven for the season. With an average of 3.48 shots per 90 minutes, as well as an average of 0.54 expected goals, Hunou carries a clear threat, and can be backed to strike while the iron is hot. So these are the two picks we have chosen as the culmination of our betting predictions for this preview: