Portland Timbers @ Houston Dynamo Preview and Match Thread [6:00 PM]

SANTA CLARA, CA - AUGUST 6: Kenny Cooper #33 of the Portland Timbers celebrates with Lovel Palmer #30 after scoring a goal against the San Jose Earthquakes during an MLS soccer game at Buck Shaw Stadium on August 6, 2011 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

I'm in Wamic, OR right now! With no internet connection or anything like that. I'll be home before the game, but since I decided to take a mini-vacation to a lake out here I've had to schedule this post a few days prior. So hello from Friday!

Anyway, enough humor, we've got a game to preview.

As many of you know this will be the first game ever played between the Houston Dynamo and the Portland Timbers. They may, in fact, be the last team the Timbers have yet to play. Regardless, as I mentioned earlier on Friday's Timbers Tid Bits, this will be a game about the connections between the two teams more so than anything else. John Spencer was once considered to be Dominic Kinnear's protoge, after all.

Assessing Our Team

The Timbers are coming off an impressive 3 game stretch where they, get this, haven't lost. With two draws and a win in their last three games, they're playing much better than they have since April. This recent run of form can most likely be attributed to a couple key acquisitions from, funnily enough, Houston: Mike Chabala and Lovel Palmer.

Chabala and Palmer have brought stability to the Portland Timbers back wings where there was none before. While Rodney Wallace was serviceable in the back left position he was inconsistent and was too attacking minded. Mike Chabala, on the other hand, has a good head on hs shoulders and creates meaningful passes to get himself into the right position. On the opposite side, Lovel Palmer has replaced the Jeremy Hall/Steve Purdy combo that's simply not worked in the past. Given both's proficiency, I expect they'll be starting in today's game.

This weekend will also see the return of Diego Chara, a player who's presence was very missed during the game against the San Jose Earthquakes. As a rough and tumble midfielder, it was surprising to me to see just how little possession the Timbers had without him there. On that same note, we can also hope (again I'm here in Friday so I don't know) that Captain Jack Jewsbury makes his return from the injury list. Having both of them gone last weekend was detrimental to the entire team.

The big question mark leading into tonight's game will be the front men. I'm assuming that Jorge Perlaza and Kenny Cooper will again be taking the top spot's given their recent run of form... something I'm all to thankful for. While the 4-5-1 experiment provided some interesting games, I think the 4-4-2 is better suited for this team right now.

Here's my projected starting line up (from 2 days ago):

Troy Perkins; Mike Chabala, David Horst, Eric Brunner, Lovel Palmer; Sal Zizzo, Jack Jewsbury (I hope!), Diego Chara, Darlington Nagbe; Kenny Cooper, Jorge Perlaza

Assessing the Enemy

Houston is an interesting team and one that's quite difficult to unmask. They're currently sitting at a 6-7-10 (W-L-D) standing with 28 points and 0 goal differential. They're right in the middle of the pack of the Eastern Conference. There is not a more "average" club in all of MLS. As such this makes them hard to read. I can't figure out where they're strong or weak because they've seemingly done alright at everything... So instead I'll simply talk about what they have and do not have.

In a way they're pretty similar to the Timbers in their goal scoring. No single player has really stood out to be the front man up top for Houston. Instead many players have contributed over the course of the season. The current Houston leading goal scorer is Cam Weaver with four goals, but both Will Bruin and Geoff (represent!) Cameron also have four goals a piece followed by Brad Davis and Brian Ching with 3 a piece. So where the goals will be coming from on Sunday in Houston is unknown... it could be anybody.

Of course, I think the main threat coming from Houston isn't up top at all, but rather Brad Davis. A consistent MVP for Houston and a left footed midfielder David has recorded 10 assists so far this season. That's impressive! I don't know how he's working it but Davis is obviously continuing to lead the Houston offensively. He'll be somebody to look out for tonight.

Final Thoughts

If the Portland Timbers lose tonight's game we might want to start thinking about next season. I won't say it's final, because it's not, but currently the Timbers are sinking pretty far back in the standings. To even be in the top five in the West the Timbers need 10 points. That's how far Real Salt Lake are above us and they've still got a game in hand. The play-off race started a few weeks ago for the Timbers. If they can't win consistently then they simply won't make it.

--

Tonight's game is at 6:00PM on ROOT SPORTS.

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