Despite all of Caleb Porter's complaints, the Portland Timbers were bounced from the US Open Cup by the Seattle Sounders for the fourth straight time. The game on Wednesday in Tukwila was a long, physical one and will have a real impact on who is available and in what condition for Sunday's league encounter. We turned to Dave Clark of Sounder at Heart to take what happened Wednesday and explain its impact for Sunday:
The issue with Yedlin will not be fitness. He's got a ton of that and should be especially tuned up with the way Klinsmann prepared the Americans at the World Cup. The decision point as to whether he can play Sunday will be about that limp he ahd when he subbed out. Is it just a knock, or is it something more serious? With practices closed the two days prior to the match DeAndre's status may be one of those gamesmanship things. No non-team employee is likely to know his exact status until the lineups are announced prior to the game. The bet I would place is on him playing because part of the aspect of the Sunday game is to put on a show, and there just isn't as much of a show with the future of the US national team playing in front of his hometown. He's got that kind of storybook vibe to him.
As usual the space behind DeAndre tends to be open and Portland tried to exploit that late through a combination of Darlington Nagbe and Steve Zakuani. I actually think the best way to use that area would be to have Fanendo Adi make inverted runs out there. His post-up game wasn't good enough against Chad Marshall and Zach Scott. If he drifts wide and looks to come off the dribble facing those two he can beat them. That would force a fullback to cover him and then the Timbers' wingers can then cut inside. This seems to be more of what Porter wants to do, but he's gotten away from it when Adi was added. Adi is a good MLS target man, but I think he loses the target/CB battle against Seattle.
If that happens there will be a need to provide help from the Sounder midfield. The fullbacks will still bomb forward so the side with Brad Evans will get help from him while Osvaldo Alonso and Gonzalo Pineda get pulled wide. It's just the nature of how Seattle is attacking this year.
3. Did it really have to be Kenny Cooper?
Cooper has displayed this nature this year of scoring against his former teams. Two of his three MLS goals are against Portland and Dallas. When he scores against his teams he doesn't really celebrate much. Wednesday night was different. He did celebrate, but it wasn't a dance or something about him. He sought out Assistant Coach Ezra Hendickson and gave him a huge hug. He was clearly thrilled about the goal, but it wasn't because he crushed the hopes of a former team, it was because it meant that the extra work he's put in with Ezra helped him produce.
Dave's questions and my answers:
1. What tactics can the Timbers take away from the Open Cup loss and think that will lead to a win Sunday?
The Timbers are definitely better when Darlington Nagbe and Will Johnson actually start and play. That could make some kind of a difference. Rodney Wallace, one has to assume, started on Wednesday to try to help contain DeAndre Yedlin on the Timbers' left side. Nagbe, presumably, was left out of the XI for rest reasons ahead of Sunday's game, but he ended up playing for 60 minutes anyway. With Maximiliano Urruti still out, it's likely Fanendo Adi will have to start again at striker. If Caleb Porter opts to pair Adi with Gaston Fernandez again, keeping Diego Valeri wide right (at least on paper), that could be a useful combination, as it was on Wednesday. Adi both holds the ball up and clears out space by dragging defenders away from the Timbers' no. 10. On Wednesday that was Fernandez and it led to Portland's most dangerous sequences apart from Nagbe's late goal.
The problem with all of those suggestions is fatigue. Apart from Kalif Alhassan or seeing more of Steve Zakuani, there are no other competent attacking options. Porter's wrinkle with Wallace didn't exactly work but his Adi/Fernandez pairing did. If there's anything to be repeated apart from definitely using the same 4-2-3-1 set-up, one would have to assume it'd be that.
2. Adi's got a nifty mix of speed, strength, build and skill. What type of defenders is he successful against and who has shown that they can handle him?
As mentioned above, Adi is a very useful player for the Timbers. In fact, it's possible he's better suited to play with Fernandez than Valeri. That is one reason we've seen Valeri pushed out to the right more often since Adi's arrival. Though he hasn't scored as frequently as he did when he first arrived, his impact on the game has increased as the attacking midfielders beneath him have figured out the best ways to take advantage of his skill set. To date there haven't really been any defenders who have truly shut Adi down, though the bigger and more physical they are, like Chad Marshall for example, the better chance there is of limiting his utility. Despite his size and strength though, the key to reducing Adi's overall impact is better adjusting for the other attackers playing off of him. Standing Adi up and also cutting out his passing lanes is as close to a plan for eliminating the threat as exists. Easier said than done, of course, and Adi should probably have more assists than he does if not for the failures of his teammates to finish chances he created.
3. How will the physical nature of the midweek game carry into Sunday night?
Wednesday's game is going to be brutal for the Timbers. Nagbe got a rest by playing 60 minutes while Valeri, Adi and Fernandez each played 120. Jack Jewsbury also played 81 minutes so it will be a quick turnaround for him as Will Johnson's partner in holding midfield, as Diego Chara is suspended (unrelated to his Open Cup red card). Zakuani's return from his latest set back is good for Portland and he obviously contributed a key pass on Wednesday. But the truth is that between injuries to center backs and forwards and Chara's suspension, Portland was already coming into the weekend pretty thin. Adding a physical game, a quick turnaround and the depressing reality that they're now almost certain to fail to live up to Donovan Ricketts' preseason prediction of a trophy in Portland in 2014, Sunday could be a rough one for the Timbers. Then again, it could also spur a backs-against-the-wall mentality that lifts the team out of its current slump. But I doubt it.