Still in search of their first win of the season, the Portland Timbers take on league wards Chivas USA this Saturday at Providence Park. Chivas, who are now wards of the league and due to be sold and rebranded by the end of the year, have gotten off to a decidedly average start and the Timbers will be licking their chops in anticipation of coming away with three points.
On the heels of last weekend's 4-4 draw against the Seattle Sounders, the Timbers find themselves with momentum on the side of their attack for the first time this season. After scoring only three goals in their first four games, including one own goal, the Timbers managed four goals from the run of play on the evening. More importantly, the four goal haul included the season's first strikes from Diego Valeri and Maximiliano Urruti, two players that the Timbers will need to have in form if this year is ever going to live up to expectations.
At the other end of the pitch, however, the four goals allowed have left the Timbers with a number of questions. Following an unsatisfactory performance from the team's centerbacks in particular, the speculation has been that Caleb Porter could make a change in the center of the defense, sitting offseason acquisition Norberto Paparatto, who has time and time again been at the heart of the Timbers' concessions. In Paparatto's place would surely be Futty Danso, stepping in to complete the "Great Wall of Gambia" alongside Pa Modou Kah. It is almost certainly too early in the season to write of Paparatto altogether, but with the Timbers dropping further and further behind the pack something has to change.
The potential return of Donovan Ricketts could help to shore up the Timbers' back line, but the Timbers' first choice keeper is still far from a sure thing. Porter has said that Ricketts should be healthy in time for the match against Chivas, but with practices closed to the press there is no telling if he has yet been able to train with the team. With Ricketts in goal the Timbers have a proven keeper who can make saves that no other keeper in the league is capable. Without him, the Timbers will rely again on veteran backup Andrew Weber, who has filled in ably in his three appearances so far, but has not proven to be a potential game changer like Ricketts.
The Goat Parade
The Goat Parade
Despite a reasonable start to their season, fans of Chivas have plenty to worry about so far this year, but nothing is more pressing than their patchwork defensive line. The current incarnation of the Chivas back four includes former Timber Andrew Jean-Baptiste playing at right back and former attacking midfielder Eric Avila on the right. The Timbers, who feasted on Seattle's fullbacks this last weekend, should be able to exploit Chivas's converted backs to great effect tomorrow night. Carlos Bocanegra, meanwhile, will likely continue to be paired up with on-loan Sounder Eriq Zavaleta in the center of the pitch, rather than his usual partner, Bobby Burling.
At the forward position, Erick "Cubo" Torres remains Chivas' great scoring hope. Torres, on loan from Chivas de Guadalajara for at least half of the season, has started out 2014 on fire. After scoring in the first four games of the season, Torres finally drew a blank last weekend Chivas's 3-0 loss to the LA Galaxy. In 2013, when he lead Chivas in scoring after arriving in the summer transfer window, Torres went on a long scoring streak before going ice cold. Chivas fans will be hoping to avoid another cold snap here as the team's other scoring options are somewhat limited. (Avila was the team's second leading goalscorer last season with 3.)
Chivas could have found another dangerous piece in the form of Martin Rivero. Acquired in a trade with the Colorado Rapids yesterday, Rivero played his 2012 and 2013 seasons with the Colorado Rapids, acting as the driving force in their midfield before being slowed by injuries in 2013. According to Chivas, Rivero will be available against the Timbers; it would be hard to imagine that he would step into the starting line up, but he could well come on as a game-changing substitute. The Timbers will need to be wary of Rivero's potential introduction and how that would affect their opponents' style of play.
Timbers Keys to the Match
Maintain the width. The Timbers were able to effectively stretch out their opponents last weekend and the offense saw a huge improvement. Doing so consistently will allow players in the middle of the pitch, like Diego Chara, opportunities that they might not otherwise have had.
Pick up runs. The Timbers were at their worst defensively last weekend when they did not track Seattle's movement in the box. The first and third goals can both be attributed to someone failing to pick up their mark. This will be doubly important when facing down a striker like Torres.
Watch it on: KPDX
Kick off: 7:30 pm at Providence Park
Portland Timbers: 0-3-2, 3 points, 8th in the Western Conference
Chivas USA: 1-2-3, 5 points, 6th in the Western Conference