The Portland Timbers are halfway across the world this weekend and set to take on the newer and bluer side of the Big Apple, New York City FC. With just six games to go in the regular season and teams packed in close in the Western Conference, every point counts for the Timbers.
To get an idea of what the Timbers will be facing in New York on Saturday, we spoke with Jake Gofman of Hudson River Blue and he answered some of our questions about NYCFC. Make sure to swing by HRB tomorrow to find our answers to Jake’s questions.
NYCFC is banged up, indeed. Who will miss this one and what does that mean for the Blue side of New York's approach to the match? Who will Patrick Viera expect to step up and make a claim on a spot in the XI on Saturday?
Short answer: A lot of players. We are very injured at the moment and the International did nothing to heal us up. In fact, three of the four players who went out on duty came back banged up. For those scoring at home, our injury list is now up to 8 players with the addition of Villa, Ring and Herrera over the break. Luckily, Alexander Ring should be fit enough to start Saturday, which will solidify our shape. David Villa may also play, but I doubt it. *knocks vigorously on wood*
The injuries to the team don't necessarily mean that we're going to a whole new system, as evidenced by our match midweek. The loss of Villa is of course the most damaging, and there's no player on our team (or any in MLS) that can replace his goal scoring abilities. Herrera hurts for sure, as he and Ring in the center of the park together hold down the midfield in a way that Ring and Pirlo/McNamara/Lopez cannot.
Saturday, we'll see a very similar NYC FC team from a tactical standpoint. The key to getting a result is picking the right players in the XI. Patrick Vieira has had good and bad days picking a team, but Wednesday was a good day for the coach and I imagine he'll likely field a similar team. Whoever plays out wide on the left, whether it be Jonathan Lewis or Rodney Wallace (I think the latter) will have to play very well. Sean Okoli, who will start for David Villa again, needs to find more confidence and improve his hold-up play. In defense, the team will welcome back Ring but will have trouble containing Portland. Our wing backs, Ben Sweat and RJ Allen, have to be disciplined throughout the game if we're going to take all three points.
Rodney Wallace holds a spot close to the hearts of many Timbers fans for his hard-nosed play on the left wing and for scoring a few notable goals in his time with the Timbers. How is Wallace fitting in with NYCFC and what has his impact been since returning to MLS this year?
I've loved having Rodney on NYC FC this year and he's provided the depth we need to be among the best teams in MLS. Adding Wallace to the duo of Villa and Harrison has given NYC FC more athleticism and ability in their already dangerous attack. What's impressed me most is his work rate. Wallace seems to always be playing as hard as possible and his covering back has been really important to a team that conceded the most goals in MLS last season.
Unfortunately for Rodney, he's missed some time with injury and only made 19 appearances for New York. I would have liked that number to be higher, but injuries are part of the game. His absences in the squad have given NYC the opportunity to get 20 year old Jonathan Lewis into the team and Lewis has been excellent so far, scoring twice and assisting in his 9 appearances (4 starts). Having one of Lewis or Wallace start and the other come off the bench has added considerably to our attack.
Toronto FC stand alone atop the league standings as the season wind down, but NYCFC are perhaps the only side with a real chance at catching them. What are your hopes for NYCFC finishing out the season? What needs to go right and what are you afraid could go wrong?
I don't think it's possible for NYC FC to catch Toronto and that's okay. Toronto has been the best team in the league this year and if they end up with the Supporter's Shield they'll have deserved it. Vieira and New York have their sights set on winning the MLS Cup, and the most important step to reaching that level is to secure a first round bye. In a playoff scenario where anything can happen, skipping out on round one is a big advantage.
As the season finishes out, I'll be watching how NYC FC plays their way into the Postseason. They're six points back of Toronto and six up on Chicago, so there isn't a great deal of pressure being exerted on the team in the table. My hope is that we can get a few results and lock down the second seed.
After that, it's exclusively about getting into the Postseason healthy and in good form. New York cannot win the MLS Cup without a healthy David Villa, full stop. Beyond that, we have important squad players who should be coming back into the team around late September and early October and I'll be watching to see how they are returned to the mix. Ronald Matarrita and Maxime Chanot are very important, very good defenders and getting them back will massively boost the team. Yangel Herrera's injury is new, so I'll have my fingers crossed he can return soon to help the team.
If it goes wrong, it'll be because the injuries overwhelmed the team. Here's hoping that doesn't happen.
Predicted Lineup: (4-3-3) Johnson; Sweat, Callens, Brillant, Allen; Ring, Moralez, Pirlo; Wallace, Okoli, Harrison