The Portland Timbers face difficult opposition this weekend as unbeaten Sporting Kansas City come to town for a Western Conference show down. To get the inside scoop on SKC, we talked with Cody Bradley of our sister site, the Blue Testament, and got his view of the Timbers’ opposition.
To see our answers to Cody’s questions on the Timbers, swing over here and take a gander.
Where are the goals coming from for Sporting so far in 2017? Will that be enough, or do other players need to step up if the team want to contend this year?
Well until last week, they hadn't been coming. SKC have 5 goals - one of which was scored by the other team - and the other four goals have come from four different players. Dwyer finally got on the board last week as well as the new DP Gerso. If those two can continue to score goals then Sporting will be in pretty good shape. But it's definitely nice to see so many different players getting looks on goal. If the defense is going to continue to lock it down the way the season has started, a collaborative effort of sneaking in a goal or two each game may be enough to stay at the top of the table.
But obviously Dom needs to start scoring at a higher rate. He has missed far too many big chances this year. Even before scoring his first last weekend, a couple of huge opportunities were squandered. While there are plenty of guys capable of contributing goals this year, Dom needs to have the lion's share.
While Kansas City have yet to start pouring in the goals, the side have allowed only two in five games; what has been key to Sporting's defensive record so far and just how sustainable is it?
The largest part of it, for me, is the familiarity they have with each other. Ike Opara is the newest of the four on the back line and this is his 5th season with the club. Sinovic arrived in 2011 and Zusi & Besler were drafted in 2009. Plus, Besler & Sinovic were youth club teammates growing up in Kansas City. These guys all know each other very well. They can communicate without communicating. On top of all this, any Peter Vermes side is going to be very organized defensively. The other two factors lie on either side of the back line - Tim Melia in goal and Ilie Sanchez at holding mid. The two of them have been playing very well so far.
So I definitely believe this is sustainable. Obviously they won't be able to get shut-outs three out of five games all year long, but most of the success they are having should continue. They are all veterans in the back and nobody is playing out of their ability. If anything Graham Zusi will only improve in his defense on the right side. The same can be said for Sanchez as he learns the ins-and-outs of MLS.
Midfielder Ilie Sanchez, forward Gerso Fernandez, and full back Graham Zusi appear to be the new additions to the SKC line up this year; what have you seen from them so far and how do they change things up for the Sporting side that Timbers fans will remember from 2016?
I really like what Graham Zusi at right back has done for the team. KC has grown used to youth and experiments at outside back for the last couple seasons. Zusi brings a veteran presence and technical ability that has allowed them to build out of the back a little more. They take a short goal kicks every chance they get this year. His defense has also been better than expected.
Ilie Sanchez is playing a very, very important role in Peter Vermes' system. They love to throw numbers forward and being able to trust Sanchez to breakup counter attacks is huge. He is also key in what I mentioned above with Zusi and building from the back. Ilie is very calm and collected on the ball. Where you would normally see an MLS player be forced to boot the ball up the field, Sanchez confidently makes the right touch in traffic, allowing him to find the open man. Locking down this position also means Benny Feilhaber is more free to get involved in the attack. I am a HUGE fan. He makes me feel all warm and cozy when the ball is passed to him.
Gerso, or #Gershow, on the wing is everything that KC was not last year. Sporting got basically zero production from either wing all year long (one reason it wasn't a tough choice to move Zusi to RB). But Gerso is fast, skillful, and creative. He allows the team to play wide and attack from the outside. He draws defenders away from Dwyer in the middle of the field, who was on an island last year. Based on his career numbers he may not necessarily score a load of goals himself, but he is very important to this offense. I'm looking for him to rack up assists beating his man on the outside and pushing it across for Dwyer.
Predicted lineup: Tim Melia, Seth Sinovic, Matt Besler, Ike Opara, Graham Zusi, Ilie Sanchez, Roger Espinoza, Benny Feilhaber, Jimmy Medranda, Dom Dwyer, Gerso
Benny has missed the last two matches with a thigh strain and is working his way back. But I think he will get the nod.