Just a couple more games until the Portland Timbers tie the record for the longest unbeaten streak at home in a new MLS stadium. This was a record that was first established back in 1996 when the Los Angeles Galaxy opened up the season (and league) with an astonishing 7-0-0 run. The Timbers are currently at 5-0-0 and will hopefully add one more to that tally after tomorrow's game against D.C.United.
Of course, they have no intent to make that an easy task. D.C.United wants to win and regain it's form before the middle of the season hits. What better place to do that, for them, than in Portland where they can smash a streak?
Anyway, as is par the course now, I've gone ahead and exchanged a few questions with one of my SB Nation compatriots, Martin Shatzer, who writes for Black and Red United. Enjoy!
My Questions Answered
Charlie Davies is currently listed as "Doubtful" by the D.C. United front office. Can I assume he won't be playing on Sunday? If so, how will D.C. adjust to the loss of such a speedy and dynamic forward?
Yeah, that's a fair assumption. There's a remote chance that Davies will travel with United to Portland, but the team has been cautious before on road trips when the striker isn't 100%, and I think he'll stay home this weekend too. Since Josh Wolff is also recovering from injury and will probably begin the game on the bench, you can probably expect to see a starting forward combination of veteran journeyman Joseph Ngwenya and rookie Blake Brettschneider. Both players showed well in the preseason, and Brettschneider has continued that form into reserve matches, but neither has yet to score in the regular season. United's best hope may be that Troy Perkins gets confused when he sees jerseys with a VW logo and thinks that its 2010 again.
Last season was pretty abysmal for D.C. United. This year they've certainly been better, but they're not at the top of the Eastern Conference, or anywhere near it. What's missing in D.C. United's line up?
D.C. is a very young team and almost completely new team. Only three of this year's regular starters started more than half of last year's games for United. I'd say that it makes sense that United doesn't yet have enough chemistry to succeed, but the Timbers are a brand new team too, and they seem to be doing just fine. Regardless, I think that United will progress as the season ages and will compete for a playoff spot by year's end. Since the defense is finally playing with some consistency, the biggest missing piece is a creative central attacking midfielder, and the front office has hinted that they could be in the market for one this summer.
Who should the Portland Timbers really be looking out for on Sunday?
Well clearly its the wingers. Chris Pontius and Andy Najar are both quick, aggressive, and unrelenting. They'll challenge your outside backs throughout the game. Don't take the D.C. defense for granted either though. Most of those 18 goals against (tied for worst in the league) came before the backline was settled. The combination of Perry Kitchen, Dejan Jakovic, Ethan White, and Daniel Woolard has been together for three games now, and has only given up two goals (one from a penalty kick, and one from a free kick).
Projected starting lineup:
Questions I Answered
What's it going to take for a team to beat the Timbers at JELD-WEN? Are there any unexploited weaknesses?
I'm not one of those people claiming Jeld-Wen is a fortress, nor do I think the Timbers are going to go on some season-long unbeaten at home streak. It's going to happen sooner or later. Whether that happens this Sunday against D.C. United or not remains to be seen.
As for weaknesses, certainly. Currently the team continues to struggle with defense. If it weren't for some top notch saves by Troy Perkins (thanks for that one by the way) the Columbus Crew certainly would have either tied or won at Jeld-Wen Field. Additionally, as the season goes on the offense seems to be stuck in a rut. Neither Jorge Perlaza nor Kenny Cooper have scored directly in the last few games instead relying on headers from set pieces. While those goals are fine, I eventually want the strikers to be contributing on the score sheet too.
That said, the Timbers Army creates quite a ruckus. I'm not sure if it's intimidating for opposing teams, but it certainly energizes the Timbers out on the field.
United fans are familiar with several players on Portland's roster. How are Rodney Wallace and Troy Perkins doing this season?
Fantastic! Both of them. I'd like to extend my thanks to D.C. United for both of these players, of which I'll be the first to admit I was skeptical of each when the Portland Timbers acquired them.
Rodney Wallace has since scored two goals and makes for a fantastic winger. He's speedy, he's got quality targeting skills and he's overwhelmingly the best player for that left back position. With him teamed up with Kalif Alhassan, the duo have been very dynamic in wiggling in and out of final third between defenders. I couldn't be more impressed with the situation on the left side of the field.
Troy Perkins is another player I doubted but has since proven himself. He came from D.C. United's abysmal season in 2010 to being initially injured for the first few Timbers games. I had all but written him off at that point. However, in the last few games he has come up with some amazing saves and has kept the team's goals allowed average on the low end, particularly at home where the last three games have been shut outs. While he might be on the quieter side of the current MLS goalkeeper's he's very clearly still got the talent and may, in fact, be worth that rather high price tag after all.
What do you think are your team's chances of maintaining their early form and making the playoffs in their first year?
I like the odds, to be honest. On paper the Timbers are a fantastic team. They're young, speedy and very attacking minded. Perhaps there's still a gap in defense but overall the team is solid. The worry is and continues to be getting the team to gel together in such a way so as to be dominating like Real Salt Lake or the Los Angeles Galaxy are. I don't believe that will happen this year, but certainly as time goes by we could see the formation of an incredibly deep team.
That said, I by no means expect this year to be a sweet, so to say. The Timbers will hit a rough patch sooner or later. Depending on how long they're able to weather it will make a profound impact on their chances of making it into the play-offs.