I'm getting today's Match Thread up a little earlier than usual on account that the USMNT vs. Jamaica Gold Cup game is on at noon. If you're at all interested in watching that match you can check it out on Fox Soccer Channel or via a live CONCACAF stream which is free. Just follow the link.
Anyway, today is a rather large game for the Portland Timbers, partly due to a series of victories for Western Conference teams yesterday including both of our most heated rivals: the Seattle Sounders and Vancouver Whitecaps. The former game was especially disappointing because Seattle had gone down a man in the 48th minute and Toronto FC continued to play like utter crap. Seattle also maintained better possession throughout the game... How did we we lose to those guys?
So, yeah, today's game is very important if Portland wants to be taken seriously, especially come July 10th when Seattle visits.
Assessing Our Team
Right now Portland Timbers are on what I would consider a sort of make or break moment. Last week we saw an impressive performance out of a team that held on tight for 92 minutes plus change. Despite the loss it was encouraging to see the guys play like an actual team and not a bunch of individuals. Now they desperately need to win in that manner.
It'll be especially interesting today to see how our top strikers perform. Last week, while they didn't actually score, they were more aggressive and brought what I would consider to be the best meaningful chances since April. There may have been a reason for this in that, from what I could tell, Kenny Cooper was almost playing right underneath Jorge Perlaza acting as a sort of feeder for him. This seemed to work out very well as it pushed the defense back a little bit and gave Perlaza enough room to make some impressive breaks on goal. I'd like to see more of that tonight.
The bad news is that the Timbers will be without their prime center back Mamadou "Futty" Danso. Futty, as we all know, has been instrumental since the beginning of April is leading what I would consider to be a vastly improved backline. David Horst will probably be taking over that position and, while he's good, I do worry about having two fairly young centerbacks. I'm one to believe it takes a certain maturity to lead the back effectively and while young guys are fast and bold, they're also a bit reckless at times. Still it will be exciting to see the duo perform against the likes of Thierry Henry tonight.
Finally, the big news coming out last Thursday is that head coach John Spencer will not be able to be on the field tonight. I don't know what affect this will have on the team as we've never been in this situation before, but I can't imagine anything positive happening out of this. We'll just have to hope that he's an effective remote head coach.
Here's my predicted starting line up:
Troy Perkins; Rodney Wallace, David Horst, Eric Brunner, Jeremy Hall; Kalif Alhassan, Diego Chara, Jack Jewsbury (c), Darlington Nagbe; Jorge Perlaza, Kenny Cooper
Assessing the Enemy
The New York Red Bulls are a depleted squad at the moment. Ordinarily I might rue not being able to see how the Timbers face up against a fully loaded squad like New York's. Today, however, I'm thankful for it. Like I said above, today is a must win for the guys.
As we already know Juan Agudelo, Tim Ream, and Dane Richards are out with their respective national teams for the Gold Cup. Joel Lindpere is also listed as being out due to injury and Luke Rodgers is probably but not 100% confirmed as of yet. It's a huge boon to have such a depleted New York side today as I'm not confident the Timbers would be able to stand against a fully loaded team.
Still, that doesn't mean they'll be a push over. Unfortunately for us, the Canadian national team failed to qualify for the quarter finals of the Gold Cup which means Dwayne De Rosario is back in the line up for tonight's game. Many MLS veteran fans will recognize him as being one of the more technically skilled and creative midfielders in the league.
Also Thierry Henry is expected to start and presumably play the full 90 tonight. This could be a problem as, despite his age, Thierry Henry seems to have found his scoring legs of late and was even nominated for Goal of the Week last week. He's the type of player who can seemingly pull of a goal out of nowhere and you can bet that he'll be searching tonight.
Here's New York's projected starting line up courtesy of Once a Metro:
I hate to sound "repeaty" but tonight's game is ab absolute must win not merely for the points, but for the confidence. Teams need to win before they get stuck in a defeatist mentality. Granted the Timbers losing streak isn't terribly long at this point (three games) but to get out of it against the New York Red Bulls would be a huge boon to the entire organization and it's absolutely something that needs to happen.
Additionally, Kenny Cooper and Jorge Perlaza need to score tonight in the run of play. No set piece goals, no assists. They need to make an impressive run that leads to a goal. While winning via another means would be great regardless, it's becoming apparent that both strikers are getting antsy for that next goal. Getting it would do wonders to calm them down and think more clearly in the future.
Tonight's game is at 7:00PM on Root Sports and Galavision. It's also a home game in case you didn't know.