After a long ten days off the Portland Timbers are finally back in action tomorrow, taking on Western Conference opponents Sporting Kansas City. To remember what soccer is and just what it is that is going on around Major League Soccer, we talked to Cody Bradley at our SB Nation sister site The Blue Testament.
Like the Timbers, maybe even more so, SKC comes into this match missing a number of players due to injury and international call ups. Who is missing, who are their replacements, what affect will that have on this SKC side?
It feels like that has been the case with this team for the past two seasons! To start, Ike Opara has been out most of the year with an Achilles injury. He was just returning from injury to open the season and playing so well he was nominated for Player of the Month in March. The defense desperately need him back, and that day is coming. Roger Espinoza has been out for a month and has at least that long left before he is ready. Krisztian Nemeth was called up to the Hungarian National Team, and Marcel De Jong for Canada. Youngster Erik Palmer-Brown is with the U-20 National Team and THANKFULLY, Matt Besler returned from his USMNT call up. Now Sporting can actually play a real CB at CB for this Portland match.
Not having seen practice since last Friday, the rest is harder to tell. But it looked like Soni Mustivar, Jalil Anibaba, and Bernardo Anor were all back to fully training. But Amobi Okugo and Chance Myers are also on the injury report and may not be as far along.
That is a lot to work around, but this club has learned to deal with it. It is a very deep squad and with over a week of rest, Vermes' troops will be ready to go.
After a strong mid-season run that saw SKC mentioned in the hunt for the Supporters' Shield, the team has fallen off drastically, suffering losses in each of their last three games, including a 5-0 demolition to the San Jose Earthquakes at home. What happened that put SKC into this current slide and is there any hope that they will be able to pull themselves out of it?
The biggest factor had to be the stretch of 5 matches in 15 days. Players needing rest and nagging injuries piled up. Sporting lost Espinoza and Mustivar from the midfield, pushing Feilhaber back out of his attacking role. Just four days before that San Jose match, SKC had the most thrilling match of the season after a miraculous comeback to defeat the Whitecaps 4-3. I believe that took a toll on the team and left them emotionally drained.
After San Jose, if you were to listen to Peter Vermes... SKC haven't been losing but the 'guys in yellow' have been beating them. They lost to Columbus and Colorado by a goal each. Now it is true that both of those goals had bad missed calls, one of which had three itself. But the way the defense has been playing it is hard to say they deserved the points.
Yes, this team will come out of it. They are much better than the last three results, even with Kevin Ellis as CB and rookies at both fullback positions. Without him, we have now learned just how important Soni Mustivar is to the team; and also hopefully more people appreciate the work Espinoza has put in this season. They are still in a great spot with multiple games in hand on all the top teams. Hopefully with the long break everyone has put themselves together and they can get back on track.
Benny Feilhaber has been huge for SKC this season and is certain to be at least nominated as the league MVP. What has he brought to the team this year that maybe he didn't in years past and, for the Timbers' sake, what have teams been able to do in order to limit his influence on the game?
When Benny arrived in 2013 from NE, he started for several games before being bumped. Peter Vermes' system required him to track back and cover more ground than he ever had. It took until the playoff run at the end of that season for him to become Sporting Fit and things to start clicking. Since those playoffs, Feilhaber has been one of the best players in MLS. Last year, as I mentioned, the team was hit with terrible injuries and international call ups. Vermes used a different lineup each of the first 20+ games. Benny was the only constant. He played brilliantly last year, but perhaps didn't have the talent around him that he does this year. With Espinoza and Mustivar behind him, and Nemeth/Dwyer/Zusi in front of him, he has been able to flourish this season.
He is a very, very passionate player. He is easily fired up. He can get frustrated when teams crash on him quickly and get in a tackle before he is able to create something. After a few hard tackles or clips of the ankles, he will be mad enough to make a bad tackle himself. He absolutely cannot be given any time on the ball to think, or he can carve a defense with one pass. What is good for the Timbers this match, is that Nemeth will be out along with Espinoza. The two of them are both dangerous players that normally attract defenses and give Benny a little more space on the ball. However, he is the kind of player that could be quiet most of a game but only needs a split second make an impact.
Lineup Prediction: (4-3-3) Tim Melia, Seth Sinovic, Matt Besler, Kevin Ellis, Amadou Dia, Soni Mustivar, Paulo Nagamura, Benny Feilhaber, Jacob Peterson, Dom Dwyer, Graham Zusi