Despite two comfortable wins, things haven't gone especially well for Aston Villa so far on their tour of the United States. Striker Darren Bent picked up a thigh strain while training ahead of Villa's clash with the Chicago Fire, while Gabby Agbonlahor suffered a knee injury that initially looked far more serious than it turned out to be in the game against the same side. Things most certainly could have gone worse and the team has looked quite good, but it's probably fair to say that the sailing has not been as smooth as many may have anticipated. If Aston Villa want to head back to Birmingham with a bang, they've got just one more chance to do it as they face off against the Portland Timbers at Jeld-Wen Field.
Thankfully for Villa, lots of things have been going "BANG!" in Portland as of late, and very few of them have gone in the favor of the home side. Popular but largely unsuccessful head coach John Spencer was relieved of his duties on July 9th, with (largely unpopular) General Manager Gavin Wilkinson taking the reins on an interim basis. Things have gone from bad to worse since Wilkinson was put in charge; the Timbers have lost three straight, being outscored 11-3 over that stretch and putting in the MLS season's worst performance in a 5-0 loss to (at the time) the team with the worst record in the Western Conference, FC Dallas.
To put it bluntly, the Timbers started out poorly and have gone into a tailspin; they are currently at the very bottom of the heap league-wide, with just 19 points from 20 games and a -16 goal difference. The highlights have been few and far between, with the club's first-ever MLS win against the arch-rival Seattle Sounders (ouch) marking the campaign's apex. The lows have been much more common, but perhaps nothing was as bad as the team's 1-0 loss to amateur side Cal FC -at home- in US Open Cup play; that loss stings all the more when coupled with the fact that the Sounders side against which the season's signature came will be playing for the right to hoist their fourth-consecutive US Open Cup.*
It's not as though this is a side entirely without talent; most Villa fans will likely recognize the name of Kris Boyd, the Scottish Premier League's all-time leading scorer and current focal point of the Timbers attack. Keeper Troy Perkins is one of the league's very best, and given the overall quality of stoppers in MLS that's no small praise. Midfielder Eric Alexander has had a breakout season, establishing himself as a very solid player that may well have a very long and productive MLS career ahead of him. Newly acquired Danny Mwanga has an excellent pedigree and a tremendous amount of potential. Mike Fucito is just an all-around swell guy. As a collection of talent, the Timbers aren't among the elite but they're far, far from the worst. But they seem to have been assembled as a collection of parts rather than as a whole, and they've shown little in the way of ability to actually, you know, play football together.
So, if the Villa are going to put up a gaudy number on this tour, their last chance would also appear to be their best. On their best day the the Timbers aren't an especially good team; on their worst day they are just absolutely atrocious. But it's not all bad; the buzz-word in US soccer these days is "Cascadia" and the Timbers Army- as Portland's supporters are known- are responsible for that in a major way. Though things tend to be more subdued for friendlies such as these, there's little doubt that the hometown fans will provide a tremendous atmosphere, and if Portland is the first MLS team to score against Villa on their tour, a man wearing a hardhat will brandish a chainsaw. This game won't matter for much, but it's likely going to be a whole lot of fun.
*You didn't really think I was going to let that go without a mention, did you?