Friday, August 25, 2017

Prediction Thread Week 25 - Timbers v Sounders Final Chapter 2017

I wished he was playing. Not that guy, the other guy who drives them crazy
It's been a really strange few weeks in the land of Timbers predictions. After Lucy spent most of August dominating after she joined the collective, it was Kip that somehow came up with a correct result and exact score in the match versus the Red Bulls. With the compressed timelines between matches and life getting in the way, the editors chose to skip the Rapids match for predictions and instead turn the attention to this weekend's Cascadia Cup clash in the Emerald City. With the Timbers holding on for the win over Colorado and the Flounders drawing with the Vancouver Whitecaps at B.C. Place, the stakes for this weekend's fixture are huge. It's so big that the Rose City Soccer Show, the podcast I participate in when the planets are all in alignment, was able to record our first new episode in quite some time with the full crew present. I'm just glad that I didn't break the profanity clause during the taping, but I came awfully close a few times. While I normally hate the massive hype machine that goes into overdrive for these matches, it can't be overlooked the importance of a result for either side. While rivalry matches have pressure and stress built in normally, this one will have plenty of influence on several key races.

If you look simply at the current MLS Western Conference standings, it's first place versus second place. The Sounders, current owners of a 10 match unbeaten streak since losing to the San Jose Earthquakes back on June 28, have vaulted up due to improved defense combined with finding their scoring touch at the right time. While Jordan Morris has been contributing all season, it's been the steady play of Cristian Roldan and Nicolas Loderio combined with the experience of Will Bruin and the resurgence of Clint Dempsey that has the Sounders thinking MLS Cup defense. Portland has been up and down through most of 2017 with defensive struggles, but the Timbers offense continues to surge behind the exploits of Diego Valeri, Fanendo Adi, Sebastian Blanco and Darlington Nagbe. The Timbers are tied for second in all of MLS in goals scored in 2017 at 47, but their defensive issues have kept the team from joining the discussion of elite teams in the league. Nothing emphasized that issue more than watching Toronto FC, arguably the best side all year, dismantle the Timbers a few weeks ago behind a second half avalanche of goals. In the race for Cascadia Cup 2017, the Timbers currently lead the standings with 7 points on 2 wins (both over Vancouver) and 1 draw (Flounders at home), and they could strengthen their position greatly with a win on Sunday. While Vancouver could theoretically catch the Timbers because they have 2 matches remaining to play after the Timbers - Sounders match, Portland currently leads in the first tiebreaker of goal differential.

Everyone on the buses this weekend, travel safe & sane.
But I think there is a bit more to this than most folks realize, and I think Timbers Coach Caleb Porter and his team know the terms. The Timbers aren't happy one bit that the Sounders stole a point at the death when someone forgot to cover Dempsey on a set piece during the June 25 match (ironically rescheduled from an afternoon kick to evening kick due to extreme heat in the Portland area) and the Sounders were able to celebrate in front of the Timbers Army. I also think the last match in 2016 versus Vancouver factors somewhat into the approach, too; the Timbers had a chance for the playoffs and Cascadia Cup in their final visit to Vancouver but they needed the right result. Unfortunately, the Caps buried the Timbers in a sea of second half goals and Portland left Canada empty handed despite the Timbers having schedule advantages in hosting both Cascadia sides twice. The Cascadia Cup might not be on the radar for some players, but being embarrassed on the road under any circumstance is something nobody likes. While the Timbers have exercised some demons with their July win in Canada, they'd love nothing more to return the favor to their other rival.

We all know the Timbers history at Century Link during the regular season hasn't been good, especially in the MLS era where the Timbers have yet to post a victory. However, one of the Timbers biggest franchise wins took place on this very pitch back in 2013, and the Timbers earned a little hardware here back in 2010 that ranked high upon my own personal happy moments traveling to Flounder Land over the years. I know players change from season to season, but they get hyped up for rivalry matches just like the rest of us. Portland will have several questions to deal with in determining their lineup with David Guzman unavailable for accumulation suspension, plus the health of Adi, Liam Ridgewell, Jake Gleeson and Marco Farfan. Meanwhile, the Sounders will be missing the services of defender Joevin Jones, currently the team leader in assists for 2017, and a huge cog of their back line and attack. Replacing him will be tough for Sounders Coach Brian Schmetzer, while I could see 1 of 2 options for Porter to replace Guzman - straight swap with Ben Zemanski or put Nagbe next to Diego Chara and give either Dairon Asprilla or Victor Arboleda the start on the wings. But Porter will have learned and forgotten more about soccer that I might ever acquire, so I'm sure he has a plan at the ready. With that, what do our fearless predictors have to say about this weekend? Let's find out!!

Another Timbers &%^#ing suspended for a Sounders match?

Rick: Timbers 1, Sounders 1

Portland are W0, D2, L7 with a Goals For of 5 and Goals Allowed of 15 in Seattle. I'm thinking a draw would be a good results considering that Guzman (yellow card suspension) is out and Adi, Gleeson, Ridgewell (various injuries) and Asprilla (flu) are questionable starters.

I promise not to get in front of the TV much, but no promises on swearing

Kip: Timbers 2, Sounders 1

I completely understand the history at that venue for the Timbers, but history is not always doomed to repeat itself. While the Sounders are on a good run of form, we've seen the Timbers scrap at times on the road. I think this is one of those instances considering the stakes and the results the last time these sides met.

I like fish, but not those guys up North. They smell funny.

Tortie: Timbers 15, Sounders 9

I appreciate the optimism of the tortoise shelled ninja cat, who again put on a cacophony of noise during her prediction interview. Since it wasn't at meal time, I can only assume she's just excited about goals and the Timbers will get more. Now if the players could only oblige her.

Yes, I did research this week. Now tell me, what the heck is a soccer ball?

GB: Timbers 0, Sounders 2

GB is decidedly pro-Portland as he's lived here all his life. However, he was impressed with the 10 match unbeaten streak and that was enough to sway him in this case. He does wish that they wouldn't wear that unfortunate shade of green anymore. It's just not right.

I'm excited about Sunday because the match is after dinner & I can nap!

Lucy: Timbers 3, Sounders 2

Lucy has become one of the more vocal cats of our collective, as her meows alternate between shrieks and yells. She was very excited about this match, and meowed for each side. The Timbers got 3 shrieks while the Sounders got 2 yells, so we know which side she's rooting for.

Contemplative cat is contemplating

Spot: Timbers 0, Sounders 1

Well, she didn't call for a scoreless draw, but the cat princess is thinking the Timbers' fan will be unhappy during their ride home from the match. Spot doesn't like changes in routine, and knowing the history of Timbers matches up North, she's betting on things staying the same.

I'm not just a cat, I'm a very good goalkeeper

Moya: Timbers 0, Sounders 3

I'm disappointed in what the black cat said during her discussion, but she's a very good cat goalkeeper, so I trust her soccer skills. Without Fanendo Adi, Moya thinks the Timbers will have issues scoring. Sounds pretty reasonable to me.

Pilot smash! Doors bad.

Pilot: Timbers 3, Sounders 0

Pilot is a very good cat, but he has recently resumed a habit he had when he was a kitten: running full speed into a door and trying to open it with his head. It worked a few times, so apparently he thinks it will work again. As far as soccer, he's going against his sister and pro Portland & Timbers. Anyone know where I can find a helmet for a cat?

Timbers rollercoaster goes beyond the pitch, but is that new? Hardly.

Sometimes you have to look away from the screen.
I had a made a promise after the New York victory post that I would talk about other Timbers related news, but due to the compressed schedule, the Rapids match got in the way of that plan. It's part of the curse and blessing that comes with running your own website and only having to answer to whatever pressing obligations are within the wheelhouse that I can do this. Granted, the ineptness of the MLS schedule doesn't help the situation one bit, either, but I've already talked about that and I'm not nearly the guy in charge of the league. Because they insist on having a lengthy postseason, the MLS season now stretches through 11 months of play from pre-season to MLS Cup and to cover international breaks and other obligations, that requires some midweek matches. Every worldwide soccer league has some form of this fixture issue, but very few have a true postseason to crown a champion. Many have a postseason to sort out teams to promote (and I'm not touching this lightning rod issue at all in this post), but otherwise, MLS is its own shepard with a championship tourney. For me, it would make much more sense to crown the Supporters' Shield winner as MLS Cup champions, but when is it ever stated that leagues - or fandom in general - have to make any sense. Sometimes, a part of that discord carries over outside the pitch as it has recently for the Timbers and their fans.

On August 14, a piece on Deadspin struck the Interwebs talking about the world of Sports Blog Nation, more commonly known as SB Nation, and how the site profits off mostly an unpaid army of writers. In the interest of full disclosure, I know several writers of the SB Nation Timbers outlet, Stumptown Footy, very well and have done several joint ventures with them, including a usually well received podcast when it gets posted (Rose City Soccer Show) and a TV venture on Comcast Sports Northwest that is currently on hiatus (Soccer City PDX) which I hope returns very soon. I happen to respect the writers and photographers that I have met, and find their site to be extremely thorough due to the vastness of their writing staff between the differing soccer ventures in Portland. When I first started my second career in blogging in 2007, the outlets covering soccer in Portland could be held on 1 hand and they were begging for anybody to read the posts - and Timbers fans responded in support. Years later, the Timbers, Thorns and Timbers 2 enjoy several outlets, podcasts and photo galleries designed to highlight their various works. For many of those folks, myself included, we do what we do for the love of the game without receiving any remuneration. While I have had a press pass every Timbers season since 2007, my only paid writing jobs were in 2011 when I wrote several pieces for the Timbers as a guest writer.
Still trying to get these accepted as currency, but so far, no dice.

Reading the DeadSpin piece was very eye opening as they talked in great deal how most of the writers are creating content for the express purpose of getting exposure for paying work in some aspect. In talking with some of the Stumptown Footy writers, I know that the group there is not only very supportive of each other and they work hard for the product, there is more equity within their world that the examples portrayed in the post. Nobody felt exploited, and the approach allowed them to write for other outlets or as their schedule permitted depending on other responsibilities. Most were doing what they were out of a desire to share their voice in love of the club, spending much of their own money and time trying to carve out a niche. It's in this that I can relate to their struggles as I talked about in my exposure bucks post back when while working in my previous outlet. I joined them in 2007 during a resurrection of the Timbers blog and one of the first discussions I had with the editors was about payment - it could happen but only if we can get the traffic numbers up through more content and hits. Otherwise, we were fairly much on our own in terms of assignments and posts between myself, Rick and my wife. I focused on match recaps and stories, Rick would do video and photo galleries, and my wife would add her own photos while providing editorial help and content advice to me.

Over the years, we spent many weekends and evenings feverishly working upon posts and galleries at home or on the road while traveling, sacrificing social time with friends on match day. Having joined the Army late in 2004, match days are as much about the social experience as it was the actual match, which meant arriving at the park several hours before kick to get settled to figure out the nightly plan. We met a few times early on for strategy sessions and a team building lunch, but otherwise, all suggestions and discussions would come by email or direct messages. This pattern continued and the questions of pay came up from time to time until I just stopped bringing it up as the answer was the same as it ever was. Writers came and went, and we were there each year until suddenly we weren't. Much of my internal struggle this year has been dealing with being the one responsible for determining site direction and figuring out how to get more traffic, but another part of it has been dealing with the end of a chapter in my life only to find it reopened in a new way.

My former world. I miss it sometimes, but I am happy with where I'm at now.

If it sounds like I'm bitter about the situation, I think the only things I am apologetic about is the impact on my relationships during my heaviest writing periods. In my mind, I was working really hard in a full time IT job while doing a side project that I hoped would add more income and notoriety. I've managed to meet some incredible and talented people and experienced things that I'm truly grateful for - I can't begin to thank the Timbers and the organization for their unwavering support of me during the various phases. I had a desire to do something more in my love of club, and I eventually learned what that sacrifice would mean. My match days would never just be hanging at the pub, singing for 90 minutes at the top of my lungs, then finish the night off with more food and drink and sleep off the result. We all make choices in our lives, and while I'm happy that my writing has sustained this for so long, I do worry about long term consequences and impacts on relationships. As much as we all sacrifice part of ourselves for success at some level, I am not interested if it costs me part of myself and the substantial people in my life. The journey to get here has given me perspective, and while I may not always realize it, I am better for having gone through the process.

To be fair, my situation is far better than many other media in the sense that I have a stable, full time job that allows me the flexibility to do this on my down time; there hasn't been many weeks where we haven't seen a post or tweet about another media outlet cutting staff to reorganize their approach or save the organization. While I admire sportcasters for what they do, the insecurity of being in the media eye is something I don't think I could live with. But the SB Nation post did trigger more than a few thoughts about what might have been. As much as being paid for writing would be huge for me, however, the hindsight here is based upon choice. I'm truly blessed and honored to have written what I have over the years, and it's important to keep that in perspective. Everyone deserves to be paid or compensated for their efforts, but sometimes fortune comes in truly unexpected ways. Granted, some of that may not actually pay the bills, but it does aid in the collective experience that is the Timbers game day. As I've always said, as long as I still love doing this and want to continue writing, I will still be here as long as the Timbers allow me to return each season. And as much as I might have topics that I want to write about, it's also important to get out and enjoy life away from the keyboard as much as possible.

Part of my Timbers memorabilia collection. I look forward to adding more.

While I hate seeing anyone losing a job for whatever reason, sometimes it is a necessary evil. Perhaps nothing emphasizes that more than recent events at the Timbers' flagship station where their recent hire for the afternoon drive time was fired after being hired just months ago. I'm not going to mention his name, but I can say that I did listen to his show on 3 separate occasions and immediately knew it wasn't for me. I grew up listening to terrestrial radio in Boise, Idaho and always prided myself on listening to local radio wherever I ended up. Portland radio has always provided several great stations and options over the years, but as we talked about above, the world of media is constantly changing with priorities in an attempt to maximize content and ad revenue. No industry has felt that more as radio, who has seen a multitude of format changes in any attempt to meet ratings. That has led to the phenomenon of overly outrageous radio personalities, who often incite their audience with bombastic talk about random topics. Talk radio has usually been restricted to the news, but it's bled over into the world of sports as several markets have endured or welcomed controversial personalities to grab listeners. Sometimes that talk goes completely off the rails, and the person in question made several disparaging remarks during his last shows that finally caused his dismissal.

Timbers fans had been working on the station and various advertisers to fire him, but it was only after a Eugene sports station picked up the feed that his comments reached a wider group and caused more outrage. We live in a weird time in the world, and I'm proud that as much as possible, we live with the tenet of free speech as being very important. However, that responsibility doesn't absolve the person from the impacts of their words and actions. Responsible media understand this difference, and while getting attention is important, it's also vital to be considerate of all factors and audiences before publishing or saying anything. One of the biggest problems in media right now is the desire to be the first to post anything to be exclusive, and that comes with potential costs of having to clarify or retract content or incite an issue without first realizing it in the quest to break news. Our current administration may not appreciate the media, but it's important to have organizations that research and provide an unbiased appraisal of information to allow people to make their own call about important issues in a timely and effective manner. As conglomerates gobble up media companies, those lines blur between informers and influencers, which is why media needs to be independent.

Very good cookies in great colors, but probably not a big part of my new diet.

But as much as that, I'm personally tired of radio and talk that is designed to instigate hate or distrust of other groups or individuals. I may not agree with how others view the world, but causing divisions among groups is the last thing we need to do in order to solve problems. Now more that ever, we must find consensus and common themes to find solutions so that our world can remain one relatively happy body for years to come. I'm smart enough to realize the importance of tension, argument and discussion because not everybody will see issues the exact same way, but you need to add reason and communication to take the discussion and turn it into something useful. Yelling or being angry for the purpose of being angry serves no purpose, especially since anger is often the base emotion of something much bigger. We have a world of incredibly smart, passionate, energetic and wonderful humans, and it's time to pull ourselves together to stamp out hate and promote harmony in all its forms. I've been at this since 2004 and being on the Timbers roller coaster isn't easy nor is it for the faint of heart, but when it comes together, it can be a wonderful ride.

The other side is that the problems need to happen in order to make the good seem that much better in comparison, which is really how life is supposed to work. You'd think after being alive for 50 years, I would have figured that out, but sometimes the lessons take a bit longer and we all need to continue to learn and grow as people. I had to come to a realization of my own after viewing some photos that I need to make some serious lifestyle changes. I've dealt with the impacts of type 2 diabetes brought on by poor diet and exercise choices, and I was able to stop taking drugs for it and return to normal with making better choices in food. However, I have always had a bad relationship with sugar and I'm not always aware of my consumption levels, so I need to address that blind spot. We're all human and we have our faults and talents, but we also have the remarkable ability to make ourselves better to become the fully blossomed versions of our true self.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Timbers whirl towards 2 to 1 victory over Rapids, but it wasn't easy

The Timbers Army have a new banner each match. I like this one a lot.
Everybody who knows me well knows my absolute devotion to the Simpsons, one of the greatest television shows in the history of the medium. While many will debate the quality of the recent era of episodes or have allergic reactions when a certain character is featured, I never miss an episode in the current run. I can appreciate a television show that not only provides several hysterical moments, but it has also provided wonderful amounts of insight. I've even read books about the philosophy and religion of the Simpsons because the subject interests me, and it isn't due to me having a hysterical moment with Timbers beat writer Matt Hoffman about Kent Brockman calling a game of soccer in Springfield, either. But there is a Simpsons line that probably best describes the 90 plus minutes of game tactics between the Portland Timbers and Colorado Rapids on August 23: "We must move forward, not backward; upward, not forward; and always twirling, twirling, twirling towards freedom!" Okay, the line was uttered by Kodos on the campaign trail disguised as Bill Clinton, but honestly, it was the most apt description of the Timbers approach to the match - a literally random attack that didn't seem to make sense at points, but somehow, they did enough to secure a needed victory by a 2 to 1 count before their upcoming 3 match road trip that starts this weekend with a visit to Flounder land.

Timbers Coach Caleb Porter has been dealing with a lot since the Timbers were dismantled in Toronto back on August 12, and they followed that up with a gut check win over the New York Red Bulls on August 18 that was nail biting until the final moments. Porter has been dealing with injuries to Marco Farfan (lingering ankle sprain), Liam Ridgewell (injured late versus the Galaxy), Jake Gleeson (hurt during Toronto) and Fanendo Adi (injured in Galaxy match), but he also needed to adjust to the loss of Larrys Mabiala to a red card infraction late in the Red Bulls match. With Jeff Attinella making his second consecutive start in goal, Porter employed Zarek Valentin and Vytas as the fullbacks with Lawrence Olum and Roy Miller as the center backs. Defensive midfielders David Guzman and Diego Chara again started, but both were close to invoking a one match suspension for accumulation that could keep them out of the next match with Guzman 1 away from penalty and Chara 2 away. Darlington Nagbe, Diego Valeri and Sebastian Blanco would again be the attacking midfield trio, but in switching up the plan, Porter gave Darren Mattocks the start instead of Jeremy Ebobisse, although both have been playing regularly with Adi still recovering. Ebobisse was joined on the bench by goalkeeper Kendall McIntosh, defender Alvas Powell, midfielders Amobi Okugo, Ben Zemanski, Dairon Asprilla and Victor Arboleda, so the Timbers had options available if needed.

Say hi to the Timbers' all time franchise leader in goals scored.

Colorado has been in a tailspin all season to the point that the coach who led them to the conference semifinals last year, Pablo Mastroeni, was relieved of his duties on August 15th and replaced with assistant Steve Cooke. Defense and goalkeeping continue to be reasonably good for the Rapids with Tim Howard and Zac Macmath in goal and just allowing 32 goals in 2017, putting them in the middle of the pack in the West. The issue for the Rapids is in their offense, as they've just scored 22 goals on the season, just ahead of the anemic offense of D.C. United. It's not that the Rapids don't have some intriguing options up top with forward Kevin Doyle, midfielders Dominique Badji, Marlon Hairston, Michael Azira and recently acquired Mohammed Saeid, but they've simply been unable to find any consistency within their attack at all. Cooke originally unveiled an interesting attack formation with 3 midfielders and 3 forwards in his starting 11 - Azira and Saeid joined by Luis Gil in midfield with Doyle, Joshua Gatt and Dillon Serna up top, but once Colorado took to the pitch, it switched up to a 4 - 4 - 1 - 1 with Doyle playing a lone striker with Saeid providing some channel support. The formation employed was designed to try and slow down the Timbers' attacking tempo by putting 8 players behind the ball in most occasions and countering only if numbers were available, but otherwise, the Rapids' offense consistent of firing long passes forward in the hopes that Doyle or Saeid could run them down. For those Timbers fans from back when, you might recognize this lovely approach by its more common name of Bobby Ball; it's not pretty to look at, but sometimes it did yield results in the ugliness.

Portland turned up the tempo early with pressure along the wings, and earned big chances early when Valentin found Valeri on the right in the 13th minute but the Maestro's turn and shoot was pushed wide. Three minutes later, Chara and Mattocks met up on a run to the left, and while Mattocks slipped trying to pass, he did find Valeri who gave Blanco a chance to shoot but Sebastian chipped it over the crossbar. Portland finally broke through in the 21th minute when Vytas put a pinpoint cross into the box where an unmarked Valeri was able to easily head the ball past a helpless Howard to put the Timbers up by 1. The celebration hadn't even stopped for Valeri's 15th goal of 2017 (and his 52nd goal as a Timber making him the all time franchise leader in goal scored) when Nagbe took another cross from Vytas on the right, and he put an incredible spinning chip shot into the upper right corner of goal that curled just inside the post past Howard for a 2 to 0 lead. The Rapids were making things interesting with several speculative runs down the middle, but they suddenly found themselves in a 2 goal deficit with a sold out Providence Park in full road surrounding them. Portland had been very good tempo wise early and they were completing their passes with precision, something that was very much missing in the Red Bulls match, but minutes later, the match took a rather dramatic turn.

Thankfully we have a Flounders match where this guy can play.
I'm still trying to figure out what Olum was thinking in the 28th minute when he passed in the middle as I never saw his intended target to determine if he put enough force on the pass or if it was actually heading in the right direction. All I saw was that the ball ended up at Saeid's feet, and the Rapids midfielder was able to dribble past Olum, Valentin and Attinella to slot the ball into the goal. and with that, a comfortable 2 to 0 lead was turned into a 2 to 1 scoreline and the nerves went into overdrive. Portland appeared very rattled by the situation, but the mood slightly elevated in the 30th minute when Rapids defender Mike da Fonte took down Valeri in the box with a hard tackle & shirt pull to no call from the officials, prompting Valeri to unleash a tirade at Center Official Dave Gantar. Unbeknownst to the captain, Gantar was talking with VAR Drew Fischer, who had already called for a potential review of the play. Gantar made the square symbol to indicate the review, and after several seconds, Gantar pointed to the spot for a penalty to the consternation of the Rapids. As Valeri settled in to attempt the penalty, a conversation started between Valeri and Guzman that led to a switch in shooters as it was Guzman that lined up to take the restart in the 31st minute when Gantar blew his whistle to restart.

Guzman pulled his shot to the left where Howard had moved, but the trajectory pulled the ball wide of the left post and it slid by and struck the nearby ad boards, leaving the score at 2 to 1 Timbers. The Rapids nearly drew level when Doyle struck a well placed shot that challenged Attinella, but the keeper was up to the task. The match soon entered the meandering phase of play for the next few minutes as both sides tried to recover from the previous events, but Portland did get a near miss from Valeri and a blocked shot from Blanco before the halftime whistle. The halftime stats pointed to a dominant Timbers effort with 10 total shots, 67 percent possession, 89 percent passing accuracy and 279 passes attempted; simply put, the offense was firing on most cylinders despite the Rapids bunching their defense behind the ball to clog the box. Even with all the statistical advantages, the Rapids were within a goal due to an unfortunate defensive gaffe and the Timbers were still somewhat reeling from the missed penalty. It would be up to Porter to rally the troops to keep them focused, especially considering what happened the last time these teams met in June in Denver - the Timbers went up by 1 early only to concede 2 goals late to lose another heart breaker in Colorado, as former USL Timber Alan Gordon scored a header in stoppage time to seal the Rapids win.

Vytas was my man of the match with 2 assists. He should have had more.
One of the issues I did have in the first half was the performance of Mattocks, who simply was horrible in his contributions. While he did get an assist on Valeri's goal, most of the half I watched him mistime shots, fall down when trying to move or simply mishandle the ball with poor first touches. He did get a nice shot in the 52nd minute off a feed from Nagbe after Azira and Nagbe had traded misses. The Rapids were trying to increase their pressure after Doyle had another blocked shot in the 53rd minutes, and they brought on Marlon Hairston and Badji, two of their faster players, for Serna and Gatt. The Timbers attack, meanwhile, was starting to whirl and buffer after Guzman and Blanco had respective misses in the 54th and 55th. The intensity was also picking up as Gantar's whistle was starting to influence some of the action as both sides pushed for a goal to either extend the lead or bring the match level.

Porter brought on Ebobisse for Mattocks in the 69th minute, and the youngster had a good shot blocked in the 74th minute, but Attinella had been forced to deal with a corner minutes early where he punched a ball clear from several Rapids players. Cooke also brought on Gordon for Doyle, who has a reputation for petulant acts and late match dramatics, and Gordon earned a couple of fouls within seconds of his inclusion. Guzman, meanwhile, had been warned of his persistent fouling, and Gantar finally carded the midfielder in the 73rd minute thus answering one of the questions many Timbers fans were asking on social media: which Timbers midfielder will miss the Flounders match due to disciplinary action? Chara managed to avoid any additional discipline, but in getting a caution in the 39th minute on a breakaway foul, the diminutive Diego is now 1 caution away from invoking a 1 match suspension. With the Rapids pouring forward, Colorado did get two late distance shots from da Fonte that Attinella dealt with while Blanco had the Timbers' best chance to add an insurance goal in the 82nd minute with nifty footwork in the box to hold the ball and cause several Rapids to fall down. However, Sebastian's final shot flew harmlessly into the South Deck. With the feverish start, it appeared the goals might be flying but neither team was able to add anything beyond the Valeri, Nagbe and Saeid goals, as the Timbers were able to hold on for the result.

Please to come back Sunday with 3 points? And avoid the bule!
The victory gave the Timbers their 11th win of 2017, putting them in second place in the West at 40 points tied with Sporting Kansas City, and put them 1 point behind the Sounders, who moved up to first in the west with their 1 all draw with Vancouver at B.C. Place. The Sounders are unbeaten in their last 10 matches to propel the defending MLS Cup Champions to the top spot, and the Timbers would love nothing more than to snap the streak and propel themselves upward. Portland will need to find some rhythm in their approach, which might prove difficult with the loss of Guzman. Another concern that came up late was the status of Asprilla, who entered the match for Nagbe in the 79th minute and did very well in some late runs, but ended up fainting after the match during the postmatch celebration. While Dairon was able to stand up and lie on a cart that transported him from the pitch, Porter indicated that Asprilla had been taken to the hospital for precautions after the dizzy spell. Apparently, he had also been battling flu symptoms that had been passing among some players as well, but this is concerning with the status of Adi, Farfan, Ridgewell and Gleeson still unclear. Portland now travels to the Emerald City for a huge Cascadia Cup clash on August 27 before traveling to New York on September 9 for a match with NYCFC, then traveling to Salt Lake for a battle with RSL on September 16. The Timbers' next home match is a month away on September 24 when they host Orlando City, but Portland plays 3 of their last 4 at home and their last trip is still on the West Coast.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Timbers slog through to pull out 2 to 0 victory over Red Bulls

One of the best displays I've seen all season from the Timbers Army
Soccer is often called the beautiful game, but sometimes, even the best laid plans fall apart upon execution. The Portland Timbers, coming off another road performance that started out serviceable but eventually fell apart dramatically in Toronto, were hoping to rebound at home against the New York Red Bulls. The visitors were dealing with fixture compression and travel, defeating Orlando City on August 13 in Florida followed up by a trip to Cincinnati for the U.S. Open Cup semifinals versus FC Cincinnati on August 15, a reschedule due to weather issues with FC Cincinnati's previous USOC match. The match ended up going into extra time with the Red Bulls advancing, but MLS also moved the Red Bulls - Timbers match from August 20 in the evening to August 18, which squeezed available Red Bull players even more. Red Bulls Coach Jesse Marsch had to rotate his squad significantly with one leading scorer out for injury and the other for fitness, but Portland wasn't going to sympathize with their cause too much with their ongoing defensive struggles. As both sides slogged through a first half filled with countless errors, ineffective passes and disorganization, the Timbers finally broke through with a goal, then held on under furious pressure to add an insurance tally for a 2 to 0 victory. The effort and passion were certainly there, but the effectiveness and organization were off for both sides all night - but the Timbers were able to do enough to post the victory before they deal with a tough few weeks of travel.

Timbers Coach Caleb Porter was dealing with player availability as he has most of 2017 with 4 players unavailable due to injury: Liam Ridgewell with a quad injury after he just returned to play upon rehab, Fanendo Adi with a hamstring strain suffered in the win over the Galaxy, Jake Gleeson with a hamstring strain suffered in the loss to Toronto, and Marco Farfan with a lingering ankle issue. Porter was very upset about how certain players performed in Toronto, so the defense got a slight overhaul in front of goalkeeper Jeff Attinella, who took over for Gleeson. Larrys Mabiala and Lawrence Olum would cover the center back roles with Roy Miller and Zarek Valentin flanking the left and right, and Porter could bring of Vytas or Alvas Powell as subs if needed. Diego Chara and David Guzman once again handled the defensive midfield duties behind the midfield trio of Diego Valeri, Darlington Nagbe and Sebastian Blanco, but Porter could employ Ben Zemanski, Victor Arboleda or Dairon Asprilla if a change was needed. With Adi out, Porter gave youngster Jeremy Ebobisse the start with Darren Mattocks available to sub; Mattocks got the start versus Toronto FC and struggled with Ebobisse tallying an assist on Valeri's late goal. With Kendall McIntosh backing up Attinella, Porter was hoping for continued strong play from Valeri, who has really been carrying Portland over the last few weeks.
Larrys Mabiala and Gonzalo Veron converge. This happened a lot all night.

New York went in a slightly different direction with their starters, as Marsch had to deal with injury and fitness as well. Mike Grella, a key contributor in previous seasons, had season ending surgery recently, and Daniel Royer, a second year midfielder from Austria who has helped with the scoring load, just suffered a knee injury and is out indefinitely. Marsch can always rely upon several standards with forward Bradley Wright-Phillips, once again leading the team in goal scored, midfielder Sacha Kljestan, a creative midfielder that has blossomed in New York, and goalkeeper Luis Robles, who has been an effective goalkeeper for them for several seasons. Marsch unveiled a rather strange initial formation employing a 3 defender, 4 midfielder and 3 forward formation. Wright-Phillips and Kljestan ended up on the bench to start, as Marsch used Kemar Lawrence, Aurelien Collin and former MLS Timber Sal Zizzo on defense, Connor Lade, Felipe, Fidel Escobar and Derrick Etienne as the diamond midfield. Up top, the trio of Gonzalo Veron, Vincent Bezecourt and newly signed Dilly Duka would try and threaten the Timbers goal, but in the back of everyone's minds, they were just placeholders for the Red Bulls' bigger guns. For Portland, it would be imperative to get out to a good start to hopefully keep Kljestan and Wright-Phillips on the bench and attack New York as much as possible.

The tactic didn't exactly work out so well in the first 45 minutes as both teams supremely struggled to find any sort of rhythm. Veron and Escobar both had early chances on goal that were missed or blocked within the first 9 minutes of play, but otherwise, the Red Bulls couldn't find anything to put on frame against the Timbers. Nagbe struck the crossbar in the 39th on a great sequence that saw Chara hold the ball on the right to find Valeri in the corner, and while Nagbe uncorked a great shot, it struck the woodwork and spun away instead of finding the net. Chara, Nagbe and Blanco all had decent attempts on target - Blanco's 13th minute shot didn't miss by much - but nothing really threatened Robles as the Timbers tried to find something that worked. While Blanco was having success in finding space wherever he decided to set up camp, and several Timbers were getting Ebobisse the ball in good spots, there were also plenty of passes that ended up going nowhere. Whether it was anticipating the positioning or trying to create pockets to attack, passes were either flying in the wrong direction, being intercepted or just going over the touchline. Portland did get a final chance in stoppage when Portland was awarded a free kick just outside the box, but Guzman's restart went to the right post but nobody was home to put a shot on frame.

The Maestro added a goal and assist to his account. He's really good.

The halftime stats showed both sides having difficulty in finding anything that worked, as the number of shots were near equal (Portland at 4, New York at 2), a similar number of fouls and passing accuracy, and possession right at 50 percent for each. For me, it was just odd to see how many quirky bounces were being generated as the teams tried to link together, but most tactics weren't working. The Red Bulls were also down a sub after Collin had to leave the match in 27th minute for injury to be replaced by Sean Davis. Another issue from the first half was the work of center official Allen Chapman, who been the center for 11 matches featuring the Timbers over their MLS appearances. While Chapman hasn't exactly called many fouls on Portland or put out many cards against them, the usual criticism against Chapman has been his penchant for allowing plenty of contact and only making calls when pressed. That pattern was never more evident than early in the match when Chara was injured briefly on contact from Collin on a two footed tackle that Chapman didn't even call. Ebobisse was called for several fouls, including one on Collin that eventually led to his removal of the match, for what seemed like light contact but on other instances, it appeared that Chapman was letting plenty of contact go. Chapman did issue two cautions in the first half, but both were for time wasting and delaying a restart on Escobar and Valentin minutes later, but both sides felt aggrieved at Chapman for several calls that didn't go their way. Despite only calling 14 fouls in the first half, I was shocked that more weren't called by the crew. I will give him credit in some respect that it was called even on both sides, and the fact that both groups were complaining and asking questions certainly didn't tilt the advantage towards one side or another.

The second half began with no other player changes, and Portland earned a corner right off the opening kick courtesy of Ebobisse, but nothing came from the chance. The back and forth misses and turnovers continued for several minutes until Porter made his first move to replace a tiring Ebobisse for Mattocks at the 58th minute. Marsch countered by bringing on defender Aaron Long, a 2014 Timbers SuperDraft pick, in for Duka meaning that the Red Bulls wouldn't be bringing on one of the big weapons on the night. In the 65th minute, Portland would finally strike when Chara attacked a ball on the right corner and got in under control past Lawrence, and he had space to find a teammate for a cross. With Mattocks making a channel run, Chara's pass instead fell to a charging Valeri, and he chipped the ball past Robles just inside the left post to give the Timbers a 1 to 0 lead. Long was upset at not seeing the offside flag catch Chara, but he was in line with the last defender and Robles was off his line slightly and didn't see Valeri's effort until it was already on its way. At this point, Marsch decided to bring on Kljestan, the creative midfielder, and he pulled Etienne, who had fouled Miller twice in the preceding minutes and Chapman had finally cautioned him on the second hard foul. New York's movement and passing were much improved with Kljestan and they were moving forward better, so at this point, it was up to Portland to find a way to manage the end of this match without "parking the bus".
Lots of happy faces at the end of this one.

In the 79th minute, Veron tried to shoot on frame but Mabiala blocked the shot back towards the 18 yard line but the ball hit Guzman and fell to Kljestan in the box. Attinella was able to leave his line with Chara and Mabiala in support, and he was able to block the shot away for a Red Bulls corner. A minute later, Kljestan found Zizzo at midpitch, and the defender punched a high pass forward for Veron with Mabiala chasing, and the Red Bulls forward was able to slide into space. Mabiala tried to block the progression and the two bumped just outside the box with Veron crashing down hard, and Chapman wasted no time in calling the foul. With Mabiala being the last defender, Chapman gave the Timbers center back an ejection for the contact and New York a free kick just outside the box. Reviewing the replay several times, I can concede that Mabiala was a step behind and tried to recover, but the contact appeared incidental at best and Veron sold it by diving really hard. Porter decided to fortify the defense before the free kick, and brought on Vytas for Valetin and Powell for Blanco to add more backline fortification. Minutes later, Felipe restarted the ball with a deft touch to Escobar for a quick shot, but the midfielder pulled it just wide of the left post and out of play. With both sides out of subs and the Timbers at 10 men, it would be the beginning of a very wild finish.

Powell was running after a loose ball and Kljestan shoved the defender into the ad boards, prompting Miller and Attinella to go after Kljestan and Chapman to caution the midfielder. Considering the light contact for Mabiala and the two handed shove by Kljestan, it was another odd officiating decision. Zizzo, Felipe and Veron all got chances on goal in the dying moments of regular time, but New York got their best chance late in stoppage time when Lawrence put a speculative cross in towards a charging Lade at the spot, and the New York midfielder put a header on frame but Attinella was able to palm the ball away while Vytas and Miller were able to provide other cover. It looked like New York might not get any more chances once Portland earned a corner kick due to a Chara deep run on the left, but Portland couldn't hold onto the ball and Chara fouled Kljestan to give New York a free kick. On the same run, Guzman fouled Felipe just outside the box for a final attempt on goal and even Robles moved all the way forward as an attacker. The restart, however, was deflected about and Powell punched it out for a charging Valeri with nobody guarding the New York goal. Valeri dribbled to the right with 2 marks, Chara up the middle and Mattocks on the left, and after a couple of touches, Diego found an open Mattocks at the corner of the box with Robles still off the line. Mattocks calmly slotted the ball into the net for the much needed insurance goal, and the whistle blew right after the restart for a gut wrenching 2 to 0 victory.

I am not sure what is going on here at all.

Portland now turns their attention to a compressed week of their own in hosting Colorado on August 23 before traveling to Seattle to play the Flounders on August 27. Portland then plays their next 2 matches on the road after the Labor Day holiday by traveling to New York to play NYCFC on September 9 and then to Salt Lake on September 16 before returning home to host Orlando City on September 24. The Timbers might get some of their reinforcements back for the 2 long road trips in September, but they face Colorado without the services of Ridgewell or Mabiala available. For me, I found Valeri's leadership valuable in tallying an assist and a goal, now his 51st in his Timbers career, while Blanco was a menace everywhere he went on the pitch. The defense did reasonably well in holding New York scoreless, but they were aided by the fact the Red Bulls struggled to put the shots on target. I do have to give my man of the match to Attinella, who came up huge on many moments with quality saves and a calm demeanor. He commanded his goal line incredibly, and I was really happy to see the veteran earn his first clean sheet at home, and earn the coveted log slab. I am expecting we will see lots of Attinella down the stretch, and if he plays like this, the Timbers will be trouble to deal with in the postseason.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Prediction Thread Week 24 - Portland Timbers v. New York Red Bulls

Not the real New York, but it's somewhat similar, right?
It's been a really strange week for the Portland Timbers, and for once, the oddities haven't been confined just to the pitch. After holding Toronto FC scoreless for nearly 60 minutes and playing reasonably well, the roof caved in as Toronto FC hung up 4 goals over the remainder of the match for a 4 to 1 win. What made the match seem worse was the fact that after TFC put up their first, Portland actually was able to keep up with TFC until the 72nd minute when goal 2 happened and 4 minutes later, it got worse. The only highlight of the contest was Diego Valeri's goal in the 89th minute off a drop pass from Jeremy Ebobisse, which ended up being his 50th goal as a Timber. The fact is, Valeri has joined rather elite company in terms of production, as he is the only Timbers player with 50 goals and 50 assists in his career - Fanendo Adi has scored 50 during his time with Portland, while NASL Timbers legends John Bain and Willie Anderson notched 50 assists - but nobody had achieved both until now. Valeri is also one of 18 MLS players to have this mark, and based upon goals & assists per games played, Diego has the third highest average with .72 Goals and/or Assist per game played in just 139 regular season MLS matches.

The historic mark was impressive, but Timbers Coach Caleb Porter was less than pleased with how some of the Timbers reacted after going down a goal. As he put it, there was still points to be had being down by 1, but some of the players hung their heads in frustration and TFC made Portland pay dearly for their lackadaisical effort. Porter was already dealing with Adi and Liam Ridgewell being unavailable for injury - Adi suffered a hamstring injury while Ridgy aggravated a quad injury late in the 3 to 1 victory over Los Angeles - but the Timbers took another hit when goalkeeper Jake Gleeson injured his hamstring scooping up a header from center back Larrys Mabiala, so Jeff Attinella was brought on to finish the match. With Marco Farfan dealing with a lingering ankle injury, Portland will be short handed for their home match facing the New York Red Bulls on August 18. The match was originally scheduled for August 20 for a national broadcast on Fox Sports 1, but MLS moved the match upon request from both teams due to fixture compression. Portland hosts Colorado on August 23 before traveling to Seattle to play the Flounders on August 27, which would have put 3 matches in 1 week for them, but the Red Bulls were dealing with a similar situation. The Red Bulls defeated Orlando City on the road on August 12 before traveling to Cincinnati to play USL side FC Cincinnati in the 2017 U.S. Open Cup semi-finals on August 15.
Cincinnati scored 2 goals to take an early lead, but New York stormed back to level the match until Bradley Wright-Phillips scored the game winner in the 101st minute to propel the Red Bulls to the final.

The Red Bulls have essentially relied upon the scoring of Wright-Phillps and the creativity of Sacha Kljestan to propel them along, but New York has seen Daniel Royer provide another scoring option for them while Luis Robles continues to be strong in goal for them. The Red Bulls under Coach Jesse Marsch have relied upon scrappy, positional play and tactical scoring to put them in fourth in the Eastern Conference, but essentially, the club only goes as far as the scoring of BWP and Royer can take them. There will be several familiar names to Timbers fans visiting tomorrow, as former MLS Timbers Sal Zizzo and Aaron Long will return back to the Rose City (Zizzo played in Portland during the 2011 and 2012 MLS seasons while Long was a draft pick of the Timbers in 2014 who mostly played in Reserve matches) while another blast from the USL past also makes a triumphant return to a place that he knows very well. There has been a lot of other big news relating to the Timbers in terms of media coverage, but we'll cover that in an upcoming entry. At this point, we are here to talk about predictions and see what our crack crew thinks might happen.

Another week, another heron. Hopefully it's a good luck charm.

Rick: Timbers 2, Red Bulls 2.

The Red Bulls come here after a 3-2 U.S. Open Cup victory in extra time on Tuesday night. 
Bradley Wright-Phillips, their leading MLS scorer (14) nabbed two and played the full 120 minutes; their second leading scorer, Daniel Roger (10), is apparently out with a knee injury. Seven regular started took part in Tuesday's game so it will be interesting to see how many see substantial playing time on Friday. I'm predicting most of them. 
For the Timbers, Roy Miller is back from suspension, but Liam Ridgewell (quad), Fanendo Adi (hamstring), and Jake Gleason (hamstring), are questionable. I'd like to see Jeremy Ebobisse get another start after providing the assist for Diego Valeri's goal during his 15 minutes appearance against Toronto. The Timbers (W0 D2 L1 F6 A8) have never beaten the Red Bulls at Providence Park.The Timbers have been caught out a couple of times in recent memory by teams coming here on a cross country flight after playing midweek. Let's hope that isn't the case on Friday.

Mark is back and thinking about a win.

Mark: Timbers 1, Red Bulls 0. 

Friday night soccer at Providence Park is one of my favorites. The New York Red Bulls hobble into town fresh off 120 minutes against FC Cincinnati in the U.S. Open Cup. This was 3 days ago. You will vaguely remember this tournament as the Timbers were eliminated a long time back. So in my humble opinion, New York will be plenty happy with a draw in this match. For the Timbers that will not be enough. The Timbers need to take maximum points for this game as well as the next home game against the Rapids. Friday's match is basically a put up or shut up match that will define the rest of the season. To add to the mix, Liam Ridgewell, Fanendo Adi and Jake Gleeson are likely out to Red Bulls game. That is not a good thing. Quue up the cliche' background thunder as there are storm clouds on the horizon. And now a thunderbold of lightning, per Jamie Goldberg "On Toronto, Porter said individuals, not full team, hung heads late. Made it sound like there could be lineup changes to correct that."

So if I were a betting man, which I am not, I would bet on a draw in this match. However, the Timbers defy logic most of the time. I see the Timbers coming out and putting an emphasis on defense and relying on a smart counter attack. I am predicting a crisp 1 nil victory with Blanco netting the game winner. If this scenario holds true, I predict the earth will go dark for a few minutes before the next match. Nothing I can do, a total eclipse of the heart.

I love Portland, people. I really do. I just don't think they will win.

GB: Timbers 3, Red Bulls 3.

The grey boy hasn't called for a Timbers win in some time, and the trend continues as the forever hungry one called for another draw. Unlike some other weeks where he's said there will be no goals or a loss, GB was very confident about goals as he meowed three times for Portland. Unfortunately for this week, he also meowed three times for the visitors. He was so confident of his thoughts that he promptly went to sleep after providing his thoughts. Well, I've done that too so guess like caregiver, like cat.

Yes, I know it's soccer. I just like goals.

Tortie: Timbers 17, Red Bulls 13.

The diminutive tortoise shell cat was very chatty during her interview, perhaps a bit more than usual. While it was post brushing and after dinner, Tortie was exceptionally chatty and meowed several times about goals. I honestly am not sure I got all of the meows, but I believe we got the right number. However, there were official confirmation of more for the home side than the visitors. When she was asked about if this was a football score versus soccer score, she rolled over and played coy, then got up to drink some water. One of these days, she'll get the high score she's looking for.

Do I have to do this again? Seriously?

Spot: Timbers 0, Red Bulls 2. 

Stop the presses! Spot actually picked a score in her usual way of rubbing snot on the interviewer. While I do appreciate her weeks of scoreless draws a lot to avoid massive grossness, it wasn't the case this week as Spot seemed very disinterested in the Timbers at all. When asked about the Red Bulls, it was 2 rubs and plenty of drool and other icky stuff. Thank god for hand sanitizer and soap, but it's what we do to get predictions.

Okay, I missed one week. It's not like anybody else has been on fire recently.

Lucy: Timbers 2, Red Bulls 1.

Lucy was pretty upset to not have her streak extended to three matches, and actually hid for a while before she finally relented to providing thoughts. It was 2 emphatic meows for Portland, then a long dramatic pause and 1 for New York. Considering she got 2 right, including a very improbable win for Portland over Los Angeles and her meows were pretty loud, she's confident in her decision here, which should send the Timbers fans home happy.

Everyday is International Black Cat Day as far as I'm concerned.

Moya: Timbers will win.

After watching her brother come away with the closest result last time, Moya decided she wanted to play this week and distracted Pilot with some catnip. Unfortunately, she didn't provide an actual score for the match, but when asked if Portland will win, she responded with a "meoowalarghabaaahmeowrgh". I have no idea what that means, but she said nothing when asked about the Red Bulls, so I can only assume she means that Portland will win on this week. Maybe some time, we can get a score out of here.

My vantage point for Timbers matches. Everyone looks like ants.

Kip: Timbers 2, Red Bulls 0.

I've tried statistical analysis, I've tried gut feelings, although I haven't broken out the magic 8 Ball toy, but I honestly can't figure out this Timbers side one bit. Going from unbeatable to dumpster fire week after week, it's hard to know what group will show up, but we can surmise a few things: Portland has been good at home, they can score goals and New York does have a defense that can concede goals. While Portland hasn't beaten the Red Bulls here, they have been prone to surprising things all year and I'm calling for another one this week.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Prediction Thread Week 23 - Portland Timbers vs. Toronto FC

The Timbers schedule gets tricky over the next few weeks, starting with TFC
The Portland Timbers showed something truly amazing in their win over the Los Angeles Galaxy back on August 6 in the friendly confines of Providence Park. After meandering for months trying to figure out the strengths and weaknesses of the team, fans got to see Timbers Coach Caleb Porter's version of a first choice lineup - and everyone noticed the results. Granted, there are plenty of areas of concern - Liam Ridgewell has to leave the match with a head injury after he just returned to the lineup, Roy Miller's play at left back is still a work in progress, and Jake Gleeson makes too many unforced errors - but Portland was able to hold it together and post a feel good result.

The offense seems to have found their legs with Sebastian Blanco, Fanendo Adi, Darlington Nagbe and Diego Valeri all providing quality support for themselves and each other, but in some irony, it was the defense that provided 2 of the Timbers' 3 goals on the afternoon. Adi ended up leaving the Galaxy match with a hamstring injury to be replaced by Darren Mattocks, but the Timbers offense didn't lose that much as Mattocks made life miserable for the Galaxy backline on several runs. Portland's challenges now get a bit interesting over the next few weeks courtesy of their schedule, and so the status of Adi and Ridgewell will be really important to determine as quickly as possible.
Portland travels to Toronto FC for a match on August 12, then Portland gets a compressed 2 match homestand with the Red Bulls on August 18 followed by Colorado on August 23. Portland then makes 3 road trips over 3 different weekends - August 27 to Flounder land, September 9 to Yankee Stadium and NYC FC, and September 16 to Real Salt Lake - before getting 3 of their last 4 matches of 2017 at home before the postseason. The travel will be interesting to see how Porter rotates the side - especially next week with 3 matches in roughly 11 days - but Portland will get 13 days of break before heading to the Big Apple.

Diego Valeri is in his own world. We're just lucky to be a small part of it.
While the miles and fixture schedule provide some challenges, the Timbers also have some ability to help their postseason chances. Of the remaining 10 matches on the docket, 5 of them are against Eastern Conference sides - meaning that any points gained here are essentially bonus points. When Portland plays a Western Conference side, points for them (or points dropped) directly impact the other teams they are chasing for 1 of the 6 postseason berths. However, in playing so many dates with the East, the Timbers could have a difficult result which won't have as much affect on their standings in the West. This is a key point to remember, especially since the Timbers still play 3 of the current 6 East playoff sides (TFC, Red Bulls, NYC FC) and 1 other, Orlando City, is sitting in 7th. While D.C. United is sitting on the bottom of the East, we have seen plenty of situations in Major League Soccer where anybody can beat anyone. It's important for the Timbers to get as many points as they can especially considering the 5 matches remaining against the West are sides that Portland are competing with for the playoffs: Colorado (currently 11th), Seattle (tied with PDX in 2nd), Real Salt Lake (currently 8th), San Jose (currently 6th) and Vancouver (sitting in 7th). The Rapids have been feisty at points and Salt Lake & San Jose have proven to be tough places to get points (Portland travels to both), so there is no match for the Timbers to really overlook if they have playoff aspirations.

The challenge starts with Toronto FC, one of 4 MLS sides that still are undefeated in their home matches (8 wins and 3 draws in 11 home dates). While their offense has been rather impressive with Jozy Altidore and Sebastian Giovinco scoring goals, they are far from alone in their influence on the offense, as Toronto has 20 players on their first team roster with at least 1 goal or assist. Victor Vazquez, Justin Morrow, Jonathan Osorio and Michael Bradley have been solid in the midfield with contributions to feed their main scorers, but honestly, Toronto FC has simply been balanced all the way around. Combined with that is a defense that has been better than expected in front of goalkeepers Alex Bono or Clint Irwin, and TFC Coach Greg Vanney has plenty of available defenders to use. Conceding just 23 goals in 23 games played puts TFC on the top of the East in that category, and if you expand it to the full league, only Sporting Kansas City has been better in terms of goals scored against. Portland has certainly done well in difficult venues, having already drawn at Sporting KC and Houston (2 of the other undefeated MLS sides at home). So with what appears to be a crazy good offense and unsung defense, what do the prognositicators think about this match?

Kenny the cat reacts to the news of Liam Ridgewell's injury

Rick: Toronto FC 2, Portland Timbers 1 

I am sure the Timbers will welcome temperatures in the mid 70s when the take on Toronto FC at BMO Field on Saturday. Sebastian Giovinco (11), and Jozy Altidore (9) lead the scoring for Toronto, Diego Valeri (12), and Fanendo Adi (10) for the Timbers. After a 6-game winning streak earlier in the season, Toronto's form has faded a little but they've still collected 9 points from their last 6 games, coincidentally, the same number as the Timbers. The Timbers (W0 D1 L3 F4 A8) have never won on the road in Toronto; the task of recording their first win being made more difficult by the accumulated card suspension of Roy Miller and the questionable availability of Liam Ridgewell (quad) and Fanendo Adi (tweaked hamstring).

This game is really easy. I mean, I have predicted right 2 matches in a row


Lucy: Timbers 3, Toronto FC 3

Lucy can certainly be the one crowing in the prediction realm after correctly predicting the results for Timbers - Dynamo and Timbers - Galaxy, and her thoughts were again provided in her very confident and direct manner. After asking her about a winner, she didn't say anything. When asked about goals, she meowed 3 times for each side indicating the draw for this week. Honestly, this would be a pretty good result, but will the Timbers give Lucy the trifecta?

We need some Atomic Ant killer. I'm looking at you, Ridgy.

Mark: Timbers 2, Toronto FC 2

Picking games in 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. So this time, the odds statistically are tilted a little more in Toronto's favor: Portland 18%; Toronto FC 61%, Draw 21%. The pattern of this year has been highly unpredictable. So the pattern of the season has been highly unpredictable. That is up until last week. And now roll north of the boarder to face arguably the best side in MLS who sport many legitimate superstars in Sebastian Giovinco, Altidore and the Bald One.  Timbers have a daunting task indeed. The odds above look fair. It will take a herculean effort to get the three points. I am calling this a draw against my better judgement and that will be courtesy of an Adi brace.  And I will add this haiku.

Modern Thievery
Steal a point while out played
Toronto away

I'm sticking with my usual thought that nobody will score anything.

Spot: scoreless draw

The queen of the scoreless draws strikes again this week, as her interview was pretty typical Spot. Not one sound, not one noise, not one meow, not a peep whatsoever. And I can confirm that she was totally awake because she was purring and her eyes were open. Spot just feels that nobody is going to figure out how to put a ball into the net, and honestly, she could actually be right this time.

I'm a good boy, but I don't like the Timbers' chances in Canada this weekend.

GB: Toronto FC 2, Timbers 0

The grey boy was thinking very Canadian this weekend in his short discussion about the match in Toronto. While he was excited about goals, GB has determined that it's the home side that will get all the goals in the match. He's very much in love with Portland cause that is where he lives, but this weekend, he's voting for TFC and their offense.

I like goals. I love naps, but goals are pretty awesome.

Tortie: Timbers 11, Toronto FC 8

The littlest predictor of the kitties was her usual jovial self, yakking up a storm in terms of goals. When we got done tallying all of her meows and eeps, it was 19 goals on the night and 11 for the Timbers. You know, I'm just hoping that one of these weekends, it ends up right simply because I'm not sure what Tortie would do if there was that many goals scored in one match.

Why not? I think good things could happen north of the border

Kip: Timbers 2, Toronto FC 1

I know this pick goes against convention, but Portland has managed to play well against 2 teams with undefeated records at home, so I think they break through and get the result. Portland's offense has been very good, but I believe the defense is actually due for a good result as well. Granted, this is a bit of the belief beyond reason here, but honestly, why not?

Purple is my color. Just call me purple Pilot.

Pilot: Timbers 0, Toronto FC 3

Moya decided she didn't want to play predictions this week, so her brother decided to step in for her. Pilot loves the color purple and has the nickname of pelota, but he's going very anti Portland with his selection. Then again, Moya ran away when asked about Portland's chances in Houston, so maybe he's just following her example.