Portland Timbers vs. Chicago Fire Preview and Match Thread [4:00 PM]

Will we see Cap'n Jack tonight? (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)

Another game day, another chance for the Portland Timbers to begin their redemption and earn three points at home. For those of you who paid attention to the rest of MLS instead of that other soccer game that was going on, you'd have seen some favorable outcomes for the Timbers. First, our two main rivals drew with each other. This will not only make it easier to catch them ion the long run, but it also means that neither of already in the lead for the Cascadia Cup. Additionally, the Colorado Rapids. FC Dallas, and San Jose Earthquakes all tied their respective games. The only Western Conference team to win, in fact, was Chivas USA at the expense of a still beleaguered LA Galaxy squad. So good news all around.

Essentially what this means is that despite everybody playing a game yesterday not too much has changed in the standings and a win for the Timbers today will allow them to leapfrog the LA Galaxy and put them within 1 point of both Chivas USA and FC Dallas. If the Timbers can manage even a small win streak we could see them in 6th place before too long.

But onward to the teams!

Assessing Our Team

There's still no telling whether we'll see Cap'n Jack Jewsbury take the field tonight. During each of Will's training reports he hasn't been training at all so my guess is that he won't. Still he's listed on the injury report as "PROBABLE" so I suppose it could still happen. If he does play it will certainly be a boon for the team as he's certainly helped shape up the right back position since joining in.

But enough about defense... I'm tired of talking about that. Instead I want to focus on the forward position and the lack of goals being scored.

Last week saw the return of Sal Zizzo, a player who was renowned for his speed last year, but also his inability to pick his head up and observe what he should be doing with said speed. While it'll probably take a few games to see if he's truly gotten better and, true enough his fitness probably isn't 90 minutes ready, I was still very excited to see what he did last Tuesday. On more than one occasion he completely torched Houston's defenders and his crosses certainly weren't bad. My hope is that we'll see him again tonight... honestly I'd prefer him over Franck Songo'o.

Additionally, I would like to see Nagbe pulled back a little and placed in a CAM position. Perhaps at the expense of Lovel Palmer sitting out or maybe as a 4-5-1 formation with Kris Boyd sitting up top alone. The problem here is that there's no great service to Boyd and there's no creative element in the midfield to help get that service to him. We saw the kind of jaw dropping talent Boyd has in his wrongfully denied goal against LA, he just needs to be set up for them.

Also of note is that Kalif Alhassan is no longer on the injury list meaning we could see him for the first time in quite a while tonight. I certainly wouldn't mind seeing him start in his usual right wing position.

Here's my hopeful starting line up:

Troy Perkins; Jack Jewsbury (c), Eric Brunner, Hanyer Mosquera, Steven Smith; Kalif Alhassan, Diego Chara, Darlington Nagbe, Lovel Palmer, Rodney Wallace; Kris Boyd

I'd say it's a pretty unlikely starting line up, which is why I didn't list it as my "predicted," but this one certainly has more firepower and allows for more creativity to stem from the midfield. Also, the absence of Zizzo is based on the guess that his not 90 minutes ready yet, hopefully we'll see him as a super sub.

Assessing the Enemy

The Timbers are currently undefeated and un-drawn against the Fire so, at the very least, there is that sort of confidence heading into the match later today. Still, this isn't the same team that missed the play offs last year and they certainly aren't anything to scoff at when looking at their line up.

Before I begin, if you haven't done so already, take a look at my own preview interview from yesterday with the guys from Hot Time in Old Town. Additionally, Ryan posted his usual article on how the Timbers can beat Chicago. Both are great reads with a good amount of information about the team.

A quick look at the standings shows a remarkably improved Fire squad this year over last as the team is currently 4th in the Eastern Conference as many as five games in hand against some of their Eastern Conference rivals, namely DC United who is currently 2nd in the East. With only 9 games played the current Fire team has plenty of time to catch up that's for certain.

According to our SB Nation compadres, the two players to primarily keep an eye on are Dominic Oduro and Sebastian Grazzini. Grazzini orchestrates the attack from the midfield and will typically pas it off to Oduro who finishes it off. A lethal combination that the Timbers desperately lack at the moment. The two curently lead their team's assists and goals respectively.

Here is their predicted starting line up:

Sean Johnson, Gonzalo Segares, Austin Berry, Jalil Anibaba, Dan Gargan, Pavel Pardo, Marco Pappa, Logan Pause, Sebastian Grazzini, Dominic Oduro, Patrick Nyarko.

Final Thoughts

An interesting thing I noticed the other day was that the Timbers have currently played 6 of the 10 Eastern Conference teams already, the Chicago Fire being the 7th. This is interesting because it means that the Timbers only have a about 3 more Eastern teams for 2/3rds of the remainder of the season. It's also not particularly a good thing because gaining 3 points at home against these teams is imperative to the success of the team this year and. Luckily they've done fairly well so far with two of the three Eastern Conference home games ending with 3 points each, and the third being a draw. In fact, it's worth pointing out that no Eastern Conference team has beaten the Timbers at home yet... make of that what you will.

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Today's game is at 4:00 PM at Jeld-Wen Field. If you can';t make it to the match it should be airing locally ROOT SPORTS or nationally on Galavision.

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