With the Portland Timbers preparing to face the Houston Dynamo in their second preseason game on Saturday, we got in touch with Alicia Tolar at our sister site, Dynamo Theory, to give us some insight into the Dynamo coming into 2015.
SF: It seems like there have been a lot of changes in Houston this offseason, most notably with the departure of mainstay manager Dom Kinnear and the arrival of Owen Coyle. How is the mood among Dynamo supporters?
AT: Supporters are really excited. While not everyone was not 100% on board when Owen Coyle was hired I think fans have come around. We have made a lot of changes to our roster this offseason as well which has fans really excited. The players seem to be buying into Coyle and his coaching and I think that helps the feeling around the club as a whole.
SF: Shifting focus onto the field, who are some of the new faces the Timbers can expect to see on Saturday and where do they fit into Coyle's lineup?
AT: The Dynamo's first preseason game wasn't streamed so what we have to go on is what they tweeted out about the first game, but I suspect we will see a lot of the new guys in the game. Last game, Coyle basically played two lineups that consisted heavily of newbies as none of the players played a full 90. Rob Lovejoy, our second round draft pick, scored in the first game against the San Jose Earthquakes. Raul Rodriguez is the Dynamo's new signing from Spain and we expect to see him as an important piece of the Dynamo defense this season. Leonel Miranda is a player that the team brought in this offseason that many are expecting to be a bench player but a strong preseason could earn him a starting spot in the midfield. Tyler Deric and Joe Willis are currently facing off for the starting goalkeeping spot.
SF: With the Dynamo rejoining what looks to be a hyper-competitive Western Conference, is there concern that Houston could find themselves behind the eight-ball a bit with some early-season struggles before Cubo Torres arrives in the early summer and Coyle really has a chance to put his stamp on the team?
AT: Yes and no. The team has made a lot of key moves this offseason and they aren't done making moves yet. I think there will be an adjustment and then another one once Torres arrives but I think the team is capable of winning enough games that we won't be in a hole when the striker gets to Houston. The players are really excited about what Owen Coyle is bringing to the team and I think having them on board from the get-go will help.
As usual, Stumptown Footy also answered some questions for Alicia and our friends at Dynamo Theory.
AT: What have the Timbers been up to this offseason? Have they made the moves that they needed to?
SF: The Timbers had sort of a flash flood of offseason activity early in December, but since then have been relatively drama-free. The biggest additions over the offseason have been Ghanaian international goalkeeper Adam Larsen Kwarasey, Nat Borchers at centerback, and Dairon Asprilla as a winger/forward. Just as important, however, the Timbers retained the services of Gaston Fernandez - who, although not exactly the same type of player, is the logical stand-in for Diego Valeri during his injury layoff. Houston fans should remember Fernandez well; he scored a great goal at BBVA Compass Stadium last year in what was an otherwise snooze-inducing draw. As far as positional needs, then, I think it's fair to say the Timbers filled them in the offseason, as the club got younger in goal, added depth to the central defense, and gave themselves a chance to ride out early-season injuries while keeping continuity in the midfield.
AT: What sort of a lineup do you expect to see for this preseason match?
SF: It sounds like the Timbers starters will be playing the first 60 minutes against the Dynamo with reserves playing the final 30 minutes. As far as this starting unit, it's going to look pretty similar to the one that finished 2014 (though quite different from the one that visited Houston last spring). Liam Ridgewell is still in England finishing up his short-term loan with Wigan while Will Johnson and Valeri recover from injuries, but the overall look to the team isn't decidedly different from that which finished last year.
AT: Who is the one guy you would keep your eye on this game?
SF: I’ll give you two. In the first unit, Darlington Nagbe has become increasingly important with Gaston Fernandez playing a bit higher than Diego Valeri otherwise would. With Fernandez pressing higher, Nagbe will bear a bit more of the load through the middle third. If he's effective enough as a pinched right midfielder to ensure the Timbers can operate through the middle to some extent, Rodney Wallace and Jorge Villafana on the left and Alvas Powell pushing forward on the right can make the Timbers pretty potent across the field.
As for the second unit, Asprilla is the guy to watch. He's flexible - playing on both wings or up more centrally as a forward - and brings an element of pace and physicality the Timbers haven't really had in the last year or so. He's still a little bit raw and won't have too many pieces around him to help out on Saturday, but we've already seen a few flashes of his talent in training camp.