Observers of Saturday’s game between the Portland Timbers and Sporting Kansas City at Sporting Park (8:30 pm ET, watch on MLS Live) will notice some striking similarities between the two teams.
They’ll see a matchup of sides looking to impose their offensive will through a possession-oriented attack. And there’s one player who will have a unique perspective into how each team will approach the matchup.
Timbers left back Michael Harrington spent his first six seasons in MLS with SKC and has been one of the catalysts behind Portland’s transformation into a possession team. He learned from one of the league’s most successful clubs in doing just that before coming to Portland as one of new head coach Caleb Porter’s first offseason acquisitions.
“I think it will be a great matchup,” Harrington said. “Two teams that kind of like to play the same way, we like to press the ball high and possess the ball. I think it will make for an attractive game of soccer.”
Harrington is experiencing the obvious emotions of facing his former teammates for the first time in front of a fan base that cheered him on for so many years. He’ll have friends and family in the stands and is eager to prove himself to an organization where he saw decreased playing time over the previous two seasons.
But more importantly, in addition to his defensive responsibilities, Harrington plays a key role as one of the main linking players in Porter’s possession attack. While he hasn’t recorded an assist or a goal, Harrington is third on the team with 336 successful passes completed and has an overall passing completion rate of 82.76 percent.
He’s completed more than 60 passes in five of the first seven games this season, with a season-high of 72 successful passes in Portland’s 2-0 win over Houston on April 6.
“Obviously the last few years wasn’t the experience I wanted,” Harrington said. “So far here it’s been great. I’m enjoying my new team, new teammates, and I’m excited to see how my new guys do against my old guys.”
Portland and Kansas City are near the top of the league in a number of different offensive statistics. Portland, unbeaten in their last five games, are tied for second in the league with 11 goals in seven games, while SKC have eight goals in eight games. SKC, who saw a five-game unbeaten streak come to an end in a 2-0 loss last weekend to the LA Galaxy, are second in the league with 111 shots, while Portland are seventh with 90.
And don’t expect the Timbers to change their approach because they’ll be playing on the road in a stadium where Sporting has gone unbeaten in three games this year and lost just three times last season.
“Really, it’s no different,” Harrington said. “I think Caleb has done a fantastic job of getting us ready for the road the same way we’re preparing at home.”
Right back Jack Jewsbury, also a former fixture for eight years in Kansas City before coming to Portland for their inaugural MLS season in 2011, said it’s a style of play that is becoming the team’s identity.
“We’re very confident going into the game,” Jewsbury said. “We understand how talented their group is. And we realize at home they’ve been very, very good. We’re aware of what they do well, but at the same time we’re confident that whether it’s here or on the road we’re going to go and play our style of game.
"It’s going to be an entertaining game for everyone involved, fans as well, and we’re excited about it because it’s a good test against one of the best teams in the league.”
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com.