Preview: Crew looks to end skid against Timbers

Black & Return home following back-to-back road losses

Ethan Finlay

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Getty Images

Though the Crew's 2-1 loss to the LA Galaxy on Thursday night will still sting heading into the weekend, the Black & Gold must move on quickly as they host the Portland Timbers on Sunday (5:00 p.m. ET / FOX Sports Ohio) at Crew Stadium. Carrying three straight losses into Sunday's match, the Crew will hope to rebound in front of its home fans before a break in MLS play next week.

Despite their misfortunes, the Black & Gold remain just three points out of fifth place in the Eastern Conference. Even with a 5-8-5 record, the team has only allowed one more goal than it has scored through 18 matches in 2013.

"It's easy to say we're not that far off, but we're not," Technical Director Brian Bliss said. "Sure, last night was a game on the road where we took a lot of pressure, but most of our games have been decided by one play on either end of the field.

"We've been playing a decent brand of soccer. We come out with the right amount of energy, but I think it comes down to one play in the attacking end or the defensive end. That's been the margin of winning or losing."

The Crew attack is currently sixth in the League with 242 shots, yet ranks 11th in MLS with 22 goals. Converting offensive chances at a higher rate will be crucial to the Crew's playoff chances in the remaining 16 matches of the season.

PORTER RETURNS TO OHIO

Sunday's match will mark the return of Timbers Head Coach Caleb Porter to Ohio for the first time since leaving the University of Akron last winter. In six seasons as the Head Coach of Akron, Porter amassed a 119-18-17 record and won the 2010 NCAA Championship leading the Zips.

Porter's influence can be found on the Crew roster as Homegrown Players Chad Barson, Ben Speas and Wil Trapp all played at Akron in college.

"From the beginning, Caleb had a tough love sort of thing," Trapp said upon signing with the Crew in January. "He played defensive midfielder. I didn't start out as defensive mid at Akron, but he really pushed me into that role and kind of groomed me to be one of the guys he looked upon to be a leader and move on to the next level. I really owe him a lot for the player I am today."

Added Barson: "Basically, I like to say everything about my game is a result of Coach Porter. The way we trained at Akron, the mentality he teaches you how to approach life, how to approach school, how to approach soccer: it's really all from him. I see a lot of him in myself. When I talk, when I play, just everything really."

With a smooth transition to the pro game, Porter's success has carried over into his first season in MLS. The Timbers are currently riding a 15-match unbeaten streak and have lost just once in 2013.

Though no one is quite sure what 'Porterball' is, the Head Coach has captured the adoration of the Timbers' fanbase in his first season at the helm.

"I think he's brought more of a mentality than a certain style of play," Bliss said of Porter. "I know he had a 'style' of play he was trying to initiate or put through at Akron -- and you can do that over a certain period of time, but I don't think it's that easy to implement in six months. It takes time to implement that.

"They do play a decent brand of soccer, but I think he's brought a different mentality more than anything."

GOLD CUP AFFECTING BOTH SQUADS

The Crew will once again be without striker Jairo Arrieta on Sunday as he represents Costa Rica in the 2013 CONCACAF Gold Cup. Though Arrieta has only two goals to his name in 2013, his fight and finishing ability will be missed in the Black & Gold attack.

Portland's roster, however, has been hit even harder by Gold Cup call-ups as the Timbers will be without the trio of Will Johnson (Canada), Rodney Wallace (Costa Rica) and Frédéric Piquionne (Martinique). The three have combined for 10 goals and 12 assists in Portland's success this season. After a break in MLS play last weekend, Sunday will mark the first match the Timbers will play without Johnson, Wallace and Piquionne.