First meaningful (non-friendly) home game since the bitter 3-2 loss to the Seattle Sounders. Luckily it's against a still struggling Toronto FC side, despite bringing on two designated players earlier this month. Then again the last time the Timbers won at home was back in May against the Columbus Crew...
Also, those of you who were with us back in march will remember that Toronto FC handily beat the Timbers in Toronto. While both teams have changed significantly since then, that certainly doesn't mean we should go in expecting an automatic win.
Anyway, with all the change sin TFC's line up, I had some questions. Luckily, Duncan Fletcher of the SB Nation Toronto FC blog, Waking the Red, kindly offered to shed some light on the current Toronto FC team.
My Questions Answered
Toronto FC recently brought in two high profile designated players. While they've only played a couple games, what can you tell us about the two? How have they fitted in with the team so far?
Torsten Frings has looked very good in midfield, despite having a different set of underacheiving midfield partners in all 3 games so far. He was given the captaincy in Wednesday's CCL game, and I can't see him losing it. His tackling, passing, vision and organisational abilities are very much as advertised and he's clearly a step above the rest of the team already. If only he wasn't so old.
Danny Koevermans doesn't seem fully fit yet, but has looked promising so far, and crucially has his first goal already. I'm not as convinced by him as I am by Frings, but he's definitely an upgrade for us at Centre forward.
With 23 games played and only 18 points so far for the league, do you expect that the FO management will begin focusing more on CCL and the following season rather than attempting to make the play-offs? What are TFC's ambitions for the remainder of the season?
It would be foolish not to focus on the CCL, as that's the only thing that can rescue the season. As for the league, I'd expect strong teams to still be put out, but it's really all about next season and finding out who can play and who can't. At the start of the season, Aron Winter was talking a brave game about being able to compete this year, while the rebuilding process went on, but that hasn't happened at all. It's been a long frustrating season so far, if we were to fail to qualify for the CCL group stages, there would be a seriously disgruntled fanbase.
Javier Martina wrecked the Timbers backline in the first meeting between the two teams back in March. How has he played since then? Are you expecting him to start and, if so, will he be just as much of a threat?
Portland saw what I'm convinced will be the one last bright moment of Javier Martina's football career. I get it, tricky wingers are by nature inconsistent, and he was always going to have bad games, but there's been very little good since those 2 goals. There's been the occasional moment where he's made a defender look silly, but really zero productivity from that. I'd say he's now 4th in the depth chart for our two wing positions, behind not only Joao Plata, who's his most direct replacement with a similar skillset, but who does have good games to go with his bad ones, but also Nick Soolsma and recently acquired Ryan Johnson. I'd be stunned to see him back next year, a real shame as he briefly looked really really good.
Projected starting line up?
Line up? Almost impossible to predict, as our defence is ever changing and we've got midfielders maybe returning from injury, but I'll try this, in a 4-2-1-3 formation.
Richard Eckersley, Andy Iro, Doneil Henry, Danleigh Borman
Torsten Frings, Julian De Guzman
Nick Soolsma, Danny Koevermans, Joao Plata
Questions I Answered
Jack Jewsbury, allstar? How in hell did that happen? How important has he been to the team this year?
It's not that surprising really. First off is that he was voted on by the fans. The Timbers are a hot new team and, as such, have a fairly commanding voice right now. I'm actually surprised more Timbers players didn't get on because of this reason, although MLS could have stopped a few. Who knows?
That said, Captain Jack (as he's lovingly referred to by all here in Portland) has been outstanding for us. Easily our MVP so far in the season and he'll probably take it at the end of the season as well. His set piece distribution is seriously top notch. There's a quality there not seen amongst the majority in MLS yet. He's also just been a really solid central midfielder. He drops back to defend when needed and also gets into good scoring opportunities when the chance arrives. All in all he's just a great box-to-box player. Without him, the Timbers would definitely be in a worse off position.
After a rough start, followed by a good run of home wins, you’re struggling again? Was that stretch just a blip in an otherwise typical MLS expansion season, or are you confident of getting that form back?
It was definitely a blip spurred on by the opening of the stadium and a largely new team being overwhelmed by the amount of support coming from the Timbers Army. It was a nice 5 game home streak, but it certainly wasn't going to last. You could tell against Columbus and Philadelphia that the team was starting to lose its mojo.
That said, all hope is not lost. The Timbers are only a couple games away from being in a play-off spot (provided some other WC teams lose) so I still firmly believe that they can do it. It's not entirely uncommon for a team to have a rough first half of the season only to resurge in the second half. Just ask Los Angeles in 2009.
Darlington Nagbe really announced himself with that goal. How has his first season gone so far? Has he justified/will he justify that first round pick? Talking of strikers, has Kenny Cooper been a disappointment with just 3 goals so far?
He's been getting better. It was unfortunate that he was so mired by injuries in the first couple months but such is the life of a soccer player.
I think he was deserving of that pick. Maybe not for this season, but certainly in the seasons to come. He still has a lot to contribute and a lot to learn, but he'll get there. And when he does he'll probably be considered one of the best MLS players. The kid has some amazing technical skill.
Yes, Kenny Cooper has been a disappointment. Unfortunate, but true. I can't tell you what's wrong. Maybe it's all in his head. Maybe he suffered by being the face of a new MLS club. Whatever it is something is wrong.
Projected line up:
Troy Perkins; Rodney Wallace, Futty Danso, Eric Brunner, Lovel Palmer; Kalif Alhassan, Jack Jewsbury, James Marcelin, Diego Chara, Darlington Nagbe; Jorge Perlaza