The Portland Timbers are back in business tomorrow as the New York Red Bulls come to town tomorrow for an East vs. West clash. With the Red Bulls looking to make a run for the Supporters' Shield and the Timbers just looking to score some goals, this match up of two playoff teams could have big implications for both.
After two games in three weeks that have seen the Timbers missing first three, then four players, this week's match will feature a once again full strength side. Will Johnson and Alvas Powell return from international duty, while Diego Chara and Liam Ridgewell make their respective returns from suspension. All four are regular starters and their returns give Caleb Porter access once again to what we think of as his first choice lineup.
While Norberto Paparatto filled in admirably for Ridgewell against Sporting Kansas City, one miscommunication with Adam Kwarasey aside, his presence did not markedly effect the way the Timbers played. The returns of Powell, Chara, and Johnson, however, will likely make some major differences in what we see out of the Timbers' tomorrow.
Powell, returning to his spot at right fullback, certainly tends to get forward in the attack more than Taylor Peay did against Sporting Kansas City. Moreover, where Peay's ability to deal with top-level attacking players was still in question going into the match against Sporting, Powell has demonstrated an ability to lock down the right flank by himself with minimal defensive support from Darlington Nagbe who, when Powell is in, is given much more leeway in his positioning.
The decision to keep Peay primarily at home against SKC, and to keep Nagbe out wide on the right more often, opened up space for Diego Valeri and Fanendo Adi to work in the center of the pitch, allowing the pair to be the regular launching point for the Timbers' multitude of chances created in that match. With Nagbe (and therefore defenders) moving centrally and congesting that space, the Timbers will certainly have more room on the right for Powell to operate in, but they will likely also find it more difficult to work through the middle if they go back to the game plan that we are used to seeing with Powell on the right.
The insertion of Johnson and Chara for Jack Jewsbury and George Fochive could have a similarly compressing effect on the center of the Timbers' attacking midfield. Both Chara and Johnson are players that want to push forward when on the ball. When fully integrated into the attack, their presence can give the Timbers a quick numerical advantage or allow them to boss possession in the opposition end, but when things are not clicking adding an extra body or two to the mix could just congest things for the Timbers.
All this comes together to give us two different picture of the Timbers: a team that creates space out wide and works the ball in -- what we have seen for most of the year -- or a team that creates space in the center of the pitch and moves the ball through and from there -- like we saw against Kansas City. Against the Red Bulls, a team that plays a high pressure form of defense, getting their forwards and midfielders to try to turn the ball over high up the pitch, the Timbers might be better served trying to play in a way conducive to option number two; keep Nagbe outside, keep Powell back, and make room for Diego Valeri to breathe in the center of the pitch and do what he does best: create.
Watch it on: ESPN
Kickoff: 2:00 p.m. PT at Providence Park in Portland, OR
Portland Timbers: 11-9-8, 6th place in the Western Conference, WWTLT
New York Red Bulls: 13-8-6, 2nd place in the Eastern Conference, WLWWL