Saturday, September 30, 2017

Prediction Thread Week 31 - Portland Timbers vs. San Jose Earthquakes

It's always a party in Portland. How does anyone get any sleep?
I love staycation week, and it's become a tradition at our house. Many times when I get a week off from my IT job, it involves traveling to far off places and time zones. A few years ago, my wife and I started a tradition of doing a staycation - where we spend the week in town going to places that we might not otherwise because of busy schedules. Having this coincide with my recent transition to a full time gluten free diet, we spent the week testing out various food options - many new to me, but since Jennifer has been a celiac for many years, she's been eating gluten free since there wasn't quite the options there are now. The break has given me a chance to recharge the batteries and gain some appreciation for the good things and events happening in my life. As much as I love writing, I've actually enjoyed the time digging up tree roots and walking around our neighborhood. A lot. Seriously, my pedometer has been on overdrive despite the fact the rains are hitting this weekend.

The Portland Timbers match versus Orlando City fell very early in the weekly events, and honestly, the match was a great relief for me for a few reasons. The team played really well and put on one of their most dominant efforts of the 2017 season, but I was also able to avoid many of my food trappings at the park. I can look back now and see the amount of soda and cookies I powered through while covering the team, and upon careful reflection and calorie tracking, I can realize that I really was making some bad choices with my diet. Realizing now that I have to eliminate all gluten means being forever diligent and not making any mistakes when it comes to eating. I will be interested in seeing how this affects me, but considering that my psoriasis had been getting worse each passing week, it was time to do something. Maybe it's part of finally starting to grow up now that I'm 50 years old, but that doesn't mean getting rid of the fun or goofiness either. The cats were actually pretty excited about this week's predictions, and I still plan on writing more about recent changes in the Timbers' attack that have impressed me as we move towards the playoffs, but for now, it's time to turn the attention to this week's opponent, the San Jose Earthquakes.

Hopefully, we see a lot of David Guzman versus the Earthquakes
As of this point, San Jose is on the outside looking into the postseason sitting in eight place out of 11 in the West. The history between the Timbers and Earthquakes over the years has been slightly beneficial to the Timbers with 8 wins over 18 matches, but there have been 7 draws and a few very dramatic wins by San Jose over the years. One of those in particular was earlier this year when the Earthquakes dismantled the Timbers on May 6, 2017 by a 3 to 0 scoreline that wasn't even as close as the final tally indicated. Portland failed to get much right on this night, and while some of the issues centered around injuries and uneven play, San Jose took advantage of several Timber miscues and were never threatened. Portland had the advantage in shots and tactical play, but 21 fouls and other issues were enough to doom the Timbers on this night, but the Timbers enacted some revenge when the teams met again on June 2 at Providence Park. A Diego Valeri brace was the deciding factor, but Valeri's second goal was scored late in stoppage as Fanendo Adi had a rather difficult night in terms of misses and rushed shots.

Since then, Portland has found their footing behind Valeri's torrid scoring numbers - the Maestro is now sitting at 20 goals on the year with a goal in 9 consecutive matches so far - but he's been far from alone in jumpstarting the Timbers attack. Sebastian Blanco, Darren Mattocks, Darlington Nagbe and Jeremy Ebobisse have all made solid contributions to the offense, while David Guzman, Lawrence Olum, Diego Chara, Dairon Asprilla and Jack Barmby have been effective in the middle supporting the offense and defense as needed. With Liam Ridgewell finally back from injury, the defense has also been improved by only conceding 4 goals in their last 6 matches since Toronto FC smacked the Timbers dramatically back in mid-August. An injury to Jake Gleeson has also put Jeff Attinella into goal for the last several matches, and he's responded with solid efforts in goal despite a few hiccups against his old side, Real Salt Lake. Portland will need all of its weapons at full capacity in their last 3 matches, but Portland will have a break after the Earthquakes match as they don't play again until October 15 in hosting D.C. United. The Timbers will host Vancouver on October 22nd, and this match will likely have plenty of stakes involved for the postseason and the Cascadia Cup status. With all this going on, what do our expert predictors think about this week versus the Earthquakes?

Am I supposed to be looking at the camera?

Lucy: Timbers 3, Earthquakes 5

Lucy isn't normally big upon lots of goals in Timbers matches like some of the other cats about, but she was very animated about this match for some reason. Maybe it was the extra ham she got yesterday or extra time with the brush, but she was very chatty during this week's interview. Unfortunately, she picked more goals for the Earthquakes than she did for the Timbers for this week.

Mark and his match day compatriots.
Mark: Timbers 1, Earthquakes 1

Ok so this week we have our fast rising Timbers against a desperate San Jose Earthquake team. The Timbers are actually listed as a slight road favorite and this is a rarity in a parity driven league, The Quakes will be playing on short rest and their result on Wednesday will have much to say about their mindset for Saturday’s match. Well it seems like the Earthquakes wasted little energy while laying an egg at home. San Jose has always been a scattershot opponent for The Timbers and what you immediately expect never ever happens so I step into this prediction with trepidation. San Jose should be a desperate, angry team and they will look to come out with energy and hopefully an early goal. The first 15 minutes to this match will be key. I expect the Timbers to come out with the strategy of holding the Quakes at bay for the opening 15 minutes. I also expect Ridgewell and Larrys to up to the task. This will not be a pretty game and it usually turns ugly when these teams collide. I do not expect The Maestro to continue his string from the run of play. A penalty kick is quite possible however.

Somebody asked me how many points we would amass in the last 4 games and my answer was 7. We already have three. I am going to raise that 7 to 10. I still do not see us winning this match. I am predicting a one-one draw with Blanco slotting one home. I expect the Quakes to score out side the run of play. I will go out on a limb and call PK goal by Wondo. It is what we call a regression back toward the mean. I know that is mean. Sporting KC will beat Vancouver, and Seattle will draw with Philly I picked Vancouver to win the cup at the beginning of the year. However these days I find my self, checking the price of flights to Atlanta in early December.

"Hey! Why are you watching this with your eyes closed?"

Rick: Timbers 2, Earthquakes 2

The Earthquakes (Home record, W6 D5 L2 F23 A18) need to win this match to keep their slender playoff hopes alive. A win for the Timbers (W4 D4 L8 F21 A30 on the road) would strengthen their chances of a top-2 finish and put them in a good position to finish top of the Western Conference with their remaining games being at home to DC United, bottom of the Eastern Conference and Vancouver.

Honors are even so far this season, a 0-3 loss on the Timbers last visit and a 2-0 win at home. Diego Valeri to make it 10 on the trot.

My eyes have been bugging me due to allergies, but I'm feeling better now

Pilot: Timbers 2, Earthquakes 4

It's been a tough week for our tuxedo boy as he's been struggling with an eye infection or allergies. We have had to put eye drops in daily with various cleaning exercises, so there are points of the day where Pilot hides in the house. He's doing a lot better now but he wasn't thinking very good for the Timbers in terms of goals down in San Jose. His emphasis on the 2 goals for Portland was fairly emphatic, but he felt the home side was going to get more goals on the evening.

Hey, I was sleeping on the purple towel. Why did you wake me?

Moya: Timbers 3, Earthquakes 0

The black cat of the collective has been on a big streak picking against the Timbers, so it was interesting to hear her pick for the lads in green this week. Maybe it was going against her brother, Pilot, as she tends to do the opposite of whatever he does. But she was very emphatic with her meows in support of the Timbers, so I am reporting it like I heard it from her. Hopefully for the Timbers Army she's right.

I like the Portland Timbers panda toy. Not sure I like the Timbers this week

Spot: Timbers 0, Earthquakes 3

The queen of the scoreless draw once again is picking for goals this weekend, but she isn't picking any for the visiting side. Spot took a minute before calling for the number of goals for San Jose, but once she got started, it was three straight meows for goals. Sitting silent for the Timbers again this week, Spot was very clear that the Timbers would be sent home without any points this weekend.

I am happy to be picking for the good guys this week.

GB: Timbers 2, Earthquakes 0

GB has earned another nickname this week in Grey Bro, and it's been a rather chatty week for him. During certain instances when we tell him he can't do something, he has learned to imitate the word No. He didn't use that when making his Timbers pick though, as he gave two hearty Meow-ows for Portland yet went silent for the Earthquakes. I know this is a very confident selection since it was done way before meal time, as we've learned not to ask GB about anything around dinner time.

All I want is goals. And dinner.

Tortie: Timbers 19, Earthquakes 11

Tortie is always a great interview about the Portland Timbers, and again the tortoise shelled ninja is predicting a ton of goals on the evening. I mean, no defenses at all as we watch the opposing goalkeepers get shelled. Literally. It would be awesome to see this happen and the Timbers get a full 3 points, but I think both sides have a good enough defense that we shouldn't see this happen. Until it does.

Kip: Timbers 2, Earthquakes 1

We always win 2 to 1, right? It seemed like this happened a lot back in the day, and I think it's another score like that for Portland. The defense still has some moments of struggle, but behind Diego Valeri and the offense, I think they will have just enough to secure the full 3 points and solidify their hold on second place while keeping pressure on the Whitecaps. At this time, points are at a premium and I think the Timbers get the full load.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Timbers dismantle Orlando City in compelling fashion in 3 to 0 rout

Derrick Tellez was part of the game day festivities in the player procession
I've been a sports fan long enough to know that every season has ups and downs, and Major League Soccer is no different. Starting their season in January with matches beginning in February leading up to a March to October regular season and nearly 6 weeks of playoffs before a champion is crowned, each team has to deal with the inevitable highs and lows of a campaign. Between injuries, fitness issues, international competitions, friendlies and a league schedule, MLS seasons have become more of a journey or quest than anything else. We've witnessed many of these twists and turns through the hot March run through a May swoon, a short June rebound to July struggles and a late August rebirth as MLS teams point to September to know this is the time to find their best form and solidify post season plans. Portland completed a reasonably successful 3 match road trip with a win (NYCFC) and draw (Seattle) trying to solidify their claim to the top 2 spots in the West in facing Orlando City, a team that has seen more downs than ups in 2017. From start to finish, the Timbers put on a virtual offensive clinic behind their hottest player, Diego Valeri, who has again set several historical marks in a 3 to 0 victory that wasn't as close as the score indicated. However, this was far from a one man show as the Timbers collectively rallied around Valeri and put forth their most complete and dominant result since March.

The list of collective marks set in this match could fill any listing - Valeri's 2 goals not only continued his MLS record consecutive streak of matches with a goal at 9, but Valeri now sits at 20 goals scored in 2017, which make him the current leader in goals scored in MLS for 2017 and the MLS midfielder who has scored the most goals in a single season. Valeri's 20 goals are also the most scored by any Timbers player in any era as well, and with 3 matches left in 2017, he could obviously add more to his account. Portland also currently leads the Western Conference in goals scored with 53, putting them in 3rd overall in MLS tied with Chicago and trailing only Atlanta United and Toronto FC, and their 18 consecutive matches with a goal scored is the current longest streak in the league. While the litany of offensive records is impressive, the shutout also represents the team's sixth clean sheet in 2017 as the defense starts to find its rhythm in front of goalkeeper Jeff Attinella, who has been one of the players that has contributed to the current good form. Portland now sits in second place 1 point behind Vancouver with just 3 matches left to play: a road date with San Jose on September 30 and home dates with D.C. United (October 15) and the Whitecaps (October 22). With striker Fanendo Adi now back full time in training and defender Marco Farfan also nearing a return, Portland is now nearing full health at a time when they need all available player options at peak form and solidify their hold on one of the top 2 spots. The only downside to the remaining schedule is that most of the teams around the Timbers have 4 or 5 matches left to play, but their fixture dates are compressed in comparison against other teams with plenty to play for as well.
Darren Mattocks and Jonathan Spector met up a lot in this match.
Porter had to make some adjustments in his starting eleven from the loss versus Real Salt Lake as David Guzman continues to deal with a tight quadriceps muscle. With Attinella making his sixth consecutive start in goal even with Jake Gleeson healthy, Porter kept his defensive line the same: Zarek Valentin and Roy Miller at the right and left backs with Larrys Mabiala and Liam Ridgewell at center backs. Darlington Nagbe played his second consecutive start at central midfielder, but instead of replacing Diego Chara like he did versus RSL, he was paired with Chara to replace Guzman. With Nagbe playing centrally, Porter played the same foursome up top with Dairon Asprilla and Sebastian Blanco joining Valeri as the attacking midfielders and Darren Mattocks as the lone striker. Adi wasn't included in the available substitutes, as Porter decided to use goalkeeper Gleeson, defenders Vytas and Alvas Powell, midfielders Ben Zemanski, Lawrence Olum and Jack Barmby and forward Jeremy Ebobisse as his reinforcements. Portland's offense has been among the most prolific in MLS for 2017, but Porter has always felt the defense would be much improved once Mabiala was better acclimated and Ridgewell was back and healthy.

For Orlando City, it's been a very up and down 2017 as OCSC Coach Jason Kreis has tried to figure out a consistent attack plan all season. Already possessing solid attackers in Kaka, Cyle Larin, Carlos Rivas and Giles Barnes, OCSC shocked most MLS experts when they traded for another striker with Sporting Kansas City in getting Dom Dwyer while also acquiring playmaking midfielder Dillon Powers to supplement the midfield. With former MLS Timber Will Johnson on suspension until further notice, Orlando City has been capable of being dangerous at points offensively. Defensively, the team has conceded 47 goals as they've yet to find a consistent backline outside of Jonathan Spector and Scott Sutter. That has left former MLS Timbers goalkeeper Joe Bendik facing a plethora of shots, but considering Bendik was on the 2012 Timbers that had several troubles along the backline, it's unfortunately familiar. Many insiders aren't sure if Kreis will remain in charge or how long Kaka will remain in Orlando City, but the fact is with the parts they had and they were still eligible for the postseason going in, the Timbers couldn't look past OCSC at all.

Darlington Hagbe filled in for David Guzman. Very well.
The match itself started with both teams trading early back and forth runs with Mattocks, Barnes and OCSC midfielder Yoshimar Yotun all having chances on goal, but it was the 13th minute when the Timbers took the lead. Mattocks got loose on the left side of the pitch via a through ball and Spector slid in behind him to drop him inside the box. Center Official Baldomero Toledo initially waived off the play and let Bendik grab it for a goal kick, but once play was stopped as Mattocks was writing about in pain, Toledo made the Video Assistant Replay signal to indicate he'd been contacted about the play. Upon review, Toledo pointed to the spot and cautioned Spector for the foul, and Valeri calmly slammed the ball into the left portion of the net via penalty shot to put the Timbers up 1 to 0. In the 28th minute, Chara sprung Asprilla on the right side down the flanks and the OCSC defense couldn't recover in time to stop the run. Dairon was able to cross it into the box with Bendik trying to find his line, but Mattocks beat everyone to the ball to poke it home for a 2 to 0 lead. Valeri was able to add his second goal in the 60th minute after Mattocks shot a Blanco back heel pass right to Bendik, but the OCSC keeper was unable to hold onto the ball and it fell to Valeri on the right side. Diego calmly slid it into goal for his 20th, and the Timbers were never seriously threatened.

The scoreline could have been worse if not for Bendik's work in making several outstanding saves in traffic. Blanco, Mattocks and Valeri all had other chances that could have added to their tallies, too, but Bendik was able to keep the scoreline relatively close in some respects. OCSC was not able to muster much threats despite getting chances for Larin and Dwyer at points, but Attinella was able to hold the line well - making a stone cold leg save on Dwyer in the 86th minute when the game was out of reach. Much of the defensive credit should also go to Ridgewell, Mabiala, Valentin and Miller, who deflected several shots and passes to keep the clean sheet, while Nagbe, Blanco, Asprilla and Chara came back to provide tons of support when needed. Asprilla, Blanco, Chara and Nagbe also created several turnovers by directly stealing the ball or intercepting passes at key points, but what was more impressive was the accuracy and frequency of Timbers passes. For several long sequences, Portland was able to pass from right to left, forward and backwards for several passes and then wait for a break to attack. It was artistry in motion at points, and this effort couldn't have come at a better time. Portland was aided somewhat when Spector was ejected in the 47th minute for his second caution while Orlando City lost another player, OCSC substitute defender Victor Giro, to a straight red card in the 84th minute for a violent foul on Miller.

Diego Valeri has lots of records now, but I think he wants another cup.
Perhaps the biggest energy of the night belonged to Derrick Tellez, the youngster who was signed by the Timbers to a one game contract as part of his Make-A-Wish program. Tellez trained with the team on September 22nd and was part of their team photo, but Tellez was also a big part of the game festivities. From participating in warmups and the team speech before the match to walking with the players and observing the coin flip, the youngster was included in every game day activity with the team. He even got his own thin log slice at the end of the match presented by Timber Joey, and he held up his slab along with Attinella, Valeri and Mattocks. Derrick was even featured in the press notes and game program to complete the day, while the Timbers Army made several banners in his honor to show love and support to the Timbers' newest signee. While the win was certainly impressive, it was also great to see the team and the fans rally around Derrick and his family to show them a one of a kind game day experience. This was such a big match experience that I wanted to write more about this later this week to talk more about the team and this impressive effort.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Prediction Thread Week 30 - Portland Timbers v Orlando City SC

It's been a while since the Portland Timbers have been at Providence Park - officially 28 days since defeating the Colorado Rapids - but they haven't exactly been lying about either. While the Portland Thorns have secured a playoff berth in NWSL play and Timbers 2 have found some recent good form, the Timbers followed up their successful 2 match home stand with 4 points in 3 road matches - drawing in Seattle, winning in New York while losing to Real Salt Lake. The situation now is that with 4 matches left in the 2017 regular season, Portland sits tied in 2nd place in the West with Sporting Kansas City and the Flounders. The Timbers currently have the tiebreaker with overall wins at 12 with hosting Orlando, D.C. United and Vancouver while traveling to San Jose left on the schedule. Of the teams Portland faces, Orlando City and D.C. United are out of the playoffs in the East - Orlando is in ninth 7 points behind the line while D.C. United is in last place in the East. The Whitecaps are currently on top of the West by a point while San Jose is in fifth place one point ahead of a trio in sixth at 38 points - RSL, Houston and FC Dallas.

Portland has been a very good home side with 8 wins and 4 draws in 14 matches played, so having 3 of the last matches in the Rose City does give some confidence to them. While Orlando City is on the outside of the postseason hunt, they do have the satisfaction of having never lost to the Timbers in their only 2 meetings in MLS history - OCSC defeated the Timbers 2 to 0 back in April 2015 at Providence Park while they dismantled the Timbers 4 to 1 back in April 2016. Cyle Larin continues to be the focal point of the offense while Kaka, Carlos Rivas and Giles Barnes man the midfield, but many MLS observers were shocked by the midseason move that brought Dom Dwyer to OCSC from Sporting KC during the summer transfer window. Dwyer has started the last 4 matches for Orlando City, so their offensive potential could be seen as dangerous. Much like the Timbers, however, the OCSC defense led by Jonathan Spector, Scott Sutter and former MLS Timbers goalkeeper Joe Bendik has been erratic. Bendik's numbers haven't been terrible, but much like his counterparts Jake Gleeson and Jeff Attinella, Bendik has seen a ton of shots come his way. While their postseason dreams would likely require them to win out and get some help for qualification, Orlando City would love nothing more than to dent the Timbers' postseason aspirations.

The Timbers have been buoyed by the news that Fanendo Adi is finally healthy and could see minutes in this match, but they've watched their other playmaker, Diego Valeri, enter the 2017 MLS Most Valuable Player discussion. Valeri now sits just 1 goal behind NYCFC forward David Villa in goals scored with 18 goals and is now the sole owner of another record as he has scored a goal in 8 consecutive matches for Portland. We have witnessed the Maestro elevate his play to unseen levels in his MLS career, and the Timbers are benefiting from pulling together at just the right time. It hasn't been solely due to him, however, as the defense has rebounded from the debacle in Toronto to only concede 4 goals in their last 5 matches as Attinella has settled into the starting goalkeeper's job. Whether we see Gleeson return at some point, Portland is ecstatic to have Diego Chara back from his suspension for accumulation to join David Guzman in the midfield. Liam Ridgewell also returned from injury to start versus RSL, meaning the Timbers have been as healthy now as they have been all year. Only Marco Farfan's lingering ankle and Gbenga Arokoyo's season ending injury remain as concerns, but with the recent play of Zarek Valentin, Vytas and Roy Miller, the Timbers have been more consistent defensively recently and it couldn't come at a better time.

With a nation wide audience joining via Fox Sports 1 and the first match at home in a while for them, what do our crack staff of soccer experts think will happen this Sunday? Let's find out, shall we?

It's pure chaos here, I think. Or it could be a kitty staredown.

Mark: Timbers 3, Orlando City 0

The soccer gods at 538 have the Timbers at 60 percent probability to win this game, 20 percent for a tie and 20 percent chance that Orlando parades into Providence Park and marches away with 3 points.

Well, I am going to put away the in-depth analysis, their defense is porous, but there are too many crappy things happening. For this reason, it is time for a feel good night in Portland. The Timbers may roll in like the eye of a hurricane and bunker down and wreak havoc.

They are too nice to do that. I feel a taking care of business 3 - nil win. Asprilla with a header, and Nagbe with something spectacular. Adi comes in late and trickles one in while Blanco will get a yellow.

Oh, hi, everybody! I'm Lucy and I like to scream meow!

Lucy: Portland 2, Orlando City 2

Lucy is very demonstrative when she predicts soccer matches, but honestly, she's loud when doing anything. The screams about goals came ringing from the cat room as Lucy pondered the thoughts for the weekend, but she gave two loud meows for both sides. This indicates that both sides will get something for their troubles, but the home side won't be too happy about the result. Lucy is really sorry about this predictions, but she saw the writing in the kibble.

Kenny predicts a ninth consecutive MLS goal for Diego Valeri

Rick: Timbers 2, Orlando City 1

On current form the Timbers should just be strong enough to get their first win against Orlando. The lost 2-0 at home in 2015 and got thumped 4-1 on the road last year. 

The good news is that Fanendo Adi is likely to see minutes off the bench after a 3 month layoff through injury. The bad news is Sebastian Blanco is on yellow card away from a one game suspension. 

My name is Pilot. I like boxes and cat treats.

Pilot: Timbers 3, Orlando City 1

Pilot hasn't been much of himself as he was battling an eye infection followed up by dry eye, but he was very willing to provide his thoughts on this match. For Portland, it was 3 very loud mews while Orlando only received one before he ran off to use the litter box. Perhaps he knows something.

I can fit in most overhead storage bins when traveling.

GB: Timbers 0, Orlando City 3

GB is still very much a Portland kitty as he's lived here his whole life, but when asked about goals for the Timbers this weekend, he clammed up and said nothing. He did mew 3 times for the visitors, however, so he's thinking the purple guys are going to win. Once he gave his thoughts, he proceeded to take a nap, so apparently he's confident in this prediction.

I always vote for the guys in green because they score goals.

Tortie: Timbers 15, Orlando City 9

The interview for Tortie's thoughts turned out to be another crazy torrent of meows and eeps. I lost track of her noises when asking about the Timbers because she was so excited about there being lots of goals, but she definitely eeped more for the home team in terms of goals. One of these days, the crazy predictions just might turn out right.

There will be a goal, but it won't for the home team

Spot: Timbers 0, Orlando City 1

Okay, she didn't pick a scoreless draw this week, but much like GB, Spot didn't think much about the Timbers or their chances against Orlando City. She went silent when asked about the Timbers and Diego Valeri continuing his streak of goal scoring, but when asked about the opponent, she uttered one single mew. I was shocked that she actually picked a score for once, so let's run with it.

It's getting close to when black cats rule and all others drool

Moya: Timbers 7, Orlando City 4

Considering that both offenses can score goals and the defenses can be rather random, Moya's thoughts about this match don't actually sound that off. She didn't give any indication about who will score for Portland, but just meowed out 7 times for the home side. She also meowed some for the visitors, but since she did more for the Timbers, we'll give her some slack for this one.

MMMMMM. Heavily caffeinated beverage. Drool.

Kip: Timbers 3, Orlando City 2

As good as the Timbers have been over the last few weeks - the result in Salt Lake as a small exception - they have yet to beat Orlando City. In both meetings, the Timbers have been beaten rather handily. With Orlando City having several offensive weapons available, it's a surprise that they've struggled so bad until you look at their defense. Since neither team's defense will light the world on fire, I'm picking the Timbers simply because they've been in better recent form. And yes, Diego continues the streak for another week.