Thursday, March 5, 2015

Portland Timbers v. Real Salt Lake, Week 1 Preview (Oh Yeah!)

Images for "sunken mattress" are surprisingly rare.
(Editor's Note: I doubt I'll do much for weekly previews this season. I plan on posting a look back/look forward piece on the Timbers every Wednesday (or Thursday), plus after-action reports. That's the plan, anyway. Moving on...)

I have now read, watched and digested every 2015 season preview for Real Salt Lake that I care to. I even sat through the (oddly, yet soothingly, casual) "Catching Up with Cassar" segment posted on RSL's website (the overall production vibe made me feel like I was talking to a high school guidance counselor – who wears a toque to the office for some damn reason). All those deal with what interested parties can expect from the Utah club this year. Today, I'm only thinking about is what to expect on opening weekend when RSL comes to play the Portland Timbers. Which arrived in spite of many labor-related obstacles. Hallelujah and Amen.

What I Expect...
A draw, possibly goal-less, and an emotionally-conflicted, hence needlessly-distracted, Nat Borchers.

And Why...
As noted in my own season preview for the Timbers, I have decent faith in the current squad. Going a little against standard practices, this post presumes a certain level of knowledge and currency about the Timbers – e.g. injuries/absences for Will Johnson and Diego Valeri; the absence of certain replacements and the resulting loss of their respective strengths; new playing pieces, etc. The idea is to look forward.

First things first: Valeri can't be replaced. With Johnson, however, it's less a matter of replacing all of him than getting a player on the field in his spot to produce a desired effect. Personally, I'd keep it simple and replace Johnson’s energy. A pair of preseason appearances suggests George Fochive for that role; in the game against Chicago, in particular, I recall frequent pillaging forays inside Chicago's defensive half, which often kept the Fire from even starting to attack. The other candidate, Nick Besler, showed pretty well in there as well, and I think he might be a better passer, but the idea of Fochive producing turnovers in dangerous areas strikes me as the wiser tactical adjustment. I mean, possession’s swell and all...

It'll be interesting to see how Porter attacks RSL's super-sized center-back pairing of Jamison Olave and Chris Schuler. With (face it) league-legend Kyle Beckerman patrolling in front of them, I don't see much coming through centrally. Then again, I don't see crosses faring much better - again, Olave and Schuler – claims that defenders "bounce off" Fanendo Adi notwithstanding. That leaves separating RSL's fullbacks from the center pairing with Portland's overlapping backs, Jorge Villafana and Alvas Powell, and trying to force the said hulking centerbacks to step up to close attacks coming on the ground and from the sides of the 18. Yeah, yeah, great plan on paper, but a sneaky little shit like Darlington Nagbe should be great for this. And if Rodney Wallace can somehow curl around the outside...any way at all...we're all pulling for ya, Rodney.

Unfortunately, Portland hasn't ripped up scoring in the preseason and there's no clear reason to expect that to change. RSL did marginally better (6 goals in 5 games against MLS opposition; college teams and USL outfits don't count), but they did do better.

So, what about RSL? As everyone will just not stop pointing out, the Utahans will likely line-up in a 4-3-3. The best news from Portland's perspective is that two of those three forwards – Sebastian Jaime and Olmes Garcia – have yet to consistently produce in MLS; that leaves only Alvaro Saborio as a problem. He's a pretty big one, frankly. Highly as I rate Nat Borchers, he hasn't had much time with Liam Ridgewell (who I'm still considering in light of last year's struggles). And highly as I rate Powell and Villafana going forward, they will let in crosses. Portland has crafted this reputation of forever being one small step from fucking up: own-goals, stupid/unjust penalties, ball-watching on par with hypnosis? Yeah, that's the Timbers hit list.

I expect RSL will spend a lot of time doing exactly what I'm suggesting for Portland – e.g. using those wide forwards to pull out the Timbers' fullbacks and working those smart little overloads to exploit the gaps. They might also forgo penetration to set up long-range shots from just outside the 18. Either way, Chara and (maybe) Fochive will have to shut things down up there and force them to penetrate. The rest will be up to Borchers and Ridgewell. Here's to hoping they're good for it. Because, this season, the Timbers can't afford another stuttering start that looked like last season's.

Anyway, whatever will be, will be. There’s always next week and, in the larger picture, there is MLS's abundantly lenient playoff format as a cushion. Just don't sink too deep, lads, and this year will be better than last. Then we’ll get Valeri back...yes...

No comments:

Post a Comment