Category Archives: Look Ahead

Thorns F.C.: Silly Season

silly season


I thought I’d written my last post for the year two weeks ago after the title match.  The story of the Thorns FC 2013 seemed to have a happy ending, and there remained nothing more than to bask in the glow of Portland’s second ever big-league sports title.

Then the club waived Nikki Marshall. Continue reading Thorns F.C.: Silly Season

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Thorns FC: Flash Burns

This coming Sunday is Bastille Day, and, appropriately, Thorns FC as the preseason consensus-royalty of the NWSL will be faced with a swarm of canaille from Western New York at the gates of Jeld-Wen Field; the Flash, a.k.a. Wambach & Co.

For me this is not good news.

That’s because our Thorns have just put on a fairly unimpressive display of ragged defense and disorganized attack in their nil-2 loss to the fifth-place Boston Breakers just a week after going scoreless and gifting two goals at FC Kansas City and being held to a messy nil-nil draw away to Sky Blue before that.  In fact, you have to go back almost a month to recall at Thorns FC win, and that was home against a then-sorry Seattle Reign.

At this point there’s really no reason to rehash the observations I’ve already made about the Thorns.  We’ve all seen what’s happening on the pitch, and we all know – at least, I hope that Coach Parlow Cone and her team know – what needs to happen to stop the bleeding.  My intention here is, specifically, to break down the Flash and see if there’s anything special that needs to happen before this coming Sunday.

From the distance of Cascadia the Western New York Flash are a real mystery to me.

On paper this team is loaded, packed with national team players; forward Adriana Martin from Spain, midfielders Samantha Kerr from Australia and Veronica Perez of Las Tri, and USWNT players U-23 goalkeeper Adrianna Franch and senior national team midfielder Carli Lloyd.

Oh, yes, and a certain Mary Abigail Wambach who might just be the greatest women’s player in the world at the moment.

So you’d think that we’d be looking up at this lot on the top of the league, rather than seeing them clinging to the last playoff spot.  But the Flash have had a problem all season getting results.

Sometimes their attack just doesn’t work; the woeful Red Stars shut them out in Chicago last week as did Kansas City this past Sunday.

Other times they break down in the back; back on June 23rd Seattle was a goal up within half an hour and WNY needed a Wambach PK to save the point.  The same month they shipped two goals against both Chicago and Boston to barely manage the away points, and even the dire Washington Spirit managed to hold them to a 1-1 draw back in April.

They seem to play down to the quality of their opponents; Chicago is 1-1-1 against them, and Boston is 1-0-1.  Washington is the only no-hoper at 0-2-1 including a 4-nil thrashing in Rochester back at the end of June.  At the other end they’re 3-0 against Sky Blue and 1-0-1 against FCKC; they seem to like a challenge.

So it’s going to be difficult to suss out which WNY will show up next week; will it be the one that walloped Washington or the one that lost to Chicago?

We do know some things, however, and here’s my thoughts on what they are and what will need to happen for Thorns FC to get a good result against WNY.

Wambach is a menace in the air and WNY will be extremely dangerous from lofted crosses and corners.

Thorns FC scores very few goals from headers; 6% (only 1 of 18 goals scored).  Given our lack of effective width and few players who cross well that’s no surprise.  But we also don’t see many headers against us; Bywater’s goal for Chicago (on the June weekend when the USWNT and CWNT call-ups left both sides without their stars) was the only one I can recall.  I certainly hope that the team is practicing their team defense against lofted crosses and set pieces this week.

But WNY thrives in the air.  22% of their goals – 6 of 22 – have come from someone’s head.  Of the teams in the NWSL that can score only Boston (22%, 5 of 23) comes close.  Those of us who have watched Wambach will find this no surprise.  But it’s worth noting that WNY defender Brittany Taylor has two goals, and that usually means off a set-piece of some kind, and another defender (Robinson) has a goal off a corner kick.  I cannot help but suspect that Aaran Lines will want to test the PTFC defense with some aerial attack, and we should expect to see that.

The Thorns backline will have to mark tightly – especially Wambach and especially on set-pieces.  Beyond general improvement in team defense the play of the central defenders must also improve; Williamson cannot afford to be torched as she was repeatedly against Boston, and Wambach – who knows Beuhler’s penchant for rough play – cannot be allowed to use that to draw a penalty.

The Flash tend to score goals from the run of play and appear to have a solid midfield providing service.

Over the past nine games ten players have scored 20 goals for WNY; Wambach, of course, with 6 goals but also Lloyd (4 goals), Martin (2), and Kerr, Winters, Perez, and DiMartino with one each.  Almost all of these goals have come in open play, other than the three noted above and a McCall Zerboni strike from a goalkeeper error.  To assume that the Flash will come in looking like St. Mirren circa 1962 would be a mistake; these people will look to play balls through midfield and both out to the wings as well as into the 18.

The Thorns will have to control midfield play.  Sure, that’s Soccer 101, but until now we’ve consistently bypassed the midfield in hopes of an Alex Morgan long-distance lightning strike.  If we are going to stop the WNY attack that defense must begin in midfield, and the midfielders will have to be capable of turning on the ball and then providing accurate passes to our strikers, something we have not done consistently to date.

The Flash tends to ship goals at random moments and while they have a good defense it’s not statistically better than ours…and we’ve seen what that means.

I see this – and marking Wambach out of the match – as the key to victory.

When the Flash get beaten it’s been on the counter, with goals from distance, and early goals forcing them to struggle for late equalizers.  Chicago’s Mautz scored on them in the first minute and forced them to nearly into 90+ for the draw.   Leroux nailed a 20-some yard strike and forced the Flash, again, to go almost to full time to pull off the draw.  Backfooting them will be critical, and that means pressure, and that means both opportunism and possession.

Our frontline has to score, score early, and then keep possession and pressure on through the match. 

Let’s face it; the best way to keep Abby Wambach from scoring is to ensure that Abby Wambach’s opponents don’t let her have the ball.  Better yet; they keep the ball down around her goal, and force her to play central defender.

But we haven’t been doing that of late and, honestly, I don’t know how to solve that problem.

If I did I’d be on the phone to Jeld-Wen right now.  We have two of the best strikers in women’s soccer – possibly in ALL of soccer – in Sinclair and Morgan.  But we have been terrible as providing them with good opportunities and as a strike partnership they have looked out of sorts and poorly connected.

I know part of the trouble is in midfield, and we have a potential missing piece – Tobin Heath – arriving this week.  But, frankly, we haven’t seen our forwards playing well off each other even when they do work the ball down into the attacking third.  I think a large part of that is our width; we don’t have any, and it allows opposing defenses to collapse around Morgan, Sinclair, and Weimer (and Foxhoven, Shim, or any other Thorns involved in the attack).  But another part of it is on the players themselves, and their working out techniques that allow them to make space around the goal.

This is what I see as Coach Parlow Cone’s hardest task for the upcoming week.

Can you believe that we’d be saying that?  Hey, this was Thorns FC!  We have the two of the deadliest gunners in North America, amiright?  Just roll that ol’ ball out and watch ’em knock it in, amiright?

Well, no.

Turns out that even great strikers need support from the back, and a tactical plan, and movement off the ball, and wing play, and good coomunication and coordination.

And y’know what?  I have to think we can do that.  I want to think we can take the attack to the Flash and make them worry more about what Morgan and Shim and Sinclair will do with the ball and less what Abby Wambach could be doing with it.

And I want to think that Coach Parlow Cone thinks that, too.

Thorns FC: Sharp Thorns All In A Row

So.

We’re more than halfway through the NWSL season, looking like the class of the league and a lock to go to the finals. Top of the league with our rivals Sky Blue who are, of course, still sitting on that head-to-head tiebreaker, dammit. 

Is there anything that Cindy Parlow Cone should be doing, other than booking the team’s tickets for the Final and measuring the Jeld-Wen trophy case to make sure the silverware can fit in it?

Here’s my thoughts in order from back to front:

Pad all the corners, put up stairway gates, and lay down non-slip floor mats in Karina LeBlanc’s apartment.  Let’s be honest; we sneaked out of New Jersey with that point because The Wall was a complete madwoman.  She stoned Sky Blue, owned Lisa De Vanna, and singlehandedly snatched two points from the home side in the last fifteen minutes when her backline inexplicably stopped playing.  She has been a rock in goal for Thorns FC, and we need to keep her healthy.  Given that her nominal backup, Adelaide Gay, was 86ed for a former Portland State amateur when LeBlanc was called up to the CWNT there’s no point in kidding around or taking chances.

For God’s sake do NOT let this woman go hangliding or BASE jumping!

How do they line up then?  LeBlanc.  Period.

Gather up the fullbacks for a little talk about what they do.  Of the Thorns units the defenders have shown the least improvement over the course of the season.  That’s not entirely a bad thing.  The backline was far and away the steadiest part of the team in the early games.  Rachel Beuhler has showed a flair for organizing her teammates and is no mean force her ownself.  Williamson has been a steady partner for Beuhler in the center.  So far the center of the defense has looked respectable much of the time.

On the wings…well, if I were Parlow Cone I would be working with my fullbacks.  Right now what wide play Thorns FC gets is largely from Marshall and Dougherty pushing up the touchlines.  But both of those fullbacks – Marshall more so than Dougherty – have been caught upfield by speedy wingers and the defense has suffered for it.  The Thorns have proved vulnerable both to crosses and to diagonal runs through the middle.  In many of the cases I’ve seen it is because the outside backs have pushed up and poor passing in midfield (we’ll get there in a bit) has resulted in a quick counter, catching the defense napping.  If the fullbacks are going to provide the wide attack the defensive midfielders and centerbacks will have to learn to cover for them better and the fullbacks are going to have to learn when to retreat.

Against the no-hopers like Boston, Seattle, Chicago and Washington we can get away without doing that.

Against Kansas City, Western New York, and Sky Blue, not so much.

How do they line up, then?   Marshall LFB, Williamson RCB, Beuhler LCB, Dougherty RFB (subs: O’Neill, Ramirez)

Sort out how the midfield plays, who’s playing in midfield, and find some width there.  Thorns FC really needs to define themselves in midfield.  And we need to find some wingers

Mind you – it’s better than it was, far better than we looked in the first match against KCFC, where Kerr was adrift and Long stymied.  Long seems to be comfortable at defensive midfield, and I though that part of our defensive woes in New Jersey was her absence at DM.  Kerr has had two solid matches and looks much more the distributor and organizer she looked in preseason and can go out wide at times.  Between those two Thorns should be strong in the back of midfield.

Going forward I think part of the problem – and, mind you, we should all have such problems – is that we have almost too many options for attacking midfielders and yet, not enough wingers; Wetzel, Shim, Guess, Foxhoven and Sinclair (when they play AM/withdrawn forward) are all talented players but all seem like either central midfielders or center-forwards.

The one player who has been out on the wing more often than not – Nikki Washington – to my mind has proved disappointing this season.

This is just me talking but I think the Thorns do better with a 4-4-2 diamond midfield than the 4-3-3; it allows for Long (or Wetzel) to stay in touch with the backline at DCM, Sinclair to distribute, and Kerr to provide width and spread the defense.  From what I saw Saturday a 4-3-3 narrows the Thorns attack more than it already is, which is pretty damn narrow.

But the problem with the 4-midfield is – who else to play out wide, then?  Washington  needs to improve her touch and tactical judgement if so.  Guess?  Shim?  Neither of the latter two seem comfortable playing out on the wing.  Wetzel doesn’t have the speed, Long is too important as the chara, and Sinclair is wasted at winger.

How do they line up, then?  Good question!  In a four MF lineup, my thought would be Long CDM, Wetzel (with Heath after July) CAM, Washington LW, Kerr RW with Guess as substitute.   With three, maybe more of a 4-1-2-2 or 4-2-1-2 with Long and/or Wetzel at CDM, Heath and/or Shim up front?  Sinclair could play anywhere in front of midfield, but (as we’ll see below) I’d rather she played forward.  Foxhoven as ACM sub, Guess as DCM sub.  Subs for the wingers?  Gah!  Who knows?

As you can tell – I think solving the midfield is Parlow Cone’s toughest problem.  If she can get that one right I think we might just run the table the rest of the season…if we get the two forwards we should have going…

Get the Alex Morgan who played in the last Kansas City match at home on speed dial.  Morgan has a tendency to cruise in NWSL matches.  She has terrific skills, she can beat most NWSL defenses on pure blinding speed alone, and I can’t say I blame her for laying off when she doesn’t have to.

But that’s for the Chicagos and Bostons and Washingtons.  Against the top of the table Thorns FC looks an order of magnitude better then Alex works hard all match and does the little things that hurt the opponents’ defense; making runs off the ball to open up space, taking on her defenders and pulling them with her, fighting through tackles and using her teammates to both feed and take service from.   I want to see that Morgan a lot…

Find a way to use Christine Sinclair in her CWNT role.  Chris has been terrific this season doing what her coach has asked of her.  In the early going she dropped back to help marshal a midfield that was overmatched.  Now the midfield looks stronger, and Sinclair is a wrecking-ball of a forward, so it’d seem to be a perfect opportunity to move her back up front.  Parlow Cone tried that in New Jersey but Chris looked pretty gassed from her national team duties.

Still, I have yet to see Sinclair and Morgan look like they were completely in synch.  And I’m not sure if they can; both are strikers with a similar style – it’s a bit difficult to see who can compliment whom.

Make them a dyad, a double-star, providing service for each other and scoring as well.  If Parlow Cone can make that happen Thorns FC may, indeed, become the dreaded Death Star it has been touted.  That would be insanely beautiful.

How do they line up, then?  Morgan (duh!) and Sinclair. I honestly don’t know what you do with Weimer and Shufelt.  In my opinion one of them is a dead woman walking; the moment Heath arrives one of them will be pinin’ for the fjords, an ex-Thorn.

What’s the stakes for all this, then?

Of the ten matches left five are to teams we should beat handily; three to the only moderately-awful Boston Breakers (which with any sort of decent play probably means at least four points and probably five), one more match with the woeful Chicago here and the final meeting with sad-sack Seattle at Tukwila for another six.

But of the remaining four:

Two are home-and-home with Western New York – one of the two teams we have yet to face.  On paper these guys are loaded: Wambach, Kerr, Lloyd…but in practice the Ragin’ Rhinettes have been streaky and unpredictable, beating Sky Blue twice and FCKC once but losing to Boston and drawing against them as well as Washington, Chicago, and the Reign.  Very difficult to tell how these will go.  My hope would be a win here, a draw in Rochester, four points.  My fear would be the other way around; draw here, loss away for a single point.

And two are home-and-home with FCKC – Hard to suss these out just because our first meeting was a frightful mess with goals hard to come by and the second was a wild free-for-all with goals by the bucketful.  Which teams will meet for the last two matches?

I have to think that we’re better now than either Thorns team that played those first two matches; at least four points, then, with the dire possibility that KC might possibly sneak a home win next week and leave us with only the three.

I think Parlow Cone has a terrific opportunity before her; figure out how to optimize this team and blitz these two teams.  Take twelve points from them.  Stun the league into submission before the semifinal kickoff.

The first step, in my opinion, is to sort out how her garden grows; arrange all those silver bells and cockle shells and sharp Thorns all in a row.

Drang nach Portland! – Thorns FC v Chicago Red Stars

Today’s match between Thorns FC and the visiting Chicago Red Stars will be intriguing for the number of questions it raises.

There’s the “Third time’s the charm?” question.  The first two meetings between these clubs ended in 2-nil beatings for a Chicago side that never really learned the words to the Thorns’ opponents theme song, “How Do You Stop A Problem Like Alex Morgan?” Not their fault; only Sky Blue FC has managed to cover that number.  But Rory Dames now has SBFC’s example to learn from.  We’ll see if he can get the visitors to sing along to the tune that Jim Gabarra wrote here less than three weeks ago.

There’s also the “Where In The World Is Christine Sinclair (and Alex and Rachel and Karina…)?” question.  We know where – Toronto, preparing to play each other.  At Stumptown Footy the Always Indispensible Jonanna W discusses the potential options Cindy Parlow Cone has for reconfiguring a team that has leaned heavily on the currently-missing internationals.  She mentions all the usual suspects in attack; Foxhoven, Long, Shim…even Angie Kerr (who in my opinion has yet to show the form she promised in preseason) and Nikki Washington (who I thought looked adrift against Sky Blue, underperformed against a visiting Washington Spirit and was recently benched against Seattle).  But all of these players – though decent attackers all – have never yet played a minute against a NWSL opponent without the big names on the pitch.  My suspicion is that they will have serious difficulties today against a Chicago defense that has added a very solid German defender in Sonja Fuss.

Which brings up the third and most fraught question; “Deutschland über Portland?”

Chicago has added another GWNT player, and she is a serious load; Inka Grings

“…is third on Germany’s all-time career scoring list with 64 international goals…was the top scorer in Euro 2005 with four goals… Scored five goals and was the top scorer in Euro 2009…won German Footballer of the Year in 1999, 2009, and 2010…and top-scorer in the UEFA Women’s Champions League in the 2010–11 season.”  She’s also the Bundesliga’s all-time top scorer.

Whew.

I can’t see Grings as anything but a huge problem for a Beuhlerless Thorns FC backline.  And a real danger to a LeBlancless Portland goal.  Parlow Cone will HAVE to devise a tactic or combination tactics to neutralize Grings or today will be, as another German is supposed to have said;

“For the Thorns, it will be the longest day … the longest day.”

Budding Thorns

The reserve squad for the Portland Thorns FC played a preseason friendly last night at Merlo Field, the home pitch for the Portland Pilots.  The result – a 2-1 win for the visitors – was almost immaterial.  The internationals never even dressed out; there was obviously no intention to field the side we’re going to see in about three weeks.  The plan (and the successful result) was to provide a test for the college-product Thorns.

My bride and I took a pleasant walk through our North Portland neighborhood to join the crowd – and the match drew almost 5,000 people to the pretty green-and-purple stadium just west of Willamette Boulevard – that watched the teams test each other.  While the following are just snapshots of the state of the Thorns, I did get a sense of how the junior members of the team are shaping;

Downing UPO 3-29-131.  The overall level of play was not too disparate.  This wasn’t a college squad overmatched by a team of pros; it was a good college team against a team of college all stars.  While nobody in purple was of the quality of, say, Allie Long or Nikki Washington, nobody in the gray-and-red Thorns practice strip was that much better than Kaila Cameli or Nichole Downing.

2.  The Thorns reserves either had some early pre-season rust to buff off or weren’t used to playing without the internationals (and given that the latter had only reported several weeks ago it was probably the former).  The team came out looking pawky and out of synch, especially in back.  The Pilots had several good counters early that resulted in the early goal.  This was, in part, because the Thorns played an exceptionally high backline and were caught ballwatching several times.

3.  The Thorns still need to work on their defensive nous and communication among their defenders and between their midfield, defenders, and goalkeeper.  Even in the 88th minute giveaways in midfield and poor marking allowed a Pilot counter that had goalkeeper Roxanne Barker isolated on an charging Pilot forward who just couldn’t gain control in time to shoot on frame.  I’m sure Parlow-Cone will have some words with the defenders on Monday.

4.  Speaking of goalkeepers, the Thorns might want to keep an eye on Nichole Downing.  The Pilots keeper – only a sophomore, too! – was terrific, making several point-blank saves and keeping the scoreline close.  If she continues to improve she will be a great pick for some NWSL team in a year or two.

Kerr UP 3-29-135.  Allie Long is the real deal.  Her goal – a 22-yard rocket – was lovely, and she was a continuous menace to the Pilots defense that otherwise handled the Thorns attack fairly decently.

6.  Overall the Thorns look…well, something rather like this year’s Timbers.  Possession football with some intelligent movement off the ball and (after a bit of sorting-out) some precise passing.  A defense that consistently pushes up the pitch and, as a result, is vulnerable to the quick counter.  Solid but not brilliant keeping.

The crowd sounded evenly divided between Thorn and Pilot supporters, and both seemed well-pleased with the teams’ performance.  The Purple Passions (or whatever the University of Portland supporters group calls itself) provided a local counterpoint to the small Thorns Alliance contingent and some unintentional comedy – for all that they had the drums that the Thorns supporters didn’t they clearly haven’t worked up their own chants; Timbers Army veterans got a smile from hearing “Portland Boys We Are Hear” coming from the far end of the pitch for a change.

The Thorns seem to be absorbing the culture of their brother club; the team trotted down to the West End and applauded their supporters as Merlo emptied out.

Two weeks until the Thorns’ first match and the buds appear ready to open.

Look Ahead: Home Sweet Home

Whoever takes the field for the Timbers in the home opener, it’ll be a very different team to that which saw out 2012 in front a battle-weary Timbers Army. I expect only 4 players will remain in the starting team from then: Donovan Ricketts, Andrew Jean-Baptiste, Diego Chara and Darlington Nagbe. Of the other 11, 3 are gone, 2 are injured and Danny Mwanga and Sal Zizzo are unlikely to start.

Mikael Silvestre will, depending on fitness levels, start. Considering the lack of game time, and even training that the 35 year old has missed, that seems like a risk, but perhaps reflects Caleb Porter ‘playing safe’ with the established international defender partnering a much less experienced Jean-Baptiste or Dylan Tucker-Gangnes, rather than the two rookies who started together against AIK.

If Silvestre plays, Jean-Baptiste would start as Mosquera and Horst are still injured, and Danso seems to be about as welcome in the starting team as a fart in a spacesuit. © Billy Connolly


newyork

vs New York Red Bulls

Sun 3 Mar, 16:30

The Timbers kick off their third season on Sunday, facing New York Red Bulls. It’ll be the second time Thierry Henry has played at Jeld-Wen, with his debut in 2011 ending in a red card after a goal in a 3-3 draw that was also my first ever live match at Jeld-Wen, which I attended through a fog of jet-lag and as such I remember next to nothing of.

New York are one of a group of clubs that have most shaken up their rosters this offseason and, like Portland, they enter 2013 with a new head coach, Mike Petke.

Petke became the 7th head coach still under 40 in MLS this year, reflecting a trend towards a younger head coach/manager as compared to other top flights around the world.

The average age of all current, permanent head coaches/managers in each top tier league, against the current average length of each manager's current employment
The average age of all current, permanent head coaches/managers in each top tier league, against the current average length of each manager’s current employment

Petke takes over a club he’s been long associated with, and one who have yet to really get a return for their investment in high-profile players.

Henry, Tim Cahill, Fabian Espindola and Juninho Pernambucano are all guys who would expect to be on a successful team in MLS, while Dax McCarty, Jamison Olave and Heath Pearce add defensive solidity.

There are a couple of familiar faces on the New York roster this year. Eric Alexander has featured for New York this offseason, but will struggle to hold off the returning Dax McCarty from the spot alongside Cahill in midfield. Another year of waiting in the wings for a chance to impress seems to await for Alexander.

Kosuke Kimura never really found a home in the Timbers defence, but he may well start for New York at right-back. Given his struggles last year, and what the Timbers coaching staff saw of him in training every day, it may be interesting to see whether Porter looks to exploit Kimura’s lack of positional awareness by playing Harrington with more scope to go forward and beyond Kimura. This would allow Nagbe to push inside and ask questions of the New York defence by picking up the ball with 30 yards to goal rather than 50.

New York went winless in the Desert Diamond Cup, losing three of four, and seem to be struggling to find the right mix under a rookie coach – sound familiar? – but the ability of their star players means that you write them off at your peril. I think this is a winnable game, but just as we can hurt New York, the worry remains that we still have a glass jaw when it comes to defence.

If Silvestre plays, I’d expect to see us play a little deeper than we otherwise might in a home opener. It may stretch us out, and New York have players who thrive on find space between the line, so much rests on the full-backs and central midfield two to step up and put in a real shift to be both solid in defence and the link to Valeri and the forward three.

The Timbers failed to score first in each of the pre-season tournament matches, but finding the net first here would really help settle the team down and allow them to concentrate on playing a patient passing game as opposed to trying to chase down another first goal against.


montreal

vs Montreal Impact

Sat 9 Mar, 19:30

Six days after facing New York, the Timbers Army will reassemble to welcome Montreal Impact, and to see 2-0 loss in Quebec last season avenged.

Troy Perkins will, if fit and selected, play in front of his old fans for the first time since a 1-1 draw against FC Dallas last August. Seems safe to bet that Perkins will receive a more favourable welcome than that for Mike Fucito

Montreal have also changed head coaches, with Marco Schällibaum giving up the glamour of life as a coaching instructor in Qatar and Mongolia to take his first head coaching job outside of Europe.

Schällibaum inherits a squad that has added to its experienced Italian core of Nesta, Ferrari and Di Vaio with the experienced winger, Andrea Pisanu.

For as bad as the Timbers were on the road last year, and they were bad, it’s worth noting that the Impact earned only 2 points more than Portland, and lost on both their 2012 trips to the West Coast.

Despite this poor away form Montreal would’ve been right in the play-off hunt until the end were it not for a late season collapse that saw them pick up only 3 points in the last 6 games. Improvements on the road are a priority this year and they can set the right tone early on as they begin the season with a Cascadia double header, opening up in Seattle before traveling down the I-5 towards fresh air.

In contrast to New York and Portland, the new coach hasn’t been busying himself building a new team so the roster remains largely unchanged, which means that they still rely heavily on the 36 year old knees of Macro Di Vaio not giving out at all.

Most likely Montreal would line up in a 4-5-1 with, fitness allowing, Di Vaio up top, Mapp and Pisanu wide, and Bernier, Arnaud, Felipe and Wallace fighting it out for the three central positions.

Once again, Montreal lack a bit of pace at the back, and it would be interesting to see what a dynamic front three of Nagbe, Trencito and Ryan Johnson could do against them, with Valeri providing the ammunition.

Chara and Will Johnson would have to match up, and push their opposite numbers on to the back foot and isolate Di Vaio, who is still capable of flashes of his old brilliance, but can be kept quiet by an organized and mobile defence.

Starting the season with 2 home matches gives Porters team a great chance to make put points on the board early on. Seattle, in Seattle, await after Montreal, so there is every imperative to hit the ground running before going in search of a debut MLS win in Groupon country.