Tag Archives: Match Preview

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.

Timbers’ Galaxy Quest

LA Galaxy host Portland Timbers for the second time this season with neither team in sparkling form, though the Timbers can at least point to an unbeaten month of May after 3 draws and the win against Chicago. LA’s form has been little short of catastrophic, with only 1 win in the 8 MLS matches since they defeated the Timbers 3-1 in April. They’ve lost the last three, as well as losing to Carolina Railhawks in the US Open Cup.

Bah, the Open Cup…

How the Timbers react to their defeat to Cal FC will be one of the big questions hanging over the side. The sour taste that the defeat left in the mouths of fans has lingered, and both players and fans will be looking for a palate cleansing victory this weekend.

During the break the Timbers have added Danny Mwanga to the side, sending Jorge Perlaza to Philadelphia, and you would expect that Mwanga will be in line for a debut against LA. The developing partnership of Mwanga and Boyd will be an interesting one to watch.

LA Galaxy Team Problems

The Timbers have every right to feel that this is a very winnable match. They aren’t facing the same team that swept to an MLS Cup triumph last year. This LA will have lost Robbie Keane to international duty, are nursing a long injury list and have Mike Magee and Michael Stephens suspended as well as Landon Donovan publicly expressing his ennui. Also is not well at Beckham FC, and Bruce Arena has had to fend off talk of dressing room unrest.

This will force the Galaxy into a number of changes in line-up, with Keane, Buddle and Cristman all likely to miss out. Chad Barrett has started the last couple of matches with Edson Buddle, so it would seem likely he would lead the line against Portland, with the veteran ex-Sounder Pat Noonan also an option, though he has only started one of his nine appearances this season. Jack McBean, only 17, is an option but unlikely to be start. If Juninho makes it, I’d expect a front three of Nakazawa, Barrett and Donovan – assuming he’s fit to go after a raft of international matches – to start, with Beckham behind and Juninho and Sarvas providing the steel in midfield.

Magee’s suspension is a blow for them, but Kyle Nakazawa is an able deputy on the left. Nakazawa will be no stranger to Danny Mwanaga having been team mates at Philadelphia (Mwanga even contributed an assist to a Nakazawa goal last season), and he possesses a threat from set plays, assuming Beckham lets him take any.

The midfield battle

A big key point for LA will be whether Juninho makes it. Juninho is very much the heart of the engine room for the Galaxy, and his absence is usually sorely felt. His box-to-box, all action hustle allows Beckham to play a more advanced central role where his long passing and shooting can be more effective.

Though very much in the twilight of his career, Beckham’s ability to spread the play around will keep the Timbers back line stretched. The flashes of old brilliance are coming at ever-increasing intervals these days, but the Timbers won’t need any reminding about what he can do if given time and space 30 yards from goal.

Having Juninho and Sarvas in the centre also takes away some of the defensive responsibility from the ageing underwear model, which is probably just as well as it’s certainly not his strong suit.

There was a sense that Marcelo Sarvas had been signed from LD Alajuelense to replace his countryman Juninho, before the Brazilian was signed on a third year-long loan deal the following month. Though his playing time has been limited, Sarvas has done reasonably well when given the chance in a Diego Chara-esque role.

Winning this midfield battle will be difficult. The Galaxy have a number of ways they can go – Beckham may play out wide in a 4-4-2, or they can put 3 in the middle in a 4-2-3-1 / 4-3-3 set up. Diego Chara’s ability to disrupt play is important, but whoever is alongside him will have to help out defensively to stop Chara being outnumbered by an onrushing Juninho, or Donovan/Nakazawa coming in from the flanks.

Donovan’s Threat

Though his form for LA has been below par Donovan remains a threat, coming in from wide or from deep with late runs, as the Timbers found out to their cost in the last match between the teams when he equalised just before half time. Given his talismanic status with the Galaxy, it’s unsurprising that he’s often given license to roam and this can make him difficult to track. He’ll also drop deep to pick up the ball and can, with a pass and move, set off quick attacking moves, as Colorado found out to their cost this season.

In Defence

The Timbers’ new-found defensive solidity will be put to the test. They have lost only 2 goals in 4, and kept 3 clean sheets in the past 6, so there’s every reason for a degree of confidence even though Troy Perkins has had come up huge a number of times for the team. Concentration will be key, and it’s vital that Chara gets support in the midfield to help protect the defence.

Hanyer Mosquera has also proven himself to be an astute piece of business. The heart of the defence at this point is certainly Mosquera & A. N. Other. His robust style sets the tone at the back, but his tendency to come out of defence and ball chase can leave gaps – the kind of spaces that a Barrett or Donovan love to find.

In the Galaxy they’ll face a defence that have often shown the same levels of competence as Alexi Lalas does footballing insight. Without Omar Gonzales to marshal the backline, it’s been seat-of-the-pants time for Galaxy fans. Almost every goal can be attributed to an individual mistake, or poor defensive co-ordination.

Goalie Josh Saunders will likely be back for his first start since the 2-1 win against Colorado, having played in the reserve match against the Timbers at the start of the month. The 3 wins LA have this year have all come with Saunders between the sticks, but the goals against average hasn’t changed much – in fact, it’s been marginally lower without Saunders – 1.57 from 1.67, or a goal every ten games or so.

He’s likely to be behind a back four of Dunivant, Lopes, DeLaGarza and Franklin. AJ DeLaGarza formed a good understanding with Gonzales last season, but this year he’s had more partners than Newt Gingrich, and failed to find chemistry with any of them. It’s likely that ex-Chivas man David Junior Lopes will start against Portland, with Lopes and DeLaGarza playing together four times this season – the most of any Galaxy centre-back twosomes.

Something In The Air…

DeLaGarza’s lack of height – he’s only 5’9 – is also a problem that teams have sought to take advantage of. With that in mind, getting good delivery in from the flanks has proven very fruitful for opponents this season.

DeLaGarza isn’t at fault in the centre here, but he does allows his man too much space to get turned and get a cross in, and by putting it between defenders, Sene is given the relatively simple job of nodding the ball home. The lack of a dominant presence at the back such as Gonzales really shows in this area, as no-one takes it upon themselves to attack the ball.

Here Gaul doesn’t close down Rosales, preferring to concentrate on the outside runner, while Donovan shows a lackadaisical attitude to getting back. The cross from deep is well measured to miss out the 6’3 Lopes at the front post, and let Eddie Johnson go up against the smaller DeLaGarza.

The Back Post

Taking “the big man” out of the equation and isolating DeLaGarza or the fullbacks has been a recurring theme for the Galaxy.

Again, it’s a far post cross, and Kamara reads it better than Franklin for a simple header, and even if Franklin didn’t have a brainfart, you’d put money on Kamara beating him to the ball anyway.

Neither first choice full-back for the Galaxy have covered themselves in glory this season. Their attacking play has carried any great potency, and their defensive work has often left a lot to be desired. It’s almost as if it’s not that easy a position to play.

It may be a result of the loss of Gonzales’ influence and organisation, but whatever the cause for the dip in form, both full-backs are playing like players not entirely sure of their jobs and with little confidence in the rest of their defensive team mates.  They’ve had real problems defending the channels, and a switched-on attacker can find himself in acres of space with a well-timed forward pass.

Timbers Attacking

The biggest problem the Timbers have faced isn’t shutting out the opposition, it’s putting the ball in the net. They’ve netted only 4 times in the 6 matches since the loss to Galaxy, and half of those were own-goals.

Given the way that Spencer has relentlessly had the Timbers playing – direct from back to front, get it wide – it almost seems like the Galaxy’s weakness at full back, and soft centre, are tailor made for the Timbers to shine.

In a way, given the weakness out wide this is almost the perfect match for the running of Perlaza. His channel running would cause the full-backs headaches, allowing the outside players to get space for the cross. Mwanga though has that ability, combined with a bit more of a physical presence.

With Boyd and Mwanga both likely to start – and 6’1 and 6’2 respectively – the height is there to really challenge the Galaxy defence, providing the delivery is good. Too often the Timbers have been wasteful from wide areas, but have in Sal Zizzo and Kalif Alhassan two guys who can measure a cross. But they also have guys like Mike Chabala who has an almost vampiric fear of a good cross, preferring the hit and hope and fail method.

Though neither Boyd or Mwanga are particularly dominant in the air, both would fancy their chances against the fullbacks or DeLaGarza. Indeed, DeLaGarza’s weakness in the air is something the team and player himself are all too aware of.

There is a tendency for the defence to drop a little deeper to try and limit the effectiveness of long balls forward for big strikers to win flick-ons, but this leaves this exposed to cross balls into dangerous areas as players are able to attack the ball 6 yards from goal.

The temptation may be to pump the ball long and look to win the second ball on knock-downs against DeLaGarza from which could allow the Timbers to get good possession in dangerous areas and keep the attack moving, with the outside midfielders getting forward to offer through balls in the channels between centre and full backs or a pass out wide, but they may find themselves thwarted in this by the presence in those areas of Sarvas and/or Juninho.

Late Game Jitters

Whichever teams holds it’s late game nerve could well come out on top. In April it was the Galaxy who grabbed a couple of late goals for the win and Timbers fans are all to aware of the teams late game performance. There hasn’t been a record as abject as the Timbers in the last 20 minutes since Paris Hilton got delusions of musical adequacy.

While the Galaxy have also suffered late in matches, conceding over half their goals in the final 30 minutes, they also score a lot late on – 60% of the goals they’ve scored this year have come in the final 30.

Both teams have thrown away leads late in matches, so the mental toughness of both XI’s are likely to be tested here. The Galaxy’s poor home form, coupled with fans unrest, could work to the Timbers advantage if they can get themselves ahead and frustrate the hosts and turn the crowd against their heroes.

Timbers Selection

With Futty on international duty with The Gambia, and Eric Brunner a doubt, it looks like David Horst will partner Hanyer Mosquera at the back. Horst didn’t cover himself in glory at the Cal FC goal, but no-one really came out of that game with credit. Steven Smith is taking his time getting back, and with Wallace picking up a knock it might mean a start for Mike Chabala at left back, with Jewsbury likely to continue at right back.

Given the emphasis I’ve placed on getting good delivery in from wide areas, I am worried about having Chabala’s Comically Catastrophic Crossing Cavalcade down the wing, but I do like him matched against Landon Donovan or David Beckham as I feel his defensive game is much more his strength.

In midfield Diego Chara is a lock, hopefully at central midfield, though you can never be sure. Out wide there’s Sal Zizzo, Kalif Alhassan, Franck Songo’o and Eric Alexander all competing for a spot. Personally, I’d go with Alhassan and Zizzo, but Zizzo’s impact as a sub may be something Spencer wants to hold in reserve until later in the game. I worry that going with Alhassan and Songo’o out wide, given both these guys’ propensity for dribbling inside, could leave our distinctly-not-first-choice full backs exposed to a double team as Franklin and Dunivant are allowed to break forward without worry.

Nagbe will likely start in his midfield/attacker role with Mwanga and Boyd up top, though I wouldn’t be shocked to see Mwanga start from the bench, with Nagbe partnering Boyd and possibly Alexander in midfield with Chara. I wouldn’t be entirely happy, but not shocked either. Brent Richards did reasonably well when he came on against Cal FC, and has done well for the reserves this year, but I doubt we’ll see Spencer drop any of the “proven” players to give Richards a debut in the back yard of the Champions.

Conclusion

All this being said, I’m feeling pretty confident about Portland’s chances on Sunday. While the Timbers have their own concerns and players missing, there’s a sense that finally the important players are coming back into the team. That’s not the sense you get from LA, who have Keane missing, Donovan’s form slumping and Beckham not getting any younger.

It’s been far too long to make amends after the Open Cup débâcle, and I’m sure the players are itching to prove that result an aberration.

If the Timbers defence can stick to their task and stay focused, then the foundations are there for the win. The LA defence is nothing to be feared. Pressure applied to the flanks with strong, dynamic play from the strikers could kick open the doors. If Real Salt Lake can beat Chivas at the same ground the night before, Spencer’s boys will know a win will put them up into 6th, with the play-offs firmly in sight.

#RCTID