Friday, July 28, 2017

Prediction Thread Week 21 - Portland Timbers v. Houston Dynamo

I will always remember the Houston match from this year.
It's funny how a signature win can change the complexion and attitude of a team much less their fan base, but the victory in Vancouver has certainly altered some perceptions about the Portland Timbers and their fortunes for the remainder of the 2017 season. Not only did the Timbers break their winless streak, but the fans got an extended look at forward Jeremy Ebobisse. Granted, the young striker has been playing some for Timbers 2 as well as work with the USMNT U-20 side playing in the U-20 World Cup in Korea, but this was his first extended play for the First team. The youngster put on quite a show scoring a goal and tallying an assist on Sebastian Blanco's second half goal, and his performance gave him honorable mention for MLS Team of the Week for Week 20/21. With all the attention from this performance, how does the rookie follow that one up? Perhaps the bigger question is when might we see him again in the lineup now that Fanendo Adi is back from suspension.

It is these and many questions that the Timbers will need to answer now that the Gold Cup is finally done (the USMNT with Darlington Nagbe and former Timber Jorge Villafana defeated a surprise Jamaica side by a 2 to 1 tally) and Portland will finally see some of their stars return for league play. Nagbe, Darren Mattocks and Alvas Powell all played in the July 26 finale, so the likelihood of seeing any of them for extended time versus the Dynamo is minimal, but defensive midfielder David Guzman rejoined the Timbers after Costa Rica was eliminated by the Americans on July 22. Considering Diego Chara's health after recovering from an injury only to have a groin strain versus the Whitecaps, it's beneficial that Guzman is back and ready to go in the middle. Larrys Mabiala has been solid in his first two matches as a Timber after his contract was cleared during the Summer Transfer window, so we are likely to see more of him and Roy Miller at the center back role until Liam Ridgewell is able to return. At this point, Ridgewell, Amobi Okugo, Chance Myers and Gbenga Arokoyo are the only players officially out for Houston due to significant injuries, but Chara, Vytas and Jack Barmby are dealing with various knocks that could affect their availability.

The last time these teams met was back on March 18 when the Timbers stormed back with 3 second half goals to post an impressive 4 to 2 victory at Providence Park. The unbalanced schedule only has these teams meeting 2 times in 2017, and the history at BBVA Compass Stadium hasn't been too kind to the team from the Rose City. In 5 matches in Houston, the Dynamo have never lost to the Timbers, but Portland has managed to draw twice there; in 2017, the Dynamo have yet to lose at home in their 10 home matches, posting an 8 win, 2 draw record going into this match. With temperatures expected to be near 100 degrees around match time and a Timbers side trying to build upon an impressive road win, do the Timbers have any chance in this one? Our fearless group of prognosticators give their thoughts about what might happen:

Green and almost gold heron

Rick: Timbers 1, Dynamo 2

Portland head to Houston having taken only 2 points from their previous 5 visits and meet a team unbeaten at home this season (W8 D 2 L0) in temperatures that will be in the high 90s.

Gold Cup and suspended players will be available although Nagbe, Mattocks and Powell took part in the Jamaica-USA Gold Cup Final, won by the United States on Wednesday evening. Given players' availability it's doubtful that Caleb Porter will stick with the team that won in Vancouver last Sunday: one of their best performances of the season.

Hi, I'm another cat that lives with Kip & Jen

Moya: Houston will win

Our black girl cat wanted to join the predictive collective, and was very happy to have her photo taken. However, when asked about the winner of the match - specifically the Timbers - she looked away, meowed really loudly and ran away to her cat bed. We couldn't get a score out of her, but maybe she knows something we don't.

All the bags in the house are mine. Until Spot finds them.

Lucy: Timbers 2, Dynamo 2

Lucy was rather excited about the predictions, and was very enthusiastic about the match thinking both sides will get goals. But with 2 excited meows for Houston and Portland, she is thinking the teams will share points instead of one side getting a victory. Even upon being asked several times, she remained steadfast in her prediction and who are we to argue?

I like the Timbers, but not this weekend versus Houston

Spot: Timbers 0, Dynamo 4

The queen of the snarfy looks was at it again with some angry and distant looks on her face during the interview. She did perk up a bit when talking about Houston, and Spot was quick to say there would be goals for the home side. But for the visitors, it's a big fat goose egg for this match.

GB often supervises Kip when he's working from home

GB: Timbers 3, Dynamo 3

The grey boy has been itching for a chance to regain his mojo with predicting, but he started out his interview incredibly sleepy. Once he perked up, however, it was a non stop amount of noise about goals. However, much like Lucy, he meowed the same number of times for Portland as he did Houston, so another cat is calling for a draw.

Tortie and a scarf. What a perfect combination.

Tortie: Timbers 9, Dynamo 6

With all the conservative predictions going against their usual pattern, leave it to the little girl to stick with her plan of picking lots and lots of goals. More eeps and oops for the visitors as always, so the tortoise shelled ninja is expecting both goalkeepers to be facing a lot of shots. But the road side is going to score more per her, thus keeping fans of #TeamTortie happy for this week.

Kip finds cats everywhere.

Kip: Timbers 2, Dynamo 1

After the gut check win over Vancouver, I am beginning to think there is nothing this Timbers team can't do. And then I'm reminded that the Dynamo haven't lost at home all year in 2017 and they haven't lost to the Timbers in Texas since Portland joined MLS. Despite some predicted awful conditions at game time, I am thinking the new reinforcements will very much aid the Timbers and they finally break the streak in Texas.

Mark's back with his little canine friend

Mark: Timbers 2, Dynamo 1

Picking games in the MLS is difficult however generally the home team wins half the time. So there is a pattern. A draw 25 percent of the time and the road team wins the other 25 percent. This is how 538 lists the odds: Portland 24%, Houston 51%, Draw 25 %.

That being said, predicting the Timbers there is rhyme, reason, pattern or algorithm for that, so I will do my prediction in rhyme. I did a ton of analysis; however, we are talking the Portland Timbers. I am not showing my work, but I will share this work:

Here deep in Texas an oil city
With plenty of nasty humidity
There they sit pretty in third
To many that may seem absurd
Timbers won’t take any pity.

I know it defies convention
To giving a win on the road a mention
You thought that was back filler
The unheralded Roy Miller
Certainly has our attenion

Rock solid Dynamo at home
Score early and set the tone
Valarie equals before half
Blanco with one on his behalf
We are now in third place alone

See you all next week with more predictions and cool pictures of cats.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

After Match Analysis - Basking in Post Match Glory After Win vs. Caps

Marco Farfan & Roy Miller have been very good in 2017
I had a feeling the Portland Timbers match versus the Vancouver Whitecaps would end up going in one of two directions post RSL result - the Caps would eventually overwhelm the Timbers much like the season ending result to finish the 2016 season, or the Timbers would survive the onslaught and secure an impressive, albeit somewhat improbable result. It's not that I don't have believe in this team, but I know like many fans, there was plenty of shock in how well composed the club was down the stretch as several players made huge contributions late. From the various clearances to Jake Gleeson's point blank deflection of a missile courtesy of Brek Shea, the Timbers did just about everything to come away with a victory. Against all the odds and pressure, the Timbers pulled off one of their most impressive results that I can think of in the MLS era of the team.

So now everything is back to normal and we've found the leadership and attitude that has been lacking and we can all go about our business like nothing happened? Well, not quite, because while it was certainly a gut-check victory, there are certainly signs of concern. Midfielder Diego Chara, making his first appearance after missing several matches with a leg injury, appeared to be having a groin problem that started when he took a hard foul in the first half. Showing gutty resolve, Chara stayed in the match to finish as the Timbers adjusted to have fellow defensive midfielder Ben Zemanski be more mobile in his attack while Chara confined himself to a somewhat centralized area. He did run some later in the match on a couple of breakaways, but obviously, it would be terrible to have a setback after just recovering. Midfielder Dairon Asprilla rolled his ankle on a run late in the second half, forcing Timbers Coach Caleb Porter to sub on T2 defender Harold Hanson into the match. Hanson had only been signed as emergency bench support for the Timbers to fill their game day roster, but he soon found himself helping run out the clock. It appeared there were other knocks and bruises, which are typical of a rivalry match, among the team, but Porter will have a full week of training to evaluate who's ready for the Houston Dynamo on July 29 in Texas.

The Timbers are getting reinforcements at the right time.
We know Fanendo Adi and Victor Arboleda will be back and available after serving their suspension for their respective red cards received versus RSL. David Guzman will be back from international duty with Costa Rica during the Gold Cup tournament. There is an outside chance that Vytas and Marco Farfan will be back from their injuries, while the Gold Cup finale on July 26 between Jamaica and the United States will mean that Darren Mattocks, Alvas Powell and Darlington Nagbe will also return to Portland (although I don't expect any of these 3 to play in Houston). With the emergence of Jeremy Ebobisse, Arboleda and Farfan, the Timbers are finally seeing some of their younger talent emerge as viable late match options or worthy of a spot start within the roster rotation; I have Jack Barmby already on that list and all he's done recently is tally a goal and show very well late versus Vancouver. The reinforcements are coming, and with Larrys Mabiala fully on board and Portland potentially adding defensive midfielder Bill Tuiloma (a Kiwi that has been playing in the Reserve systems for French side Olympique de Marsaille) to a contract, the team is trying to round itself out before the Summer Transfer window closes.

Portland now has played 22 of their scheduled 34 matches in 2017 - 6 home matches and 6 away affairs, including a 3 match brutal stretch that sends the Timbers to Seattle, New York City FC and Real Salt Lake consecutively - so the time for setting and sorting has really begun if the Timbers want to remain in postseason consideration. Much of that comes with integrating new and returning players into their respective roles to find the best possible attack, but some of that also comes in players learning how to play together again. Portland will have plenty of practice time to address this and a somewhat favorable schedule in one respect - 10 of the final 12 matches are either Saturday and Sunday with just a Friday match (the reschedule of the New York Red Bulls match from August 20 to August 18) and a Wednesday match with Colorado at home on August 23. The Red Bulls - Rapids - Flounders stretch is the most compacted of matches in the remaining run, considering Portland has nearly 2 weeks before their September 9 date at Yankee Stadium. Portland is also tops in matches played in 2017 so far with 22 along with RSL, as the remainder of the West clubs have between 19 and 21 matches played so far. 

I'm looking forward to seeing what these 2 can do down the stretch.

It's at this point where I need to find my towel. Porter said so much in several press conferences about helping the Timbers keep their highs low and their lows high, indicating that consistency and attitude are extremely important to help keep the expectations realistic. As someone who is very adept at creating drama rather quickly due to stress, unnecessary distractions or random rabbling, it's this point that I need to remember always. It's not nearly the fun sound bite or rallying cry like we've seen many clubs undertake during a postseason run, but it's that balance that will definitely help this group. Recognizing and utilizing reinforcements is going to be really key for Porter during the next few weeks to maximize the available points, but at the same point, it's important to remained focused. Ebobisse was very impressive versus Vancouver in his debut, but I think it's dangerous to anoint him as the next great MLS scorer after 78 minutes of soccer despite his talent. He showed great pace and strength during his runs, and I was surprised at his passing ability, but I'm not ready to demote Adi just yet. I do see the potential of an Adi/Ebobisse platoon where we use the strength and size of Adi and then change up tactics with the speed and pace of Ebobisse - very similar to the plan that Porter used when Adi and Maxi Urruti were together. Marco Farfan could be the answer for the Timbers' defense long term, but I'd like to see him get regular time before we anoint him the next coming.