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BY PAUL DANZER/PORTLAND TRIBUNE/Portland vs. Houston is battle of MLS Western Conference contenders both coming off a big victory

The Timbers will take some positives they have not enjoyed in weeks into Saturday's 5 p.m. PT match at Houston.

For the first time since early June, Portland is coming off of a win. And for the first time in weeks, coach Caleb Porter will have most of his mainstays.

How much Darlington Nagbe, Darren Mattocks or Alvas Powell play after being featured in Wednesday's Gold Cup championship match must be determined. Nagbe and the U.S. prevailed 2-1 over Mattocks, Powell and Jamaica. All three will join the Timbers in Houston and should be available.TIMBERS-HOUSTON PREVIEW

Portland (8-8-6, 30 points) is fourth in the MLS Western Conference. Houston (9-7-5, 32) is third in the tight standings.

Nagbe, who was praised for his possession play in midfield during the United States' run to the Gold Cup title, is the most likely of those three to start on Saturday. If Dairon Asprilla (who left Sunday's 2-1 Portland win in Vancouver late with a leg injury) cannot play, Nagbe's return would be an important boost and the Timbers' attacking four would likely consist of Nagbe on the left, Diego Valeri in the middle and Sebastian Blanco on the right and Fanendo Adi up top.

Also back from Gold Cup duty, with Costa Rica, is midfielder David Guzman. He figures to reunite with Diego Chara in the Timbers' defensive midfield. Chara had no problems — contrary to speculation on the Fox Sports 1 broadcast of the Vancouver match — in his return to action.

Ben Zemanski played a strong match at Vancouver alongside Chara, but he probably will return to the bench.

"It's always tricky when you have a good performance with guys that are kind of viewed as second guys or third guys or reserves," Porter said.

The same can be said of rookie Jeremy Ebobisse, who had a goal and assist filling in for the suspended Adi at Vancouver.

The Timbers' back line continues to be in flux because of injuries. The status of left back Vytas was uncertain at midweek. With Marco Farfan still sidelined, Roy Miller is the likely choice at left back if Vytas cannot go.

Miller's experience and versatility has been a big lift for the Timbers. The 32-year-old has played in 17 of Portland's 22 games, mostly at center back. But he has plenty of experience at left back, too, and was strong there at Vancouver.

From Porter's perspective, Miller has more than fulfilled expectations. The Timbers signed him from Costa Rica's Saprissa team that defeated Portland in the CONCACAF Champions League last season. Porter was impressed with Miller in those games.

"He's been everything we thought he'd be," Porter said. That includes being a veteran leader who is "really powerful in the locker room" because of the respect teammates have for him.

"He's not been a depth piece. He's been a starter all year, and I'm not sure we'd be where we're at without him," Porter said, adding that the same is true of Lawrence Olum.

"If we didn't have those two guys, it would have been a similar story, I think, to last year, where we're behind (the playoff line)," Porter said. "We're still not where we need to be. We've obviously had injuries, but we've hung in because of guys like Roy Miller."

Center back Larrys Mabiala has bolstered the back line, which remains without captain Liam Ridgewell in the middle. Porter said Mabiala impressed him with his ability to play two 90-minute games in five days after a seven-week break from competition.

Porter said Mabiala was one of the few Timbers who had a good game against Real Salt Lake, then followed it with a better performance at Vancouver.

"It's nice to have some durability with an experienced player. That's huge," Porter said.

"For him to show that durability already is a good sign. He brings athleticism. He brings strength. He wins a lot of balls. He makes a lot of little plays that go unnoticed. He makes good decisions. He's pretty good on the ball as well."

Like Portland, Houston is coming off a big road win, a 3-1 victory at D.C. United that was its first win away from home in 2017. The Dynamo should have forward Erick "Cubo" Torres back after playing for Mexico in the Gold Cup. Torres leads the team with 12 goals. In midfield, Alex had three assists last week and now has 10 this season. The Dynamo recently signed Argentine attacking midfielder Tomas Martinez, adding another weapon to an attack that averages 2.8 goals per game at home.

Noting that Houston pushes its wide players forward and looks to create challenges for defenses, Porter said,  "You can hurt them a little bit with the way they play, but also they'll hurt you right back immediately."

MLS coaching change

Sigi Schmid is the new coach of the Los Angeles Galaxy. The veteran coach and former Seattle Sounders head man replaces Curt Onalfo, who was 6-10-4 this season after taking over when Bruce Arena moved to coach the U.S. national team.

Schmid's first match for the Galaxy will be against Seattle on Saturday. The Sounders fired Schmid almost exactly one year ago and then went on their run to the MLS Cup title.

The Galaxy visit Portland on Aug. 6.

Another new coach

Also on Tuesday, LAFC announced that Bob Bradley will be its first coach. LAFC will join MLS next season. Bradley coached the expansion Chicago Fire to the MLS Cup title in 1998. He spent five seasons with Chicago, three with the MetroStars (now Red Bulls) and one with Chivas USA before coaching the U.S. national team for nearly five years (2006-11). 

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