The Story So Far..
Well, opening night didn’t go exactly to plan for the Portland Timbers. While they held it together and played pretty good football in the first half, it was the second half that would be Portland’s undoing, allowing three unanswered goals. The Timbers will be looking to rebound against Nashville SC, one of two debutante MLS franchises, alongside Inter Miami CF.
Nashville opened their season at home by taking on MLS champs, Atlanta United. Walker Zimmerman scored the first goal in club history, but it wasn’t enough to hold off a potent Atlanta offense, who would go on to score two goals and pick up then win on the road.
Can the Timbers rebound from a loss at home on opening night, or will the upstart Nashville squad come into Providence Park with something to prove?
What to Watch for ...
Nashville SC (0-0-1, 0 pts)
Nashville head coach, Gary Smith, brings his expansion club to Soccer City, USA. A little on Smith: He’s no stranger to Major League Soccer, winning the MLS Cup with the Colorado Rapids as an assistant coach. His last job before being selected as Nashville’s new head coach was with the Silverbacks in Atlanta in the old NASL.
This won’t be a totally unfamiliar club for the Timbers, as Nashbille brought in veteran MLS talent to fill out the roster. The stand outs are Aníbal Godoy, Dax McCarty, Dave Romney, and David Accam to name a few.
They’ll roll out in a 4-2-3-1, with former Colorado Rapids and FC Dallas forward Dominique Badji as the lone striker. On paper, this team looks pretty good — but a playoff contender? I’m not sure I’d go that far. They have seemed to build their roster a lot like FC Cincinnati, and we know how well that worked out for them last season.
Depending on how you rate Walker Zimmerman, their defense is suspect. Atlanta’s first goal came in the ninth minute in a breakdown of communication by forward Accam and right-back Eric Miller, allowing Josef Martinez to do what he does best.
According to team captain, Dax McCarty, they came out a little “nervy” in front of their home crowd for the first time in team history, and then add that MLS powerhouse Atlanta United is the first team you have to face.
I don’t see them as a club that’s come out of the gate pressing hard and getting all up in the Timbers’ grill. I think they’re going to take some time to feel out the Timbers and settle in to Providence Park. Don’t look for them to hold the ball often — last week they allowed Atlanta to rack up 55 percent of the possession.
The key for Nashville SC is not to mentally switch off at any point, or things could go horribly wrong. Also look for their full backs to push in the attack, especially Miller, so there could be space behind the both of them that the Timbers could exploit.
It’s going to be a long season for Nashville: I have a feeling it’s going to take a while for this team to gel and become one whole unit. They have some pieces and parts that could help them, but it’s the supporting players that are the question.
Portland Timbers (0-0-1, 0 pts)
Okay, let's forget about last Sunday.
We got one good half out of the Timbers, as I mentioned in the opening; the change needs to come from half time on. I haven’t been able to go back and watch that second half again. Maybe I just didn’t want to put myself through that again. This would be a good time for them to reclaim some confidence with a weaker expansion side is coming to town. And yes, I know that you never underestimate your opponent.
The defense for sure has to get its act together. I think last week was the worst I’ve seen Larrys Mabiala play since he put on a Portland Timbers kit. He needs to have a big game and be the leader in the backline. Mabiala didn’t mince words at training this week. Here’s what he told Timbers.com:
“I feel like this team has to learn the hard way, always, ever again to understand that we have to all stay together and just apply the plan, all together,” he said. “Stay connected for the full 90 minutes.”
And he’s absolutely right.
There were times in the second half that showed that, as a team, they weren’t on the same page, much less the same book. For the team to be as successful as we know they are, they need to come out and play their game. Executing Giovanni Savarese’s plan is a big thing of course. That’s where you hope the coach has made adjustments during the week to get the squad back on the same page. Whatever happened between halves last Sunday needs to not happen again. Gio needs to make those adjustments and stick with them.
This team needs to play the full 90 together, as Mabiala said.
It’s a good thing there are 33 matches left in the season. I know I might be doing some hand-wringing, but I do it so you don’t have too. I think the new players need to get used to the pace and physicality of MLS, and of course gelling with their new teammates. I think it’s going to be a bit of a project, but not a large one.
Last Sunday the Timbers were the better team in possession, 57 percent to 42 percent. But, as we’ve learned, possession doesn’t translate into goals or a notch in the win column.
Here’s a list of everyone who is currently injured:
OUT: GK - Jeff Attinella (right shoulder surgery)
OUT: M - Andres Flores (left knee surgery)
QUESTIONABLE: D - Bill Tuiloma (right lower leg strain)
QUESTIONABLE: M - Marvin Loría (left thigh strain)
QUESTIONABLE: M - Andy Polo (right thigh injury)
QUESTIONABLE: F - Jaroslaw Niezgoda (right popliteus strain)
Portland have only won once in their last six MLS league matches.
The Timbers have a record of 3-1-1 when playing at home against an expansion team in their first season, and they are 5-4-2 overall against expansion clubs in their inaugural MLS seasons. When playing an MLS expansion team for the first time, Portland has notched a 4-3-1 record in those eight matches.
Sunday’s match against the Timbers marks Nashville’s first-ever away match in MLS history.