Last week saw the Portland Timbers host the New York Red Bulls in what turned out to be the most exciting game the Timbers have had since, well, joining MLS. The combination of fluid attack and passing accuracy created a beautiful display of soccer on one end. On the other end, though... it's a bit more dicey.
Still, as the Portland Timbers look to host the Montreal Impact at Jeld-Wen Field for the first time since the USL days, it will be important to earn the full three points. Drawing 3-3 against the New York Red Bulls is not a "win" it's a loss. All home games must be won.
Here's the breakdown:
As we saw against the New York Red Bulls, I'm fully expecting the Timbers to play a high possession, constant pressure game. This all starts from the midfield with Diego Valeri, of course. It's still difficult to say whether or not Valeri will be consistent enough to make an impact game in, game out, but all signs have currently pointed to him being the real deal. If he can lead the attack in a similar manner as he did against New York Montreal will have a difficult task ahead of them.
What's probably even more important, however, is that Ryan Johnson earn his first goal. We've seen him do it before in the pre-season and we saw flashes of brilliance from him against New York. Valeri and Ryan obviously make a great attacking pair. He just needs to seal the deal and really make an impact on the game Saturday. (Couldn't resist, sorry!)
And then there's the defense. It will be interesting to see what Caleb Porter does to rectify the situation that played out last Sunday. I'm still expecting Mikael Silvestre to start, but I do wonder if he tries Dylan Tucker-Gangnes instead of Andrew Jean-Baptiste. Both have shown promise during the preseason and I could easily see either one taking a first hold on that extra spot.
Back to the topic of Silvestre, however, this will be his game to show that what happened last Sunday was a fluke spurred by exhaustion of moving thousands of miles combined with the inherent jet lag. I don't expect him to be perfect, no defender is, but serious gaffes need to be controlled.
Here's my expected line up:
Donovan Ricketts; Ryan Miller, Mikael Silvestre, Andrew Jean-Baptiste (or Dylan!), Michael Harrington; Will Johnson, Diego Valeri, Diego Chara; Kalif Alhassan, Ryan Johnson, Darlington Nagbe
My knowledge of Montreal is fairly base, but I did watch the entirety of the Seattle Sounders - Montreal Impact home opener and I came away fairly impressed with the Canadian side. Make no mistake, while perhaps not as radically altered as the Timbers, the Impact have been fairly active in retooling their squad. For the better? Well that remains to be seen.
In the game against the Sounders, Montreal was able to successfully mute the enemy up north while still providing pressure, all this while at Seattle was at home, with 40,000 fans behind them. It was an impressive display, even if it was only a 1-nil game, and I attribute this to one player really: Davy Arnaud. The former Sporting Kansas City man was instrumental in leading the Impact to a fairly successful season last year and he's already made a huge impression in Seattle. Expect him to start Saturday.
And then there's Montreal's trio of Italians: Marco Di Vaio, Alessandro Nesta and Andrea Pisanu. While each are in their twilight years (or coming up on them soon), I expect to see them this Sunday. Still, I don't know too much about them yet. Stay tuned for our preview interview later this week for more information on Montreal's Italian hit squad.
Three points. Obviously this is a rebuilding year, but there's no reason why the Timbers can't earn all three points this weekend against the likes of Montreal. Despite an impressive display against Seattle, I did not see anything they were doing that could possibly contain the likes of Diego Valeri. Of course, that's the beauty and horror of soccer, you never know how it will play out.