Thursday, June 18, 2015

Portland v. Houston Preview (Plus (some of) the Rest of Week 16)

Eat my cleats, bitches!!
Here's the thing: the last time I had big ideas about how the Portland Timbers can win against the Houston Dynamo, this happened (or, for a neutral interpretation, this). So, lick this salt lick (for your grain of salt) and keep reading.

I’ll keep this preview particularly brief. One of the biggest reasons for brevity? Houston's level generally floats around a line that reads "undefined." The other reason is equally straightforward: Portland played Houston just over a month ago. It's not like a ton has changed since then. Erick "Cubo" Torres still hasn't arrived, not that it's hurt Houston all that much. Then again, Giles Barnes will be gone Saturday, and for a while after besides. Barnes had arguably cooled off a little after a torrid late April/early May, but he's down toiling in the Copa America for this one. So, big plus: one less thing to worry about...wait, two less things. Houston is also down Jermaine Taylor (because, another Jamaican).

So, who does that leave for the...what do Houston call themselves? The day-glo Orange? Regardless, I'm guessing that their line-up for the last game, warts and all, comes pretty close to what they'll field Saturday night in Portland...or not. Turns out their June 5th game came before Barnes and Taylor's departure. That leads to the obvious question: who replaces both of them? First, I'm guessing that Raul Rodriguez goes back to central defense, while Kofi Sarkodie slots in at right back. As for Barnes' all honesty, they have a pair of interesting options: Rob Lovejoy, who, apart from having a name worthy of a 70s snuff film, scored at least one brilliant goal in 2015, but there's also Mauro Manotas, far as I know, hasn't suited up for the sweaty Houston club this season.

I guess the point is, Houston will field a pretty comfortable back four and, while they'll miss some continuity up top, they're replacing all of one person, really. (Wait, really? Well, near as I can tell, yes.)

To turn this the other way, what do the Portland Timbers do about all the little of the above?

First, I'd like them to start with what they've done in (what feels like) the second half of every game in their now (so long as you count all competitions) four-game winning streak (YES!). That means start small – which means, for one, start Maximiliano Urruti over Fanendo Adi. Things get trickier after that (maybe) because the Timbers have three games in nine days – i.e. first Houston at home, then the Los Angeles Galaxy again at (a positively bulbous) midweek, then at home again against the motherfucking, urethra-stuffing freaks from up north (aka, the Seattle Sounders). I bring this up for the obvious, injury-related reasons: how does Caleb Porter manage Will Johnson and Diego Valeri's minutes through that tight stretch?

First of all, I hope he manages them with eye to the rest of the regular season. These are the benefits of life on the right side of the Velvet Rope. Even if the grouping is uncomfortably tight (and, for spots 4-9, it is), Portland has taken a big enough step outside the "must-win" zone to think a little more clearly about the long haul. As hinted at in another earlier post (see the section titled, in part, "The Divide"), I've convinced myself that Johnson's return has been quite beneficial. To put the argument briefly, I think he connects the Timbers defense and attack in a somewhat, if not entirely, unique way – specifically, a way that allows Portland to get their vaunted, smothering possession game rolling, from which benefits accrue all over.

And, yes, we all know what Valeri does (e.g. Good Things).

If you click the link that reads "earlier post," you'll see me indulging in a false comparison – e.g. basically, that Alvas Powell's (apparently, non-) injury in the Open Cup game against Seattle couldn't happen just as easily in a regular season game. Injuries are part of the game, no matter the competition. Muddy as that argument was, all I'm trying to say is that the Timbers should treat the resources they have with an eye to optimizing them for the long haul. And all I mean by that is that they need to have entirely frank conversations with Johnson, Valeri and Powell, where they ask each player how he really feels muscles-and-joints-wise, all while demanding an honest assessment – specifically, one based on the assumption of long, ongoing employment no matter the answer.

And...that's it. I'm pretty sure that's all I have to say about this weekend's game. I just want all involved to think long-term, because the club is on a good run, the team is playing well, if mainly in the second half. The thing is, playing one half well doesn't matter enormously, so long as Portland's defense keeps playing the way it is. Plus, the team should have a well-rested Diego Chara for the next three games, which is huge because the man is like a bonus central defender and midfielder out there. He lets everyone be their better selves. So, yeah, go Diego, go.

So, to wrap up, I'm comfortable not knowing what to expect. I believe Portland can win, but also appreciate feeling like they don’t have to. With that in mind, let’s all go to the game, or watch it, with a mellow sort of positivity in our collective hearts and souls. I...I think that's what belief feels like.

Now, for interested parties, here's a quick tour through the rest of Major League Soccer's Week 16 games that promise either intrigue or intensity.

Colorado Rapids v. FC Dallas
Redemption for Dallas, or another false dawn for Colorado? Interested parties want to know, if only a few of them.

Toronto FC v. New York City FC
A real piece of intrigue here because, based on current form (and across a pair of platforms), Toronto may very well destroy the New York Dolls (trademarked! Everyone else back the fuck off!). As such, this becomes a weird, yet barely translatable measure for NYCFC.

Portland Timbers v. Houston Dynamo
Yeah, I framed the hell out of it above, but this really is one of the weekend's better games: a rising Portland versus a Dynamo club that comes shockingly close every weekend to forming a winning identity. Except when they don't. (So....let's help them clarify that they suck, right?)

DC United v. New England Revolution
DC should rebound; while that's not their actual pattern, they are nothing if not resilient and/or professional, but New England unquestionably needs it more. That should predict a pretty hotly-contested game in the capital.

That's it. I'm not saying the rest are bad, so much as I'm saying I hope my viewing schedule is both accurate and predictive. At you Saturday!

No comments:

Post a Comment