Polish forward Jaroslaw Niezgoda leads the Timbers with nine goals.
While Bradley is no stranger to the Timbers from his days as head of Los Angeles FC, his TFC players don’t see Portland much.
Saturday marks the teams’ first meeting since April 2019, when the Timbers won 2-1 for the first time in six career games (1-4-1) at BMO Field.
Only captain Michael Bradley, goaltender Quentin Westberg, defender Chris Mavinga and midfielder Jonathan Osorio remain of the Toronto starters on the day.
Portland goes into play in seventh place in the Western Conference this weekend, just above the playoff line.
Toronto (7-12-5) is 13th in the East but is only four points away from the playoffs. Still, there are five teams — Orlando, Miami, New England, Charlotte and Atlanta — between TFC and seventh-ranked Chicago, which currently occupies the last postseason berth.
The latest signs are positive. TFC is unbeaten in three games (2-0-1) with their offense showing a lot more teeth. Compare those seven points from their last three games to the eight points TFC have accumulated over their last 14 league games (2-10-2) dating back to mid-April.
Buoyed by the arrival of Italian stars Lorenzo Insigne and Federico Bernardeschi, Toronto have scored four goals in each of their last two wins (4-0 against Charlotte and 4-3 at Nashville last time out) to avoid a 0-0 draw New England.
Bob Bradley says the Italy attackers are finding their feet after arriving just before practice time mid-season.
“It’s been a good week for both of them,” he said. “You see more energy every day, the personalities of the two are becoming more prominent within the group. That’s really important too. You love soccer. They bring personality, they bring creativity. You bring a lot with you.
“They move in a good way. And we keep trying to push them forward. We pushed them as best we could, minute by minute, all this way without overdoing it. Now I think for the last run you will see even more.”
Toronto has 10 games left, including five at home, where they need to maximize points to move up the table.
And while Toronto is 24th in the league with 28 teams in defense and conceding an average of 1.75 goals per game, it has conceded just six goals in its last five games, three of them in Nashville.
Bradley says his team has reacted well defensively “at difficult moments” lately.
Nevertheless, there is still more to do. A giveaway from Bernardeschi in midfield resulted in a Nashville penalty in the late half last Saturday. And Toronto continues to struggle to defend set pieces.
Timbers coach Giovanni Savarese called Toronto a “difficult team” – and one that’s on the rise as the Italian newcomers step in.
“They’re still trying to do things at a higher level with the new signings,” said the Venezuelan. “They are getting better. So game after game they always look like a better team.
“And definitely when you add players like Bernardeschi and Insigne, you’re going to get quality first and foremost. You will experience individual moments that can change a game, apart from being part of a system. And I think whenever these players come in, not only are they able to play themselves, but in my experience, when these players come in, they often bring a higher standard to everyone around them and everyone starts out better to play.
“It will be great for us to play against a stronger Toronto because it will be a more competitive game. And that’s what we want.”
Savarese said defender Claudio Bravo (hamstring) and midfielders Eryk Williamson (hamstring) and Cristhian Paredes (ankle) should all be available on Saturday. All three were questionable last weekend.
“They keep getting better and healthier. They are ready to be with us,” he said.
Bravo started against Dallas last weekend but did not feature in the second half, Williamson coming off the bench in the 64th minute. Paredes didn’t make the matchday squad.
Portland thought they had won when they took a 1-0 lead in the 96th minute with a goal from Marvin Loria. But an own goal four minutes later from Diego Chara gave Dallas a 1-1 draw at Providence Park.
The Timbers will be without Chilean forward Felipe Mora (knee).
Toronto midfielder Noble Okello (lower body) and Westberg (rib) are unavailable, while midfielder Mark-Anthony Kaye (lower body) is listed as questionable.
Portland’s 10-game unbeaten streak includes six games at home. The Timbers, who are 2-4-6 this season, went 1-0-3 in their four away games in the current run.
Portland have only had two lengthy singles unbeaten seasons in the club’s history, twice 15-straight unbeaten run – first in March-June 2013 and again in April-August 2018.
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This report from The Canadian Press was first published on August 12, 2022.
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press