Lots of firsts tomorrow night. First road game of the season. First Cascadia Cup match. First time we'll see Caleb Porter's road game tactics. First year that the Timbers will be forced to defend their Cascadia Cup trophy in MLS. First time they'll have to do it by playing on the road four separate times between Vancouver and Seattle. Lots of firsts indeed...
There will be plenty of storylines heading into tomorrow night's game, but the only thing that really matters at the end? Three points. Three points for the Cascadia Cup trophy, but also three points for the league in general. The Timbers have to prove that they can be competitive on the road, and what better place to start than your arch-rival's territory?
Here's the breakdown:
Trying to figure out the Portland Timbers' tactics ahead of tomorrow's match is not an easy task, mostly because we have zero reference for just what tactics will be used. I've said it multiple times already, but it bears repeating. Don't expect Caleb Porter to play a similar tactic that we've seen at home, or at least not an exact copy. It won't work. Road games are not home games and good tactical teams adjust for that change.
What I do expect to remain the same, however, is the Timbers' desire for high possession. Granted they were able to do very little with it against Montreal, they still held the better possession of the two teams with 62.6%. Those kinds of numbers were unheard of in 2011 and 2012. That said, expect the possession to drop a bit. My guess is that they'll be aiming for somewhere around 55%. Controlling, but not dominating.
The biggest change I think we'll see tomorrow is the high defensive backline that Porter uses at home. Often times we saw Mikael Silvestre and Andrew Jean-Baptiste push as high as the other team's half of the field. Doing this allows them to better control the flow through the midfield with high pressure. Unfortunately, it also leaves them vulnerable to counter attacks, something that's far more manageable at home than away. So expect them to stick a little further back in the defense at a cost of some of that midfield control.
As for the forward options. That's the big question and it's not one I can answer. How will Diego Valeri perform away from Jeld-Wen? Will Ryan Johnson be effective when he doesn't have thousands of fans cheering for him? These are things we learn tomorrow.
Here's my predicted starting line up:
Donovan Ricketts; Ryan Miller, Mikael Silvestre, Andrew Jean-Baptiste, Michael Harrington; Will Johnson, Diego Valeri, Diego Chara; Kalif Alhassan, Ryan Johnson, Darlington Nagbe
Pretty much standard affair at this point.
Before you begin reading this part of the preview, if you haven't read my preview interview with Dave Clark of Sounder at Heart then I do recommend it. He gives an inside look at some of their key players.
Coming off a home loss to the Montreal Impact in week one, followed by a resurgent 3-1 victory over UANL Tigres in the CONCACAF Champions League earlier this week, the Seattle Sounders are a little difficult to figure out at this point. Right now, it would appear that they fell victim to the same tactics that Montreal was successfully able to implement against the Timbers as well as being unable to capitalize on the myriad of chances... a familiar feeling. Additionally, the fact that Tigres left many of their starters at home fielding mostly a "B squad" in Seattle further complicates things. Bottom line? We're just not sure how good or bad Seattle will be this year.
Still, it would be unwise to underestimate them. They still have a solid core team they're working with in Osvaldo Alonso, Mauro Rosales, and Eddie Johnson. Not to mention, of course, their keeper Michael Gspurning who is, by all accounts, very good at his profession of choice. But for all the familiar faces we've come to know and hate, there are plenty of new ones that make judging the Sounders difficult such as Djimi Traore, DeAndre Yedlin, and even Mario Martinez, who we didn't see too much of last season. Watching these players tomorrow will be key to seeing how well the Sounders perform in the future when they play the Timbers.
Here is Dave's predicted starting line up for tomorrow:
Michael Gspurning; Marc Burch, Djimi Traore, Jhon Kennedy Hurtado, DeAndre Yedlin; Osvaldo Alonso; Steve Zakuani, Andy Rose, Mario Martinez; David Estrada, Eddie Johnson
It's worth noting that, at the time, Mauro Rosales was considered to be out, but the Sounders' training staff have clarified that he could well play tomorrow. Expect that to happen considering the implications, barring some sort of major set back in his health.
It's a rivalry game. Expect the unexpected. Players will get heated. The Sounders won't want to lose their second home regular season match against anybody, let alone the Portland Timbers. Still, it's certainly not impossible for the Timbers to eek out a win here and, while it wouldn't seal any trophy in their favor, it will go a long way toward recovering their road confidence. Two seasons of consistent losing away from home is bound to take its toll.
What are your thoughts on both teams heading into tomorrow's match?