Friday, April 28, 2017

Week 9 Prediction Thread - Timbers vs. FC Dallas

There are several matches in Major League Soccer for Week 9, but one that I think will draw the most attention is out in Frisco, Texas on Saturday night. It's first place versus second place in the West as FC Dallas hosts the Portland Timbers in a showcase that features two of the better sides in MLS so far in 2017. FC Dallas nearly completed the trifecta of MLS honors in 2016 when they secured the Supporters' Shield for most points in the regular season and won the 2016 U.S. Open Cup in dramatic fashion over New England back in September 2016. FC Dallas was regarded highly going into the postseason, but their offense wasn't able to overcome the game 1 output posted by the Seattle Sounders FC in their 2 leg conference semifinal. FC Dallas did better in game 2, but their season was undone earlier than anyone associated with the team wanted despite the other successes.

The organization made it a goal to keep up the standard set in 2016, and so far, FC Dallas hasn't disappointed. What has been the bigger surprise is the defense, which has conceded just 3 goals in 2017 so far. While Matt Hedges and Walker Zimmerman have been very good, they've been supported well by their collective of backs in Atiba Harris, Hernan Grana, Maynor Figeroua and Aaron Guillen. Even Chris Seitz, considered a very solid MLS keeper over the years, has been splitting time with young Jesse Gonzalez and the defense under FC Dallas Coach Oscar Pareja has been simply stellar. The offense has fully fallen on the back of former Timbers striker Maxi Urruti, who signed with FC Dallas after the 2015 Cup season. But it hasn't been just him as holdovers Kellyn Acosta and Michael Barrios were joined by RSL castaway Javier Morales, and the offense is as potent and diverse as ever. The same could be said for Portland as they crew of Diego Valeri, Fanendo Adi, Darren Mattocks, Sebastian Blanco and Darlington Nagbe are currently leading the league in goals scored.

So in this match, what gives away first - the stellar defense or the potent offense. Portland's history in Texas only has yielded 1 win and 2 draws in 9 visits in the regular season, but we've seen Nagbe often be a big difference maker for the Timbers and he's currently on a roll. Here's what our crack group of prognosticators think for this one:


Jennifer - Timbers 2, FC Dallas 17

Because this match is being played on my birthday, I can only expect a Timbers loss of even more epic proportions. The truly embarrassing part about this match is that all the FC Dallas goals will be Timbers own goals. However, the two Timbers goals will be own goals by Maxi Urruti. It doesn't quite even things out, but it does allow us to laugh through the tears.

Rick has some great furry friends.

Rick - Timbers 1, FC Dallas 1

Portland will be without Jake Gleeson and Diego Valeri for this trip. On the plus side, Fanendo Adi returns from suspension. 
The forecast, 81°, thunderstorms with 89% humidity, won't help the Timbers at Toyota Park where they have won only once out of eight attempts in MLS. However, they're better off playing at this time of year rather than at the height of a Texas summer. Dallas will be a tough nut to crack. They are unseated in 2017 and have only conceded three goals in six games. I predict goals from both teams respective leading scorers, ex-Timber Maxi Urruti for Dallas and our own Fanendo Adi.

Working? I want food!

GB - No score predicted.

GB seemed very disinterested in the whole prediction thing this week. He was more curious about why he didn't get any of the hash browns that were for breakfast on Friday morning like the rest of the house. Even thought I had been asking him about this all week, he refused to provide anything except a "Eff off, human" response. He's still handsome, though.

There will be tons of goals. Or snacks. Whatever works best.

Tortie - Timbers 11, FC Dallas 9

Tortie seemed very interested once again as she was a bundle of eeps and meows about it. She kept looking away when asked about whether FC Dallas would win, but when we asked about Portland, she ran over and rubbed on a cardboard box. We interpreted that to mean there will be a key play that happens near or in the Timbers box. I kept track of the eeps and meows for her official score.

I finally predicted a score, but one you might not like.

Spot - Timbers 1, FC Dallas 2.

Spot was clearly upset that GB took her act over the last few weeks for the lack of a score, but perhaps we caught her in a better mood because she meowed and purred through the whole exercise. It became apparent that she's an Urruti fan, however, and decided that the former Timbers forward will score more than his old team.

Maybe FC Dallas copied my defensive scheme?

 Kip - Timbers 2, FC Dallas 2

I called for a draw on this week's episode of the Rose City Soccer Show, which is a first for me in 2017.  We will be seeing two extremely talented offenses on display, but FC Dallas has been simply stellar defensively as well with the Timbers improving, too. While I think the chances will be limited, the defenses won't come out unscathed and we'll have a draw for our troubles with goals from Nagbe and Adi for us & Urruti and Morales for the home side. Honestly, a draw there would be a great result.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

After Match Analysis - Looking Back at Timbers v Whitecaps FC

Everybody pogo! Everybody pogo!
It's hard to categorize rivalry games. With most other home matches, you can look at current form, statistics, injury reports, suspensions, and playing styles to come up with an idea how it might play out. Rivalries, however, don't care about records, form, or otherwise; the intensity is ramped up to an entirely different level. I felt a different energy when I entered Providence Park roughly 90 minutes ahead of the latest chapter of Timbers v. Whitecaps FC. While we've seen an increase in traveling fans that ventured to the Rose City from other cities, it's a different experience when you have a bigger contingent parked in the Southwest corner of the stadium. However, even this edition of the rivalry had its own differences that were made immediately apparent.

There was only one section of seats roped off for the visitors from the North as section 223 had gold ropes around the various bench seats. I was used to seeing more travelers head down, but after the latest U.S. election and subsequent policy decisions by the current administration, the Southsiders, one of the best supporters' groups in MLS, made a decision not to organize travel for away matches. While there was still a big group of folks wearing blue and white shirts supporting their team, I guessed it was roughly 30 to 40 percent of the usual number that usually make the trip. I can certainly understand the rationale behind the decision and I respect the choice, especially considering the stories that continue to pour out about incidents at various border crossings. When you travel as a group, nobody wants to think about the possibility that one of your own might not be able to cross a border, much less return back to the original destination without concern.  Our world has never been a simple place and we may not fully agree on everything policy wise, but it's safe to say that current events have changed how we all think about our world. For me, I had no concerns about traveling anywhere in the world within reason, but that's just not the case anymore. I always thought our governments should be working hard to bring groups together, not put up barriers in an attempt to pull them apart. That's a big reason why I loved the Timbers Army banner unfurled before the match because it was the right sentiment for the right time.

Pretty awesome message if you ask me.
Once the game pleasantries got under way, the match devolved into a very typical Timbers - Caps affair - physical, chippy, tense with occasional bursts of speed and passing. My wife, Jennifer, remarked after the match how compacted both sides played for the entire game, and upon reflection, I had to agree with that thought. Neither side seemed willing to explore and push the width of the pitch with any regularity, instead choosing to keep the attack very centrally located. Perhaps this was by design, since both teams were playing 4 defender, 2 defensive midfielder, 3 attacking mids and 1 forward formations to start. I get that once the whistle blows, the actual positioning alters very quickly and there's often more attacking options flying into the respective boxes. However, the main focal point of the offense relies upon a single target forward to be a catalyst for the attack. Portland is fortunate to have one of the best forwards in MLS for that very purpose in Fanendo Adi, who excels at not only tracking down the ball but holding it in traffic and distributing under pressure.

Without Adi, the task fell upon Darren Mattocks, who can be a very physical player despite his relatively slight build because of his leaping ability and lower center of gravity. The Timbers would need Diego Valeri and Darlington Nagbe to pick up some slack as well, but the plan took another turn when Timbers Coach Caleb Porter had to replace incumbent wing Sebastian Blanco with Dairon Asprilla. While Asprilla is very gifted offensively, his defensive tracking has always been a question mark, so with Blanco's availability limited due to a sore abdominal muscle, Asprilla would have to step up his two-way play. It would also be important for David Guzman and Diego Chara to patrol the middle and clog up any counter attacks where ever possible, and for the most part, they did that. Vancouver was really only able to get consistent pressure when they sent midfielder Christian Bolanos wide matched up with Timbers defender Alvas Powell. The combination created several free kicks for the Caps in great spots, plus Vancouver was awarded a penalty off a Powell hip check where Bolanos fell down awkwardly. In my opinion, Bolanos went to ground way too easily, but I'm not the one with the whistle - especially since the officiating blew a similar call minutes earlier when Caps defender Kendall Waston put Mattocks to the turf in the box on a crossing pass with an extended arm.

Darlington Nagbe and Lawrence Olum get ready for action.

But I don't want to get into another tangent complaining about the officiating, either. For the most part, I thought Center Official Chris Penso did reasonably well with one notable exception - consistency. Penso did present caution cards where appropriate, but on too many occasions, he did little to deter the Caps strategy of fouling either Diego as much as humanly possible. While he was correct to give the Timbers advantage on the play that sprung Mattocks for his goal in the 40th minute after Caps midfielder Andrew Jacobson destroyed Diego Chara in the center circle, he did little when Valeri was under constant harassment. I don't want matches to degrade into whistle fests, which was the case with Timbers - Sporting KC a few weeks ago, but one area that MLS officiating needs a lot of help with is calling the match consistently for both sides. I'm okay with them adjusting during the run of play, but too often, the calls seem to be uneven. And I'm not just talking about matches with the Timbers either, as I've watched enough other work this season to know that it's a problem. Valeri had to leave the match due to injury, and the situation is serious enough that he's not available for this weekend's big match at FC Dallas. 

Three Things I Liked: (1) The defense seemed more settled with Liam Ridgewell out there. I have been impressed with the work of Roy Miller over the past few weeks, so I was surprised that Porter chose to bench him for Ridgy to pair with Olum. Ridgewell's presence and organization really did keep the Timbers defense together for long stretches.. (2) Jeff Attinella is the real deal in goal. I'm not interested in starting a goalkeeper controversy here, but Attinella was a big reason why Real Salt Lake didn't lose much on defense when Nick Rimando was unavailable. I like Jake Gleeson, but having a veteran who can step in and make big plays - saving a penalty shot - is a huge luxury. (3) The Timbers depth came up big for them in this match.  Porter was forced to make several changes in the starting eleven, but unlike other matches where the alterations seem to gum up the mix, the Timbers started out very well with Mattocks and Asprilla on the attack. The second half was a different story, but the Caps turned up the pressure.

It was good to have these guys back for this one.
Three Things I Didn't Like: (1) The Diegos assault. It did keep Vancouver in the match and really did neutralize Valeri to the point where he had to leave the match for injury, but honestly, I didn't like the sluggish approach of the Caps.  (2) Kendall Waston. I get it, he's a very talented defender and a big physical presence. I thought that Ike Opara played with his arms up, however, until I saw Waston's repertoire. I understand that soccer is a physical game and contact is part of the play, but his effort pushed the boundaries in my opinion. (3) Can we have a match without the rain for once? I get it - Let It Rain, Let It Pour, Let the Portland Timbers score - and all, but at the same point, I'm just getting tired of the constant rain that has set about this area for Winter 2017. Fine, I've joined the get off my lawn brigade. Whatever.

Evaluations: Jeff Attinella - 7: Solid debut with calm, cool, collected play. I can see why RSL really liked having him about. Vytas - 6: Good to have him back, but I could tell he was a bit rusty in game fitness. While I like Marco Farfan and his game, I liked having Vytas available simply for his experience. Liam Ridgewell - 6: Good to see his organization and presence, but too many cynical fouls in the second half for my liking. I'd like to see him avoid stupid plays more if possible. Lawrence Olum - 7: Solid work and held up very well defending and contributing to distribution. Alvas Powell - 5. Was challenged a lot all match and made some mistakes, but also made several good plays. I thought it evened out over the match. David Guzman - 6. Did well in his first Cascadia Cup match. Diego Chara - 7. Limited in his influence by the fouling, but had some good moments in transition. Diego Valeri - 8. Drew Vancouver's attention all match and was able to influence the game at times when he wasn't being pummled. Darlington Nagbe - 9. Playing better than I've seen him before, it's great to see him grow on the pitch. Dairon Asprilla - 6. Had a chance to add his name to the score sheet but ran past the ball. Otherwise, did reasonably well. Darren Mattocks - 5. Yes, he scored a goal but had too many turnovers and hesitations for my liking. I felt he was pressing too much instead of just playing. Subs: Sebastian Blanco - 5: Had some good work late to help the Timbers hold the lead. Jack Barmby - 5. Good work as well, despite Penso giving him a caution for a ticky tack foul trying to get out of the way. 

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Timbers outplay then outlast Whitecaps for dramatic 2 to 1 home win

Darren Mattocks gets the Timbers second goal of the day.
We haven't seen the Portland Timbers play a full 90 minutes of soccer in the 2017 season, but despite the various issues of injuries and stagnant movement, Portland has been sitting on the top of the Western Conference since week 1. They've managed to break out of the road doldrums, but the Timbers have been less than stellar in their last two home matches, a draw with New England and a loss to Sporting Kansas City - in each instance, the visitors controlled the tempo and intensity of the attack and Portland couldn't find a way to overcome the increased physicality displayed. With Portland missing one of their top scorers in forward Fanendo Adi, so the burden of unclogging the offense would have to fall on other players. In the first half, Portland watched Darlington Nagbe and Darren Mattocks be the catalysts for a pretty impressive display, but when Vancouver find their rhythm late and pulled the scoreline close, it was a resilient and fortunate Timbers side that hung on for a 2 to 1 victory in front of another sellout crowd at Providence Park.

Adi was given the night off due to a one game suspension by the MLS Disciplinary Committee, who issued the verdict due to violent contact against Sporting KC defender Ike Opara in the 26th minute. Considering the contact that went between the sides all match, I was more than surprised that the committee chose to discipline Adi, but I'm not the one in charge either so Timbers Coach Caleb Porter would have to adjust his tactics. Adi, however, wasn't the only change in the starting eleven as Porter elevated Vytas and Liam Ridgewell into the starting backline as both have fully recovered from their lingering injuries, but Porter started Lawrence Olum alongside Ridgewell with Alvas Powell flanked out right instead of Roy Miller, who has been the defensive stalwart for the Timbers so far this year. Jake Gleeson was suffering with a hip flexor injury, so Jeff Attinella would get his first start for Portland in goal with Kendall McIntosh his backup, marking the first time that Kendall has made the gameday 18. Darren Mattocks would be the direct replacement for Adi as the lone forward, but Porter changed up the attack by starting Dairon Asprilla at one of the wings with Diego Valeri and Darlington Nagbe the other midfielder attackers in front of David Guzman and Diego Chara. Asprilla was replacing Sebastian Blanco, who was suffering with an abdominal injury that limited his minutes, so Porter's bench had a lot of new names alongside Miller. Blanco and McIntosh, as Chance Myers, Jack Barmby, Amobi Okugo, Marco Farfan were sub options if needed.

Vytas and Liam Ridgewell were back for Portland.
Vancouver's offense has been a work in progress for many seasons, but they seem to have found their strike option when they signed former Sounders forward Fredy Montero on loan from the Chinese League. Montero was a prolific yet temperamental player in his 4 seasons in the Emerald City, but he could score goals, something the Caps have struggled with since Camilo left the team after the 2013 season. While David Ousted continues to be a stellar keeper for the Caps, the defensive line has been an issue for Vancouver with Kendall Waston, Jordan Harvey and Tim Parker all having lapses at various times. The Caps lost defender Brek Shea to a long-term injury during Vancouver's run in the 2016-2017 CONCACAF Champions League, so the team has been trying to find long term answers. Vancouver had also made several trades and moves to fortify their midfield, but they kept Cristian Techera and Christian Bolanos on the wings with Matias Laba as a defensive midfielder. Regardless of the changes, Caps Coach Carl Robinson usually stresses defense to his charges, so the Caps employ team defensive strategies designed to control the tempo and frustrate their opponents. Robinson has been using Andrew Jacobson, a longtime MLS veteran, and Tony Tchani, who was acquired from Columbus, in the midfield, so there was some veteran experience flanked out there for the Caps.

Portland had started slow in their previous home efforts, but Valeri put pressure on Ousted in the 2nd minute off a free kick just outside the Vancouver box that forced the Caps keeper to push it away at the last minute. The Timbers would break open the scoring in the 18th minute after consecutive blocked shots for Nagbe and Valeri, but the Valeri shot rebounded out to Guzman, who dropped a pass to Nagbe on the left flank. Nagbe moved quickly towards the right with Waston in tow, but Darlington was able to create enough space to turn and shoot from right into the left corner of goal past Ousted for his second goal of 2017 to put the Timbers up 1 to 0. Valeri had a quality shot blocked in the 25th minute, but the Timbers were able to add a second in the 40th minute off a counter attack. With the Caps taking a free kick just outside the goal, the Timbers defense cleared the restart out to Guzman, who sent Nagbe out on the break to the right. Nagbe found Valeri on the right channel, and Valeri put a cross towards the right post for Mattocks, who easily converted the effort although Ousted made it exceptionally difficult with some sprawling defense. One of the best parts of this play was the fact that Jacobson had destroyed Chara with a tackle right before the break, but Center Official Chris Penso gave the Timbers advantage and allowed the play to continue instead of stopping the break.

Chris Penso said this wasn't a foul. He's wrong about that.
The Timbers should have had another goal in the 24th minute when Asprilla was first to a back pass off a Ridgewell diagonal pass that the Vancouver defense allowed to roll towards Ousted instead of recovering it, but overall, the Timbers' movement and tempo was creating chances despite being bunched up at points by the Caps. Vancouver was trying to find attempts to challenge Attinella, but outside of a Techera shot that went right to him in the 24th minute and a Tchani blocked shot in the 40th, it was a lot of misses for the visitors. Some of the issues was impatience from the Caps to let plays develop, but another big influence was the inclusion of Ridgewell, who was paramount in keeping the Timbers defense all on the same page. While Vytas was able to get forward with some regularity to help the offense, Vytas did have some difficult touches and passes which I attributed to rust from his long injury layoff.  However, Vytas did have a couple of great recoveries and created turnovers showcasing his veteran experience and superb positioning on the various Caps attackers.

The Timbers had to feel confident after the solid first half, but they had to feel frustrated in the 50th minute when Asprilla put a cross into Mattocks while he was running in the Whitecaps box. Waston elbowed him to the turf from behind by extending his arm, but Penso waived off calling anything as various Timbers players protested the lack of a call. The frustration boiled over 10 minutes later when Bolanos and Powell were jostling on the left portion of the Timbers box, and Bolanos earned a penalty from Powell off a light bump and some creative falling down. Penso wasted no time pointing to the spot to the protests of the Timbers and the home crowd, and in a bit of poetic justice, it was the former Sounder that stepped up to take the penalty. Attinella was impressive by guessing left and blocking the Montero penalty, but the deflection bounced right back to Montero before a Timbers defender could mark him, and Montero chipped it into goal to bring the score to 2 to 1. Over the next 5 minutes, there were several fouls on Valeri and Chara that only generated lectures from Penso to the Caps players, but it was apparent that Vancouver decided their path to leveling the score was to target the Timbers' Diegos.

Diego Valeri had lots of company and was fouled. A lot.
Portland had chances to extend their lead when Valeri was taken down by Waston just outside the box in the 66th minute, but Nagbe's free kick struck the wall and the rebound to Valeri was pushed wide. Mattocks had a few chances inside the box, but his inability to find the handle on the ball or quickly shoot allowed Vancouver to recover and deflect away any attempts from their former teammate. The Caps kept pressuring with various attacks, and Portland's attack took a hit when Valeri had to exit the match in the 80th minute due to injury. Reports indicate that Valeri felt a hip twinge and didn't want to risk aggravating it anymore, so we are not expecting him to miss any matches at this point. The Caps did get a near miss from Bolanos in the 83rd minute and a free kick chance for Montero in second half stoppage as Bolanos again fell down with Powell defending, but the Timbers were able to withstand the late pressure from the visitors to hang on for the victory. The result put the Timbers on top of the Cascadia Cup standings with 3 points in 1 game played and a plus 1 goal differential, and sets up an interesting matchup next weekend in MLS play. It's the first place Portland Timbers versus second place FC Dallas in Texas on April 29; FC Dallas is undefeated at home in 3 matches while the Timbers boast the best road record in the West with 2 wins and a loss in 3 matches away.

Overall, I was pleased with Nagbe's contributions to the offense as I feel he has started to take his game to the next level, and Guzman was solid in patrolling the middle. As I mentioned, Ridgewell helped solidify the defensive line in terms of organization, and his diagonal passes did provide some useful outlets to spring out the offense. With Blanco's availability limited, I was hoping to see the Timbers try and use Asprilla and Nagbe out wide to try and stretch the pitch, but Asprilla wasn't able to get out wide enough to make a difference and Nagbe spent more time patrolling the middle and finding room to work there. While I am sad to see Gleeson unavailable for the match, I was actually very impressed with how well Attinella played on the afternoon, as he showed a great composure and presence that was appreciated. My original thoughts were that this match would be a wide open battle, but in the end, it gravitated to what Cascadia Cup matches between these sides usually end up as - physical, chippy, back and forth affairs with limited scoring chances and plenty of feisty play. Honestly, would you want Cascadia Cup matches any other way?

Friday, April 21, 2017

Week 8 Prediction Thread - Timbers v. Vancouver Whitecaps

This guy won't be lurking about for goals versus the Caps
The Friday weather is simply gorgeous here in Portland with nothing but blue skies and a lack of clouds about, and that has put many folks in a great mood. Something else that seems to lighten the psyche of Timbers fans is knowing that a Cascadia Cup match is forthcoming, especially if that match should be at the home park. On April 22, the current Cascadia Cup holders, the Vancouver Whitecaps, make their first of 2 trips in 2017 to the Rose City. With the Timbers, Whitecaps and Flounders all playing each other 3 different times in 2017, the fate of the Cup won't be determined until later this fall. However, the Whitecaps have been the holders for 3 of the last 4 seasons and they already have a win over Seattle back on April 14 in their portfolio.

Timbers Army members, however, would love to forget what happened in 2016 in the final match of the regular season. Needing a win to secure a playoff berth with the Cup in their grasp and having a good overall winning history at B.C. Place on their side, Portland had to feel some confidence to leave Canada with some type of honor. However, the Caps routed the Timbers by a 4 to 1 scoreline which not only eliminated the Timbers from the postseason, but also won the Whitecaps the 2016 Cascadia Cup based on goal differential. All 3 sides tied with 9 overall points within the matches, but Vancouver ended up with a +1 goal differential versus Portland's 0 and Seattle's -1, which put the Cup in Canadian hands for 2017. While Portland has several new players that might not be aware of what happened, there are plenty of holdovers that recall what occurred - and I'm sure they would love nothing more that to start out the 2017 Cascadia Cup campaign with a huge win. With that in mind, what does our crack team of prognosticators think about this weekend's match?

I'm dreaming of a lot of goals. Or food.

GB - Timbers 3, Whitecaps 3.

GB wasn't very excited about last week's matchup, but was a bit more animated about this week's game. The many meows, however, were more about goals and not for any team in particular, either. And it wasn't even close to meal time, so it would appear the grey boy is picking a shootout between the rivals.

Eeep, eeep, eeep, eeep. Tortie speaks a different tongue.

Tortie - Timbers 10, Whitecaps 8.

The littlest ninja cat was rather upset that the track meet she thought would happen last week didn't happen, but with the rain falling and Caps in the house, she meowed and rolled about when asked about the match. Kip heard slightly more meows for the Timbers than the Caps, but she's thinking there will be goals. Lots and lots of goals.

I played soccer at Providence Park. No, I didn't get any goals.

Kip - Timbers 3, Whitecaps 1.

It's been frustrating to watch the Timbers amble along at home, especially since they had such impressive wins earlier in the year. Part of it is due to tactics of the opponent, but I don't think Vancouver is as stout on defense as New England or Sporting KC. Vancouver's offense is improved by adding a striker that shall remain nameless, but even without Fanendo Adi, I think Darlington Nagbe + Diego Valeri + Darren Mattocks = big Timbers win.

Cats and dogs getting along? Yeah that never happens.

Rick - Timbers 1, Whitecaps 1.

Vancouver have only won one regular season match in Portland during rhe MLS era with four of the nine games ending level. On the other hand, the Timbers have only won one of their last six regulars season games against the 'Caps. With Adi gone, thanks to the Disciplinary Committee,I expect to see Diego Valeri to break free of his teammate (5 goals apiece) to take the lead as the Timbers leading scorer this season. Sadly, my crystal ball also indicates that Fredy Montero will take advantage of our shaky defense.

I am in charge of everything that I can see.

Spot - Timbers 0, Whitecaps 1.

After two weeks of calling for a scoreless draw, the princess of the cat collective did indicate a goal would be scored. However, she believes it will be the other side that will be celebrating more in this match. Hey, we at least got her to pick a side and indicate some goals this week, so that is a step in the right direction. Or not.


Jennifer - Timbers -4, Whitecaps 11.

Oh, it's like a train want to look away, but you can't. Such exquisite disappointment awaits for everyone in attendance at this Cascadia catastrophe. Having to wear a rain suit to shoot this match is bad enough, but the added bonus of an excruciating loss will be even worse. I'm mad I have to miss the March for Science, so the Timbers deserve all they get.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

After Match Analysis - Looking Back at Timbers v Sporting KC

I like the new green kits better, but the reds aren't too bad.
I get that it's not Wednesday when this will be officially published, but I had started a naming convention for my extra analysis posts and last night, I was too entirely drained to write anything. I know the weather has certainly been a source of frustration lately - I like the rain, but I've yet to encounter a winter where there has been literally no break in the precipitation for more than a day - and my outdoor soccer team is on hiatus, but otherwise, events aren't enough to throw me completely off. Even the Portland Timbers' extremely uneven effort against Sporting Kansas City back on April 15, although it did cause me plenty of concern because it was essentially a boilerplate copy of the strategy that the New England Revolution employed when they visited on April 2. At least versus the Revs, the Timbers scored the first goal and put up some pressure until playing an extremely passive second half; versus Sporting, the Timbers struggled mightily in putting any consistent pressure against the Sporting backline and goalkeeper Tim Melia until the last 30 minutes or so.

I understand there are plenty of reasons for the result, especially since for some analysts, the result might not have been that surprising. On the road, Sporting has been a supremely effective defensive side having come into the match yielding 2 overall goals for the season and none on the road. They hadn't scored until Dom Dwyer out-muscled Timbers defender Marco Farfan for a cross in the box on a play that likely should have never occurred in the first place, but it was that kind of night for the Timbers. From unforced errors to poor restarts to rushed passes in the final third of the pitch, Portland was off their game by quite a bit. Granted, it's been a great start to 2017 with the team's offense putting up a plethora of goals with a revamped attack and a defense that has been sturdier than expected at times. If you would have told me that the main defenders getting minutes for this team in March and April 2017 for Portland would be Lawrence Olum, Marco Farfan and Roy Miller and the team has a positive goal differential, I would have been surprised. Injuries will do that to teams, however.
Marco Farfan learned a valuable lesson from Dom Dwyer

There were plenty of torrents about the officiating of Drew Fischer and his team of assistants, especially considering two troubling facts - Portland was whistled for 22 fouls compared to 12 for Sporting KC, and over the past 3 seasons, Portland has only been called for more than 21 fouls in 3 different matches yet in those competitions, it was Fischer that was the center official. I am not going to pretend that Fischer did a great job for this match because I found his calls questionable at best, especially since he seemed very whistle happy within the first 30 minutes. Players tend to use the first part of a match to get a feel how the officiating will work, and at least from my vantage point, it was apparent that Fischer zeroed in on calling minuscule contact, especially when players would fall to the turf.  Try and fight through it and get taken down later or show some resistance, it might not be enough to earn the call. As I've always heard from players after a match, the biggest thing they want from officials is consistency - call it both ways the same way all the time. What becomes troubling is trying to guess how they might react to a play when there hasn't been regularity in decisions, which is when you see players react with frustration, anger or other emotions.

For me, Fischer's biggest problems was his acceptance of Sporting's bread and butter tactics - initiate contact on the offensive side and fall down to exaggerate any interactions, especially to earn free kicks. Defensively, smother the opposition as much as legally possible across the board, especially since the official isn't going to call or see everything. With Sporting doing their best to ramp up the tempo when they had the ball and slow it down as much as possible on defense, the match had a very uneven flow to it during long stretches - and I'm sure that didn't help a Timbers offense that was having issues creating space in the final third.. I had a feeling it would be trouble when the Timbers starting complaining for calls to Fischer directly, a plan that I've never actually seen a Portland side ever pull off with any regularity. I know that officials don't actively pull for sides or certain players, but in my experience, they tend to tune out teams that constantly beg for calls. It got to the point where Fischer even went over to talk with Porter in the second half to tell him to quiet down, which told me the officiating got into the head of everybody wearing red.

The Timbers didn't get many clear shots on this night.

The thing is that Fischer wasn't responsible for the sloppy play that Alvas Powell made to retrieve a ball heading out of play for a recovery that led to the turnover which Sporting turned into their goal. Fischer didn't get boxed out by Dwyer on the cross in a veteran move that is bread and butter for most MLS strikers. Fischer didn't try to squeeze passes into the middle that kept getting blocked or deflected clear of the Timbers offense. Fischer didn't struggle with passing the ball along the backline due to pressure from the SKC forward trio. Fischer didn't put a goal kick into the leg of one of his defenders, nor did he hesitate in leaving his goal line on the goal. I said it in my post after the match - the biggest difference here between the Revolution and Sporting matches in terms of the Timbers' play was that Portland got the first goal with New England leveling late. Sporting got the first goal, then ramped up their techniques even more to milk the clock, which added more frustration to the home side. While Sporting played reasonably well by doing what they do best, the fact is that Portland got away from the things that they do best and it showed in their play.

The thing is Portland still had chances to steal a point late. Darren Mattocks, injured late in the road match in Philadelphia, forced Melia to parry away a shot in the 78th minute that gave Portland a corner. Powell headed the ball towards the left post expertly, but Sporting was able to clear it away albeit somewhat chaotically. On the next possession, Darlington Nagbe uncorked a shot from 30 yards out from a pass by Diego Valeri, and the laser effort was heading top shelf into the right corner of goal. Only a late finger tip deflection from Melia to push the ball into the woodwork kept that from leveling the match, and that effort earned Melia the Week 7 MLS Save of the Week. The emotions certainly would have been different had this match ended in a draw versus a defeat, but I don't believe the Timbers did nearly enough to warrant any result. My hope is that this collective regroups for a vastly improved Vancouver side that come calling this weekend for a midday match, especially since the Caps have played very well in recent trips to the Rose City and Portland isn't in a position to overlook anybody right now. I must be feeling a ton better because not only did this end up getting posted, but I updated the naming convention for future analysis posts without an issue. Sometimes, it's great to be the editor and creator in addition to the writing talent.

Diego Valeri had an escort everywhere he went.
Three Things I Liked: (1) Roy Miller has been better than advertised. Watching the former New York Red Bulls center back integrate into the Timbers backline hasn't been without concern, especially watching how combustible Miller was at points in NY. Here in Portland, he's been anything but. (2) Marco Farfan is learning on the job. Marco Farfan made one glaring error on the day, and it ended up being on the play that Dwyer scored on. However, considering the age of the players and relative experience, I'm still pleased at Farfan's development. The fact that he made several other good plays on the day shows he has an ability to overcome mistakes. (3) I am happy Darren Mattocks is back.  After existing the Union match due to injury and considering his history, I thought we might not see Darren for a while. I'm glad to be wrong in this case.

Three Things I Didn't Like: (1) Timbers begging for calls, not a good look. We already talked about this, but I still didn't like it.. (2) The sluggish start was troublesome. And it kept going for another match and beyond. (3) We haven't seen this team play a full 90 dominant minutes. There has been success for sure this season, but the Minnesota match is likely the only match where Portland was is complete control from start to finish, and that match even had a scary moment when Minnesota scored a goal with the Timbers only up by 2. I'm trying to be a positive half glass full type here and it's only April, but the lackadaisical play at times bugs me.

Evaluations: I decided to give everyone a 5 for the night. While this might be considered by many as a cop out, the fact is I really had trouble singling out any Timbers player that did so much better than everyone else. Doing your job effectively should give an average score, but there wasn't that many good plays that weren't outweighed by mistakes or questionable tactics. For me, it was an average effort that matched the result and putting out this type of performance isn't going to keep you near the top of the table for too long.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Timbers frustrated and aimless in 1 to 0 loss to Sporting Kansas City

This guy got a lot of attention during Timbers v SKC.
The Portland Timbers have been one of the key stories within the early part of the 2017 MLS season. Their offense has been scoring goals at a healthy clip for their first 6 matches as they still lead MLS in goals scored, and within those matches, they've posted impressive results at home versus Minnesota and Houston as well as winning on the road in Los Angeles and Philadelphia. It hasn't been without struggles with injuries, especially on the defensive end, but so far, it's been impressive. However, leagues and teams quickly adjust to tactics, and the Timbers have found themselves struggling recently at home; against New England on April 2, the Timbers scored early but ultimately had issues with the officiating and physical play and conceded a goal late in a frustrating draw. After exercising some demons at Talen Energy Stadium versus the Union last weekend, Portland returned to host a foe that has advanced high on my list of MLS rivals for the Timbers that aren't Cascadia based, Sporting Kansas City.

Over the years, the two clubs have played some fairly intense and memorable matches - from the epic win for the Timbers back in 2013 that helped catapulted the team's extended unbeaten streak to the crazy playoff match back in 2015 which started the Timbers' epic MLS Cup run and the 2016 win by a 3 to 0 margin that broke a long losing streak to Sporting - and the matches in Kansas have had their own memorable moments. In 2017, Sporting KC hadn't lost on the road despite not scoring a goal in 2 road matches as their defense has held their opponents scoreless; as a matter of fact, SKC had only yielded 2 goals while scoring just 5 goals but it was enough to keep them undefeated in 5 matches. In a battle of immovable defense and ingenious offense, it was the Sporting KC defense that came out on top by holding the Timbers to 4 shots on target and a handful of scoring chances while Sporting took advantage of a defensive gaffe to score a goal of their own. SKC forward Dom Dwyer tallied his second goal with a header off a Jimmy Medranda cross, but it was a collective of defensive miscues prior to that which caused the breakdown. An unfortunate part of soccer is that sometimes a simple breakdown is enough to separate victories from other results; against New England, it turned a win into a draw, and in this match, it turned a reasonably competitive match into a home loss.

Darlington Nagbe nearly struck for the 2nd week in a row.
There were plenty of reasons for the disjointed effort from the home side. Firstly, Sporting KC played their style effectively - fast passing, player movement, initiate contact on defense and exaggerate contact anytime they are defended to earn set piece chances - and they pitched their third consecutive road shutout. Secondly, Center Official Drew Fischer had an uneven effort in managing the match as he called the Timbers for 22 fouls on the evening to just 12 for the visitors; per Timbers stats guru Mike Donovan, this was the third time in 3 seasons where the Timbers had been called for more than 20 fouls in a match and Fischer was the officiant in each of those matches. In other numbers that Mike posted on his Twitter feed, Fischer has been responsible for plenty of foul calls when he's in charge of a Timbers match and Timbers Coach Caleb Porter even indicated that Fischer was "the perfect choice" as the official for Sporting's style of play. In a related topic, the Timbers grew increasingly frustrated as they couldn't seem to get the benefit of any calls from Fischer despite their efforts, and I believe that led them to press even more later in the match.

While the factors alone would have been enough to tilt the scales for Sporting, there was a third component to the Timbers' woes and in my opinion, it was the biggest issue for the home side - a lack of cohesion. Defensively, the Timbers had issues with Sporting's pressure all evening and that led to plenty of rushed passes and mistakes, while the defensive rotation had trouble accounting for the overall SKC speed. On offense, the Timbers had chances to run from box to box, but their offense was unable to find many passes in the final third until late and many attacks were stopped by patience - a lack of any or too much applied. As my wife Jennifer commented to me after the match, she thought it was the Timbers playing on 11 individual islands with little linkage between them, and I have to agree completely. I understand that the physical style of SKC and abhorrent officiating would impact Portland's efforts during the match, but in my opinion, the team could have overcome those challenges better by being on the same page and on this night, nobody really was.

Marco Farfan was good but he still has lots to learn.

The first 45 minutes were a sluggish affair in most aspects, literally and figuratively with only a handful of chances. Portland registered just two shots, rushed misses from forward Fanendo Adi and midfielder David Guzman, while Sporting missed their only quality chance, a 37th minute header from midfielder Ilie Sanchez off a corner kick where his header flew just over the crossbar. While Sporting had more corners and free kicks, the Timbers were able to thwart most efforts as they tried to find any space to work. While Portland turned up the tempo and Darlington Nagbe seemed more engaged to work with space, it was a breakdown that gave the visitors a chance to attack. Off a turnover when defender Alvas Powell tried to play a long ball to the backline instead of allowing it to go out for a goalkick, the ball fell to SKC midfielder Benny Feilhaber, who pushed the ball wide to Medranda as Powell was late to find his mark, and Timbers defender Marco Farfan wasn't able to hold Dwyer off as Timbers goalkeeper Jake Gleeson was in poor spacing - not on his line, but not aggressively attacking the cross.  Powell's lapse and Gleeson's hesitations were enough to concede the lead, and SKC forward Gerso Fernandes nearly added a second goal minutes later, but Gleeson's shin deflected the shot clear.

Gleeson denied Gerso moments later off a deflection from a free kick, but the final 30 minutes belonged to the Timbers in terms of chances. Between shots from Valeri, Powell, Blanco and substitutes Darren Mattocks and Dairon Asprilla, the Timbers threatened the goal plenty, but perhaps the best chance was in the 79th minute courtesy of Nagbe. Camped on the left side, Nagbe took a pass from Valeri and briefly touched the ball to stop the bounce, but then decided to take a one time shot from 35 yards out that spun and dipped toward the right upper corner. Only a deft punch from Sporting Kansas City keeper Tim Melia kept the ball from crossing the line, but Melia got some help in his block from the crossbar as his deflection pushed the ball into the bar to bounce it cleanly away. The goal itself was similar to a wonderful shot that Nagbe buried against Sporting back in 2011 off a similar two touch play, but this one ended up being in Melia's highlights for the huge save. Outside of these chances, the match itself featured a lot of whistles and plenty of arms raised in the air for the home side.
Lawrence Olum faced his former team & did well at times
The Timbers can't rest too much or think about the problems from this one with their Canadian Cascadian rivals visiting on April 22 as the Whitecaps bring their reformed offense (with the addition of former Flounders striker Fredy Montero) to town for an afternoon battle. Portland then travels to FC Dallas and San Jose on consecutive weekends before hosting Atlanta to then visit Montreal and Seattle to finish out May, so the intensity and offenses are picking up for the Timbers quickly. While I'm impressed that the team can continue to battle for many matches, I'm troubled again by their inability to adjust their strategy when the opposition falls into a simple soccer bait and trap strategy of slowing down the tempo with physicality and exaggerating contact. We've seen two instances of it this season work on the Timbers, and I fear there will be lots of doses of this employed until Porter and his charges figure out an effective way to counter the strategy. MLS teams scout strategy a lot, so I would expect Timbers opponents to try this plan until Portland can figure out a way to avoid falling into the trap.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Week 7 Prediction Thread - Timbers vs. Sporting Kansas City

Welcome to week 7 and the latest installment of the Portland Timbers prediction thread. This week, Portland hosts Sporting Kansas City, a team that I feel has started to become an unofficial rival to the Timbers based on spirited, feisty matches and insane results. Over 10 regular season matches, Sporting Kansas City has won 5, Portland has won 3 and there have been 2 draws; in Portland, the Timbers have won 2 of 5 matches in the Rose City, but everyone remembers the one match in the playoffs.

In 2017, the story of the season has been Portland's offense - 16 goals in 6 matches - versus the Sporting Kansas City defense yielding just 2 goals in 5 matches. SKC has watched veterans Matt Besler, Graham Zusi, Seth Sinovic and Ike Opara gel into one of the best statistical units so far in front of goalkeeper Tim Melia, so the Timbers will need to work really hard to create chances against this group. While Sporting has just 5 goals on the year scored, their offense with Dom Dwyer, Benny Feilhaber, Roger Espinoza, and Soni Mustivar has added forward Gerso Fernandes, but they just haven't broken out yet.  With Kip and Tortie basking in the glow of picking the correct result for the Timbers and Union - with Kip even predicting the correct score and mentioning two of the goal scorers - we turn our attention to this weekend's match and offer up the predictions from our knowledgeable staff. For the cats, it's asking them questions to see how they react while the humans put their thoughts in their own words. 


Jennifer - Timbers 2, Sporting 8.

What's the point of anything anymore? After last week's tragic pretty-close-to-almost-loss, the Timbers are primed for a beeline to the bottom of the table. Any day now, Ridgewell will reappear in the top 18 only long enough to watch his leg fall off as it completes an own goal. It's tough being so accurate in the prognostication game, knowing how much this hurts so many, but I have to use the gift the Universe gave me.

Where's my trading card?

Kip - Timbers 5, Sporting KC 4.

I know the numbers say that SKC's offense hasn't been good and it's been their defense that has been the strength this year, but I think they are due for a breakout. I just like Portland's offense better, especially if Darlington Nagbe is going to keep shooting like he did versus the Union. While the Timbers defense has been decent, I think they struggle at points, but their offense bails them out.

Ninja cat only appears visible for 10 minutes a day.

Tortie - Timbers 9, Sporting KC 7.

Eep, eep, eep, blergh, eep, eep. She was really excited about the match this weekend, and was very animated about the number of goals that will be scored. And Kip thought his prediction was going to be a little bit off, but so far, Tortie has been very good at picking the results. Maybe the tortitude gets her another win this weekend?

This work thing doesn't seem that hard.

GB - Timbers 2, Sporting 0.

GB played awfully coy in picking a winner, but after three different attempts, GB thumped his tail hard and angrily when asked if Sporting would win, so it was apparent he was picking the Timbers. With 2 blinks for Portland, it looks like he's picking the Timbers defense to have a big game this weekend.

I'm too busy being cute to predict anything.

Spot - scoreless draw.

Three consecutive weeks, and Spot seems to think that this weekend will be another one lacking goals. While initially she seemed interested in giving the Timbers the win, her "nyah" noise said everything that needed to be said. Or in this case, the fact that nothing will happen at Providence Park.

Old logo is tree-a-rrific!

Rick - Timbers 1, Sporting KC 0.

Sporting Kansas City who, along with LA Galaxy in the west and Toronto FC in the east are the only undefeated teams in MLS, share the best defensive record (2 goals conceded) in MLS with FC Dallas but have only scored 5. They have yet to either score or concede a goal on the road in 2017. There's a first time for everything and I'm predicting it will be the latter.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Wednesday Analysis - Looking Back on Timbers v Union

Hi, Sporting KC. The Timbers defense is waiting for you. (K.Kesgard)
I admit that it's still difficult to adjust to being the editor of my own site and realizing that the writing schedule is completely within your control. After years of writing about various matches, I've tried to give myself more leeway when the Portland Timbers travel on the road by limiting my live stream and watching the match as a fan. It has worked so far with the Timbers traveling to Los Angeles and Columbus with me watching from the comfort of my couch, but the match on April 8 versus the Philadelphia Union provided a different experience. One of my dear friends, Travis, had invited friends and family to meet up with him at Cider Riot in SE Portland and watch the Timbers match before he starts a travel odyssey for the next year. Since I know the owner fairly well (we did play soccer together for Cascade Rangers FC - formerly known as Timbers Army Football Club back in the day) and I hadn't seen the pub yet up close, it was a great chance to get out and be social.

The crowd was definitely pro-Timbers in the pub and it was great to catch up with several old friends before Portland faced off against one of the worst teams in the MLS Eastern Conference in the Union. While C.J. Sapong has been a decent goal scorer for the club early, he's not gotten much help from a midfield that has been struggling to adjust to each other. The defense has been even more scattered, putting pressure on the organization to find a way to right the ship, and the Timbers provided a unique challenge. While the Timbers have been getting lots of talk in the early part of the 2017 MLS season with their revamped offense and steadily improving defense, the Timbers had never secured a point while playing the Union in Pennsylvania. As a matter of fact in the 3 games played at the Union's home stadium, the Timbers hadn't even scored a goal there - although they earned 2 points off scoreless draws. Portland had to feel some confidence in having all of their main weapons at the ready, but the Timbers couldn't look past the Union despite the disparity in records or performance.

Darlington Nagbe is pretty good. (J.Kesgard)
As Jennifer and I settled in with a cider taster tray to consume, it was apparent Philadelphia came out to play as they showed early promise with two chances to test Jake Gleeson. While Jake was able to make some early saves, he wasn't able to deal with a header from Union defender Richie Marquez off a corner kick and the Union took a 1 to 0 lead - the first time the Timbers conceded the first goal on the road. This could have been danger, but 6 minutes later, the shot heard around the world courtesy of Darlington Nagbe leveled the score and gave the visitors confidence. This event seemed to settle down the visitors, and Portland was able to add 2 more goals in the second half - one courtesy of Roy Miller off a corner kick and the second from a converted penalty by Fanendo Adi - to secure a 3 to 1 win. While some talk was centered around Adi becoming the all time, all-era overall leader in goals scored with 46 tallies and others chatted about the Timbers equaling their road points earned in 2016 for the whole season in just 3 matches in 2017, plenty of conversation was centered on Nagbe's turn and shoot goal that put him in elite company. With his 32nd minute goal, Nagbe became the first Timbers player ever to score in 7 different seasons with the club. 

Three Things I Liked: (1) Darlington Nagbe came up big, and his celebration was awesome. I've wanted Nagbe to show some killer instinct and be selfish at points in his career, and his goal showed that streak - taking a drop pass from Adi and putting it where the Union couldn't deal with it. His celebration was even better, as I judged it to be more of a "Did You See What I Just Did?" moment. (2) The Timbers appear to have cured their road woes. 6 points off draws in 2016 on the road with no wins; in 2017 in just 3 matches, the Timbers have 2 wins in impressive fashion and a hard fought loss in Columbus for 6 points. Whatever changes Caleb Porter has made in their road approach has paid dividends. (3) The makeshift defense has been playing really well.  Portland was counting upon Liam Ridgewell and Gbenga Arokoyo to be their center back duo for 2017, but Arokoyo's season ending injury and Ridgewell's calf strain have kept Roy Miller and Lawrence Olum in the rotation. Not only have they done well, but they've been supported by Alvas Powell, Vytas, Marco Farfan and Zarek Valentin well.

Three Things I Didn't Like: (1) Will we see more of this from Darlington Nagbe? Nagbe is now in elite company in the Timbers' history books, but of his 7 seasons in Portland, he's scored just 1 goal in 3 of them. The offense is good with him, but it could be elite if he can add to his account on a regular basis. (2) The sluggish start was troublesome. Thankfully, the Timbers overcame it with some impressive second half work, but my hope is the team avoids getting into these holes in the first place. (3) Can the defense keep it up? The group has been better than advertised so far, but Portland now gets these teams in succession - Sporting Kansas City, Vancouver, FC Dallas, San Jose, Atlanta, Montreal and Seattle. There are some potent offenses in this group, so the Timbers backline will need to keep up the form.

Congratulations to you for setting Timbers history.


Jake Gleeson - 7:  Good saves, no glaring mistakes.
Marco Farfan - 7: Steady, heady effort from the youngster.
Lawrence Olum - 6: The veteran continues to play well and hold up under pressure.
Roy Miller - 8: Solid defense and a goal for his effort. He's been much better than expected, and I think it's been a life saver for this Timbers defense that needs a leader with Ridgy out.
Alvas Powell - 7. Alvas had one of his better efforts of the year. No mistakes and some solid tackles all evening, the Union weren't able to get much going on his side of the pitch.
Diego Chara - 6: Chara was much better in this match and held his own in the midfield.
David Guzman - 7: The midfield ran smoother and I think it was due to Guzman being his ball hawking, distributing self after the initial start.
Darlington Nagbe - 7: Please to keep scoring, thank you. You make this team better when you score regularly to put a threat on the wing.
Diego Valeri - 7: Distributing and visionary, it was unusual not to see Diego join the scoring sheet, but he did earn an assist and started several great runs.
Sebastian Blanco - 6: Kept the Union honest out wide for the afternoon, which helped open things up for the rest of the team.
Fanendo Adi - 8: He made history by becoming the all time leading goal scorer in Timbers history for all eras, but he was dangerous all day. I love seeing him in form.
Darren Mattocks - 5 (Subbed for Blanco in 70th): Great to see Darren late in the match as change of pace. Hopefully the injury that pulled him from the match isn't long term.
Amobi Okugo - 5 (Subbed for Valeri in 81st): With Ben Zemanski dealing with injuries, he's the cover in the defensive midfield for now and he played well in a short run.
Jack Barmby - 5 (Subbed for Adi in 2nd half stoppage): He helped run out the match.
Philadelphia - 3: Started well and fell apart late. This team is a mess.
Timbers - 7: Started slow, but got better and showed off some prowess.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Week 6 Prediction Thread - Timbers v. Philadelphia Union

Welcome to the week 6 prediction thread for the Portland Timbers, and this week's opponent is the Philadelphia Union. With the Timbers making the coast to coast trip for a Saturday afternoon match, they face the team that is at the bottom of the Eastern Conference with just 2 points in 4 matches played. Averaging just 1 goal per match with C.J. Sapong having 3 of the 4 goals scored, the offense has been an issue, but at least their defense has done reasonably well in conceding just 6 goals. There are rumors circulating that Union Coach Jim Curtin's future is up in the air, especially since the Union has been in such disarray. After the lads from the Rose City Soccer Show recapped the draw with the New England Revolution, they add some thoughts about this weekend's match. We now turn our attention to the regular prediction crew, and Spot was rather pleased at being the only prognosticator that picked the right result although she predicted no goals. What does the crew think about this match with the Union - per usual, the humans speak in their own words while the cats respond to questions from us.

Mr. Curwen predicts a draw this week.

Rick - Timbers 2, Union 2

The Union sit at the bottom of the Eastern Conference with just two pints from their first four outings, averaging one goal per game. Listening to the excellent Morrisonic podcast, I heard that their defense lacks pace and could be vulnerable to the speed of the Timbers' offense. It could be argued that the Timbers have only managed one clean sheet in the current campaign. Useless stats: Philadelphia have only won one of their last twelve games (W1 D4 L7) and the timbers have only won on the road once since December 2015, (W1 D 6 L12). They have never won or scored at Talen Energy Stadium.


How the Timbers will feel after their terrible loss.

Jennifer - Timbers 0, Union 1.

This weekend in Philadelphia, the downward spiral continues. This match will be very similar to the one versus the Revolution, but the Timbers will not get a goal first. It will be a sloppy, scoreless affair; well, until the 91' when someone from the Union trips over their own feet and accidentally scores a goal. The Union are reasonably terrible right now so the Timbers are required to lose to them in an infuriatingly ridiculous manner.

I could get used to doing this for away matches.

Kip - Timbers 3, Union 1.

This match has trap written all over it. Portland has played in Philly 3 times and they have 2 scoreless draws and a disheartening 3 to 0 loss from 2015 in their visits, so they've never scored a goal or earned a point there. With Portland having a tough result versus New England - while they played conservatively and held up well, the late goal concession cost them 2 points - I expect them to come out and try to push the pace. The offense has been struggling, and it would be great to see Fanendo Adi and Darlington Nagbe get on the score sheet this week.

I can work now for more food?

GB - Scoreless Draw.

Taking a page out of Spot's playbook, GB didn't seem very interested in picking either side for a win when asked. When Jennifer asked about whether it would be a scoreless draw, GB licked his paw and went back to sleep, probably dreaming about the Greenies snacks he will get getting later before bedtime. Hey, the plan worked well for Spot last week, didn't it?

There is a present under the tree, but it might be tough to unwrap.

Tortie - Timbers 2, Union 0.

Tortie went with the simple blinking technique and she blinked when asked if the Timbers would win. It took a bit to get her to add a score, but eventually she blinked twice when we asked about the number of goals scored. Then, she walked over to the table to see if the Christmas tree was still there or not.

A princess on her perch.

Spot - Scoreless draw.

Spot spent much of the week prancing about due to her successful pick from last week, so it wasn't surprising that she was playing coy at making another pick for this week. The more she was asked, the more silent she got about doing or saying anything. Maybe it was close to bed time, maybe she was distracted by the television, or she just wanted to keep the streak going, it was another scoreless draw for her.