The Portland Timbers have their final game of the 2013 regular season tomorrow against the worst team in the Western Conference: Chivas USA. It is a game in which the Timbers have everything to gain, and Chivas have nothing to lose.
Here is what you need to know about the two teams:
Diego Valeri has been the biggest variable in the Timbers' lineup since leaving the game against Real Salt Lake in late August with an adductor strain, but against Chivas Caleb Porter has pegged him to start. For the last two weeks Valeri has, according to Porter, felt good in practice after working his way through a month of limited minutes and soreness. Add that to Porter's desire to reintegrate Valeri into the Timbers' starting group and it seems quite likely that we will see him at the starting whistle tomorrow.
The other question mark for the Timbers going into this game has to be Rodney Wallace. Wallace has been away from the Timbers with the Costa Rican national team, spending more quality time getting to know his teammates on their bench, and consequentially was left on the bench for the Timbers in their 0-0 draw with Real Salt Lake last weekend in favor of Kalif Alhassan, who has put in several strong shifts recently for the Timbers. However, when Wallace was eventually brought in last Saturday he provided a directness to the Timbers' attack that the team had been lacking with the more indirect style played by Alhassan, Valeri, and Darlington Nagbe. Wallace has now been back with the Timbers for a week and a half and should be back in the starting lineup in place of Alhassan (or Valeri, with Alhassan shifting centrally, if he is a last minute scratch).
Up top the Timbers will likely look the same Jose Adolfo Valencia leading the charge at the start of the match as the Timbers try to stretch and get behind a somewhat slow Chivas back line. Trencito will likely not go the full 90', but will come out for Frederic Piquionne if the Timbers want to be able to hold the ball up and involve their midfield in the attack or Ryan Johnson if the direct approach suits them more.
At the back the Timbers will not change things, given that they have posted shutouts in five of their last seven games.
Our expected Timbers line-up: Donovan Ricketts; Michael Harrington, Pa Modou Kah, Futty Danso, Jack Jewsbury; Will Johnson, Diego Chara; Rodney Wallace, Diego Valeri, Darlington Nagbe; Jose Adolfo Valencia.
It is no secret that Chivas have been a mess this year. From their issues on the pitch, to their attendance woes, to their owner and front office's baffling behavior, things just are not right in the red offices at the StubHub Center. Still there are several bright spots for Chivas USA as they wrap up their season.
Erick "El Cubo" Torres arrived with the Goats from Chivas de Guadalajara in mid July. Since then he has scored seven goals in fourteen matches for Chivas USA, enough to lead the team and account for almost a quarter of Chivas's goals on the season. Eric Avila, the second highest goalscorer for Chivas this season, has tallied just three times. Recently, though, el Cubo has been left increasingly isolated on top of the Chivas 4-5-1 formation leading to a scoring drought not only for him but for Chivas as a whole. It has been five games since Torres last scored, a drought that started the last time that Chivas took on the Timbers.
Chivas is capable of scoring on the break, something they showed against Real Salt Lake on Wednesday when they created several chances from quick, coordinated counter-attacks down the wings. Looking even further back to their last game against the Timbers, the lone Chivas goal came from a fast attack down the field with the ball being switched from wing to wing before getting sent into the box for the score. These moves work best with one of Chivas's crop of young, tricky wingers in on the field, like 19 year-old Julio Morales who scored against RSL.
The Chivas defense, despite the crowded midfield in front of them, has been fairly woeful of late despite the addition of Carlos Boncanegra, for whose rights Chivas gave up a 2015 1st round pick. Things will not get any easier for the Goats with the absence of Dan Kennedy, their stalwart keeper for the last three years, who is out with an abdominal strain. Kennedy is replaced by 4th year keeper Tim Melia, who posted four saves in his first action of the year earlier this week.
The Timbers are better team than Chivas. They know what is at stake in this match. Chivas is dangerous, but the Timbers have to find a way to win this and a good start will be to kick off the game focused and not let Chivas take advantage of another momentary lapse.
Watch it on: ROOT Sports with us at Rose City Futsal
Kick off: 7:30 pm at StubHub Center in Carson, CA.
Portland Timbers: 54 points, 2nd in the Western Conference.
Chivas USA: 26 points, 9th in the Western Conference.