The Story So Far
There are only two matchdays left in the season before the playoffs begin, and the last time the Timbers were on the field it was a gutting loss to San Jose. The Timbers now return home for their final two matches of the regular season. It’s a tight race in the Western Conference; the Timbers are in third, a point out of 2nd and four points off the leaders Vancouver Whitecaps, who have already clinched a playoff spot.
The boys in green and gold welcome a hapless D.C. United side (last in the East) to Providence Park. This is a team that really has nothing to play for except trying to get to the offseason to regroup as their new stadium is about to be available. Can the Timbers put United out of their misery or will DCU find a way to play spoiler and ruin a night at Providence Park?
That pretty much sums up the defense of D.C. United.
Let’s start with the full backs, Sean Franklin and Taylor Kemp. If I were the Timbers, the first thing I would do is go at them both at pace. Neither one is fleet of foot and can be beaten down the wings; get them in 1v1 situations and watch them fold.
How bad are they really? Bad enough that goalkeeper Bill Hamid is third in the league in saves with 98, only behind Joe Bendik (Orlando City) and Bobby Shuttleworth (Minnesota United). Not a list you want to be high up on.
They’re poor at defending in the box, half the time looking confused as to what they should be doing. If Portland can get its act together on set pieces, there could be some goals because of it. DCU cough up almost three goals (2.75) a match on the road while their offense isn’t registering a goal a match.
They’re already looking towards the future as their new stadium is about ready to go. During the transfer window, they made several moves including bringing in United States International Paul Arriola, a winger with a lot of pace. They got him from Liga MX where he was playing for Xolos de Tijuana. Now, if they could just invest in a defense - but hey that’s not our problem, right?
What to expect when you’re expecting
The D.C. game plan is a bit vanilla. They prefer to play the long ball over the top and spread the pitch out trying to play to the wings. They have a horrible time of defending it like I said above, and they’re not much good at it in the attacking end either. Once they hoof it down pitch, they’ll pepper the box with crosses. The Timber back-line will have to do the yeoman's work of stopping those crosses.
Their center backs are Steve Birnbaum and Kofi Opare. They’re not much better than their full-backs and you could see a lot of blown marking in the box. The Timbers should think about crossing a bit more because one that ball gets into the mixer, it can bounce around and do wild things. DC just can’t let that happen on the defensive end.
DCU by the numbers
I always find numbers and stats interesting, maybe it’s a holdover from my baseball blogging days. But I thought I’d pass along a few that really can give you a snapshot of what United fans have had to put up with all season.
They’re 3-11-2 on the road and have allowed a whopping 36 goals. In just the first 30 minutes of a match, they’ve scored 11 goals, which is something to keep an eye on. But here’s the kicker - in minutes 46-90 they have allowed 31 goals. Sit and think about that for a minute, on the road any lead they might pick up usually gets erased in the second half. Now, if they happen to score first, they’re 7-2-1 which is probably the only bright spot in what has been a dismal season for the red and black.
It seems like just yesterday we were ushering in a new season full of hope and wonder; now the Timbers are down to match days 33 and 34. Everyone has caught up in matches played, no one has games in hand. Like I mentioned at the outset, PTFC is one point out of a 1st round bye and only four off the top of the conference. No doubt about it, the West has been interesting this year. Usually, the West has been the stronger conference, it seems the roles are reversed this season.
The East has settled and six teams have clinched playoff berths, whereas in the West, only The Whitecaps have punched their ticket to the playoffs and a first-round bye. We could be that team too, it involves getting maximum points this weekend and next while relying on Sporting KC to drop a point somewhere. Luckily, they’re currently doing us a favor by being in poor form, having just lost the Dynamo who have been stuttering themselves.
The Sporks kick off at the same time the Timbers do on Sunday against Real Salt Lake who have been in a better run of form - so the best bet is to be an RSL fan (sorta) by at the least rooting against Sporting KC. They can make the Timbers job a lot easier if they’d just roll over in these last two matches of the season. I think this PTFC team could really use the first round bye to recharge and hopefully get everyone healthy.
On the injury note, the only player listed as questionable is Fanendo Adi. I’m currently unaware of his status, but it could be possible we see him on Sunday. Porter said in a recent interview that he expects Adi to play again in 2017.
If Adi is available, then comes the debate of who do you start? Personally, I say don’t mess with things and ease Adi back in as a sub. Let him play the last 30 minutes or so.