2019 MLS Week 18 Preview — New York City FC (7-8-1) vs. Portland Timbers (6-2-8)

They may not have the same name cache as Lionel Messi and Sergio Aguero, but Argentines Maxi Moralez and Brian Fernandez are currently scoring at rates in the MLS similar to their higher-profile compatriots.

Moralez and New York City FC look to extend their club-record unbeaten streak to 15 matches in all competitions while trying to cool off Fernandez as he leads the Portland Timbers into their final Eastern Conference road contest Sunday.

The Bronx Blues (7-8-1) are fifth in the East on 29 points, behind reigning MLS Cup champion Atlanta United on goal difference, but they are just six points behind conference-leader Philadelphia with four matches in hand as the draws they were getting earlier in the season are becoming wins. NYCFC showed no signs of a letdown following its win over the Union, scoring all three goals in the final 32 minutes of its 3-0 victory over Seattle on Wednesday night.

Moralez continued his scintillating form, snapping a scoreless deadlock in the 58th minute and contributing to the buildup that led to Jesus Medina’s goal on 77 minutes that sealed the victory. Moralez has registered a goal or an assist in each of his last seven league matches, totaling six goals and eight assists as the Bronx Blues have gone 5-2-0 in those contests.

“It was an important game. After playing Saturday with a few days of rest, we had to show that we are good,” Moralez said via a translator. “Maybe the first half wasn’t so good, but the second half we came out determined and knew that it was important to get the win.”

While Moralez has been tearing through opposing defenses, keeper Brad Stuver has been a quality deputy between the sticks as Sean Johnson plays for the U.S. at the Gold Cup. Stuver has won all three of his matches in league play and recorded his first career clean sheet Wednesday with a four-save effort.

Fernandez, who joined the Timbers (6-2-8) in May following his move from Liga MX side Necaxa, has quickly made himself at home in MLS with nine goals in his first seven matches across all competitions and scoring in every contest.

His purple patch of scoring continued in last Sunday’s 1-0 win over FC Dallas, scoring from the top of the penalty area in the 42nd minute after being picked out by Sebastian Blanco with an incisive curling pass from midfield. Fernandez became the first player to score goals in the first five matches of his MLS career.

“It’s something beautiful,” Fernandez told the club’s official website via a translator. “After a bad moment I had to face in my life, I am thankful with my family, my children and my teammates who have supported me since I got here. I am trying to do everything the best possible way, giving my best effort so I can be productive during all the matches. It’s very important to build a name of your own in this league.”

Portland is making its sixth and final trip to play in the Eastern time zone, a by-product of its season-opening 12-match road trek while Providence Park was undergoing renovations to expand seating capacity. The Timbers have gone 3-0-2 in such matches and had won three straight before losing 2-1 at Montreal on June 26.

The Timbers ran out 3-0 winners last year as Blanco, Fanendo Ali, and Larrys Mabiala all scored goals. They have won both of their previous games at Yankee Stadium, and all three of their wins in the four matches between the teams have been by shutout.

(Sebastian Blanco photo courtesy Portland Timbers official Twitter account)

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