The Fire added Trinidad & Tobago centerback Daneil Cyrus on loan from W Connection to bolster the back line but the biggest player news could be the debut of Gilberto in Portland. With the transfer window now closed it's time to focus on the games again. Martin Tomszak is back with a look at the Timbers.
What Are They All About? Portland Timbers
Three (Or is it two and a half now?) healthy “DP’s” on their game equals three points? Apparently so. The Chicago Fire impressively defeated FC Dallas 2-0 last Sunday evening with Shaun Maloney, David Accam, and Kennedy Igboananike all playing key roles in the match. It was perhaps the closest look at Frank Yallop’s preferred starting XI that fans have had all season. The Fire will hope to keep the momentum going as they enter the final third of the season by taking on a Timbers side desperately seeking all three points to solidify their playoff spot in an ever changing Western Conference. Will the Fire build upon their weekend performance and take another Western Conference scalp in their first away win of the season? Or will the Timbers keep their undefeated streak against the Fire going while Chicago has one eye on advancing in the Open Cup?
Portland Form Guide (Last 5 League Matches): D-L-D-L-W
Previous match: A 0-0 away draw with San Jose.
Formation in the last match: 4-2-3-1: Kwarasey; Villafana, Ridgewell, Borchers, Powell; Chara, Johnson; Wallace, Valeri, Nagbe; Adi
Coaching: Very rarely do we discuss the man at the helm in these previews but when it comes to Portland and Caleb Porter, it is a must. When you look at the Portland squad on paper there are very few names that immediately pop off of the team sheet. Outside of playmakers Diego Valeri and Diego Chara perhaps the only other necessary players to mention are league veterans Nat Borchers and Will Johnson and yet, the Timbers constantly grind out results and find themselves in the thick of the playoff race. The difference maker is Porter and his man managing skills.
Everything from his time with Akron, where he coached eight players who are now MLS regulars to a 21-0-2 record and a NCAA trophy, to his first year with the Timbers in which he won MLS Coach of the Year for leading them to the top of the conference clearly shows that he has the skills to get the job done. He sets his teams up to succeed with an attacking mentality and possession based soccer coming in the form of a 4-2-3-1 formation. The Fire have improved their statistics against this formation with their win over Dallas but the Timbers incarnation is another beast entirely.
Style of Play: The back line in the 4-2-3-1 for Portland has been pretty consistent this season. Porter prefers Borchers and Liam Ridgewell as his center back pairing while Alvas Powell and Jorge Villafana have tended to start on the flanks. The Borchers/Ridgewell pairing is responsible for six of the nine clean sheets that Portland has this season while Powell and Villafana have shown that they chip in on attacking plays as frequently as they do in defense. Powell has one assist this year and has mustered thirteen shots while Villafana has provided three assists and struck 10 shots for the Timbers, those stats would be considered impressive for some of Chicago’s midfielders and strikers.
At home, Porter tends to start Chara and Johnson as his “2” in front of the back four because of their distribution skills and attacking ability. On the road he usually adjusts the formation by starting the more defensive minded Jack Jewsbury over Johnson to serve as an anchor in hopes of retaining at least a point on the road. San Jose was an exception to this due to the necessity of going for all three points on the road in this final stretch of the season, but look for the same attitude at Providence Park on Friday.
The midfield trio usually features Valeri, Darlington Nagbe and whoever is in form and uninjured that particular week. Recently Rodney Wallace and Dairon Asprilla have been filling up that third spot in midfield. No matter who starts, the midfield three is very fluid, but Valeri pulls all the strings. He boasts twenty-three goals and thirty assists in his seventy-six career appearances for the Timbers and has cemented his place as a fan favorite. He is fun to watch and can create chances out of nothing. If Chicago wants to avoid defeat they should look to Matt Polster to make his yellow card of the day count with a tone setting tackle on Valeri early on, not too close to the goal though as set piece delivery is a Portland specialty.
Adi: Portland fans have very mixed feelings when it comes to Fanendo Adi. A quick glance through the Twitter feeds of Timbers Army members will show you that Adi has fallen short of the expectations that fans had for their DP signing. Fire fans will gladly point to the statistics of Puppo, Castillo, MacDonald, and Anangono for true failure. Adi has nine goals on the season to match his nine from last season and with five of them coming in his last eight matches you could even say he’s in good form. Chicago will need to be weary of the 6’4” target forward.
La Verdad de la Milanesa: Boasting five squad members from Argentina has to lead to some strengths right? All joking aside, their South American influenced style of play adds a little bit of flair but has some very concrete positives as well. Three of Portland’s top scorers (Urruti, Valeri, Fernandez) and two of their top assist providers hail from Argentina, while if you extend the geographical criteria a bit, four of their top five assist providers hail from Latin America (Wallace, Valeri, Villafana, Fernandez). The Fire might want to ask Porter and his staff for their contact list as they could clearly learn a thing or two about South American signings. *** Fernandez is no longer with the Timbers.
Open Cup Semi: The fact that the Fire have a season defining match on Wednesday should play into the hands of Portland. It would be a shock to see a full strength squad from Chicago even though they haven’t won a road game all season, and their form on the West Coast is abysmal. The last time the Fire beat a team from the coast away from home was a 2-1 victory over Chivas USA in May of 2012. If you’re looking for an away victory over a West Coast team that still exists and wasn’t a joke to begin with you have to go back to September of 2010 against San Jose. They have also never won in Cascadia.
Finishing: Only San Jose and Colorado have scored fewer goals than Portland’s 24. What will worry the coaching staff more is that it is not for a lack of trying but because of poor finishing. In their last 5 matches the Timbers have registered 70 total shots but only 30% of them have been on target. While much has been said about the poor performances in the Chicago back line, they are actually near the middle of the pack in terms of goals conceded with 30 and could prove troublesome for Portland. Fire fans will take comfort in the fact that their team has limited their opponents to 54 shots in the past five matches, exactly half of which came in the two poor displays against Columbus.
If you’re Caleb Porter, seeing the Fire’s defensive stats side by side with the Timbers’ offensive stats for the last five matches has to be worrisome. He’ll be hoping that Adi and company improve on their accuracy in training this week or that the Fire have a display like those against Columbus.
Defensive Lapses: For as good as Borchers and Ridgewell have been, they’ve also had some ridiculous lapses in concentration. In fact, every goal that has been conceded by Portland in the last five matches has come from a central location on the pitch. Whether it’s a lack of man marking or a case of “he can’t score from there can he?”, the Timbers allow their opponents too much time and space on and off the ball. While the match against Dallas was a one off as far as the score line is concerned, the problems that Portland exhibited in defense are quite common for them.
Prediction: There won’t be a first ever win against Portland or a first away win of the season and there hopefully won't be any injuries to key players leading up to the Open Cup Semi-final. Chicago may be able to fight out a draw in the City of Beards. Chicago 2-2 Portland.