Tonight on a cricket oval in Guyana, the Portland Timbers will play their first CONCACAF Champions League fixture with Alpha United as the opponent. The Hammer lost on Match Day 1 with a narrow 1-0 defeat to Olimpia thanks to a deflected goal. The tournament will be all but over for Alpha if they cannot get a result against Portland tonight while the Timbers will be looking to keep pace with Olimpia. To learn more about Alpha and what kind of challenge they present, we got in touch with Nathan Carr of The Home of Caribbean Football:
1. Most Timbers fans are unfamiliar with Alpha United or the Guyanese National Super League. Maybe start by giving a little bit of background on the club and its place within the league, including how the Hammer qualified for the Champions League in the first place.
Located in the Demerara-Mahaica region of Guyana, Alpha United are the most dominant club in the country. They've won the Super League title the last five years in a row - last campaign winning every single match by substantial margins - sweeping aside all those who come before them. The quality of the league isn't very high and previously it has been known not to have even took place, such is the lack of professionalism and organisation involved with it. In fact, the cup competitions seem to take precedence as they generate more revenue because of sponsorship, and the majority of teams channel their energy into that instead. In terms of their CCL qualification, it was much more straightforward than initially anticipated. They qualified for the CFU CLub Championship - which is the Caribbean qualifying phase - via their first place Super League finish. Drawn into Group 3, they only had to play two fixtures because Notch of Suriname withdrew beforehand and this left Alpha, Defence Force of Trinidad and Tobago and Harbour View of Jamaica left in the mix. The Hammer claimed maximum points in both outings, scoring three and conceding none, to proceed to the final round which would determine the three Caribbean clubs for the CCL. However, Haitian side Valencia, who were given a bye to this stage, were disqualified by the CFU before even kicking a ball "after the Haitian Football Federation failed to confirm the club as an active member of the federation due to a fallout between the club and the federation." So the final round was cancelled to save expenses and, to their delight, Alpha, Waterhouse and Bayamon were automatically sent through.
2. Despite failing to score against Olimpia in the Group 5 opener, Alpha United is a very high scoring team in domestic competition. Who presents the most dangerous threat to what is executed to be Portland's second tier defense?
Alpha score for fun in the Super League but this is because the quality of defences they face are so poor. I thought The Hammer were unfortunate not to register a goal against Olimpia - they did have several good opportunities - but they paid the price for squandering them. Gregory Richardson is expected to partner Kithson Bain up top and the pair do have goals in them, the former is an ex-Colorado Rapids and Puerto Rico Islanders player. His left foot packs a punch but he requires service, something that was rather infrequent in the group opener. Dwight Peters is the team captain and direct right midfielder, whose crossing ability may cause Portland some problems. Aldair Paredes, an attacking midfielder from Panama, impressed against Olimpia with his range of passing and fierce long-range shooting. He's also very elusive and difficult to man-mark. If Portland do field a weakened defence then that should significantly help Alpha in front of goal, but they must learn to be ruthless and bury their chances. I suspect Portland will have the lion's share of possession and the hosts will look to soak up the pressure, then release a sharp counter-attack with the speed of Peters, Richardson and Bain.
3. The Hammer only allowed a deflected goal against Olimpia, a regular qualifier for the Champions League. Is that a sign that the defense can slow Portland's attack on Wednesday night?
Possibly. Alpha defended stoutly for much of the match and Olimpia's goal was extremely fortunate in the way that it went in. Rolston Williams is a solid goalkeeper, while I thought Quincy Adams at right-back put in a shift before coming off with seven minutes remaining. Alpha have invested in some new players for their CCL campaign, including powerful central defender Jamal Jack who has one senior cap for Trinidad and Tobago. He arrived on a sixth-month loan deal and has the mobility to match his strength. Kris Camacho is likely to accompany him in the heart of the defence. I do imagine Williams will be fairly busy on the night, though, as Portland obviously have some talented offensive options. If Alpha can try and keep the score down to something respectable, and grab a goal on the break, then that'll be a success.
Williams (GK), Jack, Camacho, Adams, Duckworth, Wilson, Paredes, Peters, Vargas, Richardson, Bain. (Unchanged Xl from Olimpia)