Play-off push officially starts tonight against Toronto FC. It's been a fun first half of the season, but if the Portland Timbers really want to make the play-offs they're going to have to win consistently. Winning away against the Chicago Fire a couple weeks ago was a nice start, unfortunately they couldn't keep the momentum going against the Columbus Crew. But that's a different article for a different day. Right now, there is only one thing to worry about: Toronto FC.
The good news tonight is that, while I don't expect any team to just roll over and give us the three points, Toronto's season is essentially over already. Instead the team will probably be more focused on the CONCACAF Champions League as they have a legitimate chance of going farther in that tournament. They just had a game this past Wednesday where they fielded a large majority of their starters. So, we have that going for us.
Assessing Our Team
It will be interesting to see how the team shapes up tonight. Truth be told, I'm not even 100% sure on who will be starting tonight due to a lackluster performance against Columbus last weekend followed by a tremendous effort against Independiente in a friendly. Granted it's not always fair to compare a friendly to a regular season match, but a good performance is still a good performance.In particular I'm wondering how Lovel Palmer and Mike Chabala fit in. Palmer played the right back position against Columbus and Chabala played the left back position against Independiente. Chabala, in particular I thought was a great left back player. His service and distribution were really great that night and he defended well. He's not as fast as Rodney Wallace, but I see a technical ability there that Wallace doesn't yet possess. Still the fact he played nearly he full game on Wednesday leads me to believe that he'll be a sub tonight.
Aside from that I'm expecting a largely unchanged squad. I believe Captain Jack Jewsury will play tonight. He didn't get too much time in the MLS All Star game to really justify his being lft out of the line up unless the Timbers FO wants to keep him well rested ahead of next week's matchy against the Los Angeles Galaxy. But he's a trooper so I don't necessarily believe that will happen.
Here's my projected starting line up:
Troy Perkins; Rodney Wallace, Futty Danso, Eric Brunner, Lovel Palmer; Kalif Alhassan, Jack Jewsbury (c), James Marcelin, Diego Chara, Darlington Nagbe; Jorge Perlaza
Assessing the Enemy
Duncan gave us an inside look at his team yesterday with a few helpful answers to my questions. I recommend checking it out for an inside look at Toronto FC.
The big news coming out of Toronto FC since the Timbers last played them is how radically their squad has changed. Toronto FC has been the busiest mid-season transfer club this year having traded away/brought in a number of players including the addition of two Designated Players in Torsten Frings and Danny Koevermans. While both are still getting their legs back (they were on off season remember?) Duncan assures me they're getting better with each game.
One player we probably won't have to worry about is young Javier Martina. Those of you who watched the first match up between our two sides will remember how he constantly wrecked the Timbers backline (albeit that being a vastly different backline) including scoring one of the more impressive goals of the season. Luckily for us then that, since that game his performance has gotten rather lackluster and has seen dwindling minutes. Not 100% sure what happened, but so long as we don't have to deal with him tonight that's a positive, in my opinion.
Here is Toronto FC's predicted starting line up:
Richard Eckersley, Andy Iro, Doneil Henry, Danleigh Borman
Torsten Frings, Julian De Guzman
Nick Soolsma, Danny Koevermans, Joao Plata
Four losses in five games isn't a very encouraging statistic, but now's the chance to turn the season around. August is a very busy month for the Timbers, starting with this week. There is a game tonight, a game against LA on Wednesday, and then another game against San Jose next weekend. If (and that's a big if) the Timbers can win all three they'll be right back in the thick of play-off spot contention. But with each missed opportunity, especially at home, the Timbers post-season gets a little dimmer. If August proves to be a similar trend as June and July then the Timbers might as well just start preparing for the 2012 season.
Tonight's game kicks off at 8:00 PM at Jeld-Wen Field. It will be broadcast on ROOT SPORTS.