Competition: Major League Soccer – Portland Timbers vs. Columbus Crew
Venue: Providence Park – Sunday, March 6 – 16:30 ET (21:30 GMT – Live on Sky Sports 1)
Match Odds: Portland 23/20 – Draw 23/10 – Columbus 12/5
Portland enter the new campaign as MLS Cup holders for the first time and now need to cope with that pressure against the side they beat 2-1 at MAPFRE Stadium in December.
Caleb Porter insists the team are preparing for this game as they do every other, but there is no question that bigger things are expected of the Timbers coming into 2016 than in any previous year.
They had a mixed preseason run, winning three of their eight games, but will need to improve on the back-to-back defeats that brought their preparations to a close.
Columbus didn’t win a game in any of their three preseason friendlies but will be out for revenge at Providence Park on Sunday, with the cup final defeat still at the very front of players’ minds.
Gregg Berhalter has not made many changes to the squad over the offseason and that should help the Crew maintain the same playing style from the outset here.
It will be intriguing to see how Kei Kamara performs after enjoying an incredible return to MLS last year. Finding the net in his first game would certainly set the tone for what could, and should be another good year for the Crew. He has just penned a new contract making him a Designated Player and will hope to deliver straight away.
Both sides are expected to be challenging at the top end of the Supporters’ Shield standings come the end of the regular season and so getting off to a good start will be important.
Portland are sweating over the fitness of defender Liam Ridgewell and winger Dairon Asprilla. Ridgewell has a tight calf but should be fit, though Asprilla might have to miss the opener with an ankle sprain. Other than that, Caleb Porter has a full squad available. New signing and former Crew man Chris Klute should start at left-back.
Columbus boss Gregg Berhalter has no injury concerns heading into the season opener and will be able to pick his strongest possible team as a result.
Portland Timbers’ preseason form: L/D/W/W/D/W/L/L
Columbus Crew’s preseason form: D/D/L
Key Stat: Columbus have yet to win away at Portland in MLS (D2 L1).
Key Player: Diego Valeri – The Portland playmaker scored inside a minute when these sides met in last year’s MLS Cup Final. He will look to hurt Columbus yet again and is always a threat with his exceptional passing range.
Portland Timbers 1-1 Columbus Crew – This is expected to be a tight battle between two sides desperate to avoid defeat on the opening day of the new season. Portland are the reigning champions but will need to handle the pressure of being favourites, rather than underdogs now. Columbus will be out for revenge but have yet to win in Portland and would do very well to leave with three points on Sunday.