Saturday, March 16, 2019

Week 3 Predictions - Portland Timbers vs. FC Cincinnati

Fanendo Adi isn't the only former Timbers we'll see this week playing FCC
I knew the 2019 season would start off strangely, but in two matches, we already have buckets of oddities with the Portland Timbers as they search for some type of identity as a club. After their MLS Cup appearance in 2019, it's been triumphed that the team brought back the majority of the core of that group, and it would be a matter of time to tweak this group into a competitive side. In two matches, we've seen the offense be slightly predictable - unless Diego Valeri or Sebastian Blanco are creating something, the offense has been rather non-descript - but the defense has alternated between competent and dumpster fire. Jeff Attinella has stepped in to make several huge saves, and has generally been good, but he's not been covered well collectively by his backline. Perhaps the worst part of this situation is that the side of the defense that was expected to be stronger - the left duo of Jorge Villafana and Julio Cascante - has been the troubled area.

Villafana was the most consistent and viably strong defenders during the 2015 MLS Cup run for Portland, holding down his side and pouring forward with ease, but he's been very inconsistent so far and struggling to defend. Cascante, who showed signs of brilliance last year until some uneven play got him sent to the bench, has defaulted to some poor marking that has cost Portland dearly. The thing was, Zarek Valentin was supposed to be the weak link in this group, and while Zarek has shown signs of slowing down at points trying to keep up with speedy wingers, he's been the most consistent player on the defense. Even Larrys Mabiala, who was the best centerback in MLS last year defensively while adding goals off set pieces, hasn't been himself. It's been tough at points to watch, especially when LAFC carved up this group in the second half with relative ease. LAFC is very good at passing and movement, but Portland made them look elite in the second half, and the Timbers were somewhat lucky to have only conceded 4 goals. Now the team looks to travel again to Cincinnati to play the newest member of MLS, FC Cincinnati, in their official home opener - Cincinnati currently plays at the University of Cincinnati while their stadium is under construction with a tentative open date of March 2021. Diego Chara was ejected from the LAFC match due to a second yellow card in the 72nd minute when he flicked LAFC forward Diego Rossi in the ear, and we all know about the Timbers' record when Chara isn't present. Terrible isn't the right descriptor here, but suffice to say, this team has struggled to find cover when number 21 isn't in the lineup.

I wonder what he will do if he gets a goal against us.
FC Cincinnati and their fans have been waiting for this moment to show off their city and fan support, and now they have a Timbers team that is visiting without one of their key weapons. Portland also has some familiarity with this group, considering 4 former Timbers are on their roster. Alvas Powell was a key cog in the Timbers defense for six seasons before his trade eastward, while Fanendo Adi was one of the Timbers' most consistent scorers during his five seasons in the Rose City where he and Valeri were the focal points of the offense. Darren Mattocks spent 2 seasons in Portland, where he became a consistent contributor off the bench before he was traded to D.C. United, and DCU left Mattocks exposed in the 2019 MLS Expansion Draft where FCC decided to take him. Eric Alexander was likely the best part of the 2012 Portland Timbers side, as that season was a mitigated disaster between player upheaval, the firing of a coach, and struggles at every position. Alexander wasn't retained by the Timbers, but he's been an under the radar contributor in every stop since. So with all this going on and the story lines here, what might we see when these teams play, especially knowing the Timbers are still looking for their true form after snowmageddon in Colorado in week 1 followed by the LAFC stampeded in week 2.

I don't have all those answers, because if I did, I'd be the coach of this team and I'm not. I know the team is trying to get itself sorted, and that's difficult when there isn't a true home base and foundation to center around. While the team is training here and spending time in familiar confines during the week, they end each week with a big trip to a destination to do it all over again, and I'm sure that is taxing. What I also know in the stressful times is to try and focus on the important things; I recall a match in 2005 at home in July when the Rochester Rhinos were fully raging and shelled the Timbers with 3 goals in the first half, followed up by 2 more right at the start of the second. The Timbers Army defiantly sang, "Always Look On the Bright Side of Life" followed by a cacophony of noise despite the score line. It was tough and emotional, but I credit the capos for keeping the group resilient in the face of defeat; even the team commented about the helpful energy after the result. It's tough to go into situations knowing the cards are stacked against you, but it's grinding efforts and securing success that builds the foundation to future achievement. I always though the phase whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger, but in many ways, it's somewhat appropriate here. And in my way to provide support and some laughs, we have cats and soccer predictions. With the result last week, GB, Pilot and Kip get points for correctly predicting a loss, but nobody gets the 3 points for an exact pick.

Fortune is always hiding. Just like Tortie.

Tortie: Timbers 12, FC Cincinnati 10; 0 points.

The diminutive one is very distraught that her favorite player, Diego Chara, isn't playing this weekend. She, however would be tremendously happy if the Timbers offense could put up a ton of goals to help offset his loss. Plenty of eeps from her mean goals, and much like last week, she meowed more for the Timbers than the home side. Let's hope she's right this week, because I'd like to see a shootout at some point.

GB is not bothered at all about things. He's just chilling out.

GB: Timbers 3, FC Cincinnati 3; 1 point.

GB was happy to secure his first point of 2019 last week, so he comes into this week thinking that both teams will come away with a point. Instead of meows, he did tail thumps to signify goals for week 3, and each side got 3. I always knew this cat was a big fan of Adi, and now we have proof of it. 

What? The other cats have points now, too? Inconceivable!!

Spot: Timbers 0, FC Cincinnati 0; 1 point.

After weeks of her picking scores, Spot reverts back to her usual stance of not picking anything. Of the pack of cats, she's by far the most typical cat in not following any directions and doing her own thing - and sure enough, this week, she's convinced that nobody will do anything. Maybe we would all be better off with a nap in the sun, but who would watch 90 minutes of that with commentary?

I pick a winner and an own goal and I still get the cone? BOOOO!

Pilot: Timbers 4, FC Cincinnati 2; 1 point.

I'm still not sure how Pilot knew there would be an own goal in the match with LAFC, but the tuxedo cat called his shot with plenty of conviction. This week, he's convinced the offense for Portland will overcome the defensive struggles, but each side will get to celebrate goals. It's just the Portland side that will do more of it than the other ones. 

When I'm on my blanket, all is right with the world.

Lucy: Timbers 3, FC Cincinnati 0; 0 points.

Lucy hasn't been close in predictions so far in 2019, but she's making the choice that Portland will be the top team this weekend in all aspect. The offense will get 2 goals from Valeri, a goal from Ebobisse and Jeff will get the shutout. With a face like that, how could anyone tell her she might be wrong? I'd love it if this ends up being true. 

No green beer for Kip, only coffee or tea. 

Kip: Timbers 3, FC Cincinnati 2; 1 point.

I hated picking against the Timbers last week, but I couldn't see a conceivable way for them to pick up a point despite really playing well in the first half versus LAFC. Without Chara, I know the team's record is bad, but this FC Cincinnati team is beatable, even if it's the home opener. I know the emotions will be high for the home side, but I think the Timbers will right the ship and get their first win of 2019 on St. Patrick's Day. 

Saturday, March 9, 2019

Week 2 Predictions - Portland Timbers vs. Los Angeles Football Club

After last week's conditions, anything would be better for Portland
Welcome to week 2 of the 2019 Major League soccer season. The Portland Timbers started off their year by playing in some of the worst conditions I've ever seen for a soccer match when they played the Colorado Rapids. The match started in bitter temperatures at just 19 degrees with first kick, and wind chills dropping things into single digits. When the snow started falling throughout the rest of the match, it turned everything on its ear. Now, dealing with the conditions was an afterthought to staying on your feet and not getting injured as the turf conditions changed with every falling snowflake. It was certainly entertaining to watch the match on television in a warm house with several dozing kitties, but I can't even imagine what it was like being there. 

Portland is very fortunate to have walked out of the park with a point by virtue of a 3 all draw. There was plenty of folks that said we didn't learn a whole lot from this match, and just to be happy with the point and walk away considering the conditions. However, I think we did pick up a few things from this one. Firstly, Andy Polo and Sebastian Blanco were everywhere - and their speed will give clubs problems. Colorado had no clue how to mark either player, and it was the conditions that really impacted what they weer able to do. Secondly, Diego Valeri and Blanco will be the focal points of the offense per usual - and considering Diego leaves Colorado with a goal and an assist and Blanco gets a goal, it's business as usual. Lastly, this defense needs a leader and badly. If Portland hadn't made three very glaring defensive errors and let up in each instance, they could have walked out of Colorado with all the points. Granted, Kei Kamara has made a career of scoring goals moving just off a defender's shoulder, so I can't get too upset when he slipped easily by Julio Cascante. However, there is no excuse for not marking Benny Feilhaber off the second half kick as he dribbled past most of the Timbers defense and scored seconds into the half. Nor is there an excuse to leave an unmarked forward at the far post with seconds left in the match, as the Timbers did when they left Andre Shinyashiki without anyone nearby off a Jeff Attinella rebound from a shot off the flank. The Rapids rookie had an easy tap in and the Timbers learned that mistakes at any time in any condition can and often do come back to haunt you. 

Our cats were not doing this for Timbers - Rapids as they dozed away the day.
Midweek, we got a look at the official Timbers roster via the MLS Media resources, and we could see what the group looked like under the actual MLS roster rules. Portland indeed has 28 players on the roster, but they have 4 spots officially open to sign or add players due to Aljaz Ivacic being on the injured list after leg surgery and Renzo Zambrano being listed as loaned out to an unknown destination. With those 2 players also not on the official roster, the Timbers avoid roster issues with international spots having 10 international players with only 8 available spots. There are rumors that some players are close to getting their green cards - Claude Dielna for one - which would adjust this count, but for now, I am not expecting any other roster news or notes as the winter transfer window is now closed. If there are any adjustments forthcoming, it would likely be a call up from Timbers 2 or a domestic player that isn't currently under contract with any other side.

Goalkeepers (4) Jeff Attinella, Kendall McIntosh, Aljaz Ivacic, Steve Clark
Fullbacks (4): Marco Farfan, Jorge Villafana, Zarek Valentin, Jorge Moreira
Center Backs (5): Julio Cascante, Claude Dielna, Modou Jadama, Larrys Mabiala, Bill Tuiloma
Defensive Mids (5): Diego Chara, David Guzman, Cristhian Paredes, Eryk Williamson, Renzo Zambrano
Attacking Mids (6): Dairon Asprilla, Sebastian Blanco, Marvin Loria, Andy Polo, Diego Valeri, Andres Flores
Forwards (4): Jeremy Ebobisse, Foster Langsdorf, Lucas Melano. Tomas Conechny

2019 MLS Draft Picks: F Ryan Sierakowski, D Lennart Hein, D Francesco Moore, M David Zalzman

Senior Roster (1 through 20): Asprilla, Attinella, Blanco, Cascante, Chara, Conechny, Dielna, Ebobisse, Guzman, Ivacic, Mabiala, McIntosh, Melano, Moreira, Paredes, Polo, Tuiloma, Valentin, Valeri, Villafana.
Supplemental Roster (21 through 24): Clark, Flores, Jadama, Zambrano
Reserve Roster (25 through 30): Farfan, Langsdorf, Loria, Williamson

Designated Players: Blanco, Melano, Valeri
Home Grown Players: Farfan, Langsdorf, Williamson
International Players: Cascante, Conechny, Ivacic, Loria, Mabiala, Moreira, Paredes, Polo, Tuiloma
On Loan: Zambrano (TBD)
Injured List: Ivacic

Timbers 2: GK: Leeker; D: De Vera, Diz Pe, Hanson, Ornstil, Smith; M: Anguiano, Kobayashi, Ojeda, Wharton; F: Hurtado, Sierakowski

MLS Roster Notes:

  • A club's active roster is comprised of up to 30 players. All 30 players are eligible for selection to each 18-player game-day squad during the 2019 MLS regular season and playoffs.
  • SENIOR: (ON-BUDGET) Up to 20 players, occupying roster spots 1-20, count against the club's 2019 Salary Budget , and are referred to collectively as the club's Senior Roster.
  • SUPPLEMENTAL & RESERVE: (OFF-BUDGET) The salaries of players on the Supplemental Roster (spots 21-24) and Reserve Roster (spots 25-30) do not count toward a club's Salary Budget.
  • INTL: In 2019, a total of 192 international roster spots are divided among the 24 clubs. These spots are tradable, in full season increments, so some clubs may have more than eight and some clubs may have fewer than eight.
  • DP & Young DP: The Designated Player Rule allows clubs to acquire up to three players whose total compensation and acquisition costs exceed the Maximum Salary Budget Charge, with the club bearing financial responsibility for the amount of compensation above each player's Salary Budget Charge. A Designated Player 23 years old (or younger than the age of 23) during the League Year is a Young Designated Player Budget Charge. Designated Player spots are not tradable.
  • HG: A club may sign a player to a contract without subjecting him to the MLS SuperDraft if the player has been a member of a club's youth academy for at least one year and has met the necessary training and retention requirements. Players joining MLS through this mechanism are known as Homegrown Players.
  • GA & GA-C: Generation adidas (GA) and Generation adidas Canada (GA-C) are joint programs between MLS and adidas that are dedicated to developing exceptional domestic talent in a professional environment. Until a player graduates from the program, Generation adidas players are on a club's Supplemental Roster and are not charged against the team's salary budget.
For week 2 of the season of the MLS season, the Timbers head to warmer climates to play Los Angeles Football Club, or LAFC for short. Despite joining the league just last year, LAFC and the Timbers has quite a volatile history of matchups. Portland won in their first ever meeting at Providence Park back in May 2019 with a dramatic 2 to 1 win behind Cristian Paredes' first ever MLS goal, but it was the July matchups that provided the drama. The two clubs played in a scoreless draw in league play at Banc Of California Stadium on July 15 in a very conservatively played affair, but Portland remained in the area as the same sides were paired up to play in the 2018 U.S. Open Cup Quarterfinals on July 19. Playing much quicker pace, LAFC raced out to a 3 to 1 lead and held on to win 3 to 2, but the match itself was plagued by controversy relating to LAFC fielding a potentially ineligible player by USOC rules. Portland filed a protest but withdrew it later, although there were calls for LAFC to forfeit the result regarding the status of Mark-Anthony Kaye. Kaye was listed as domestic for MLS league rules being from Canada, but he is considered international for USOC matches and LAFC had already played 5 other international players. The Open Cup for 2019 has closed out this loophole, but there was also other bad blood surrounding LAFC forward Adama Diomande, who made claims of being called a racial slur during this same match. The Timbers investigated the situation and no official punishments were ever handed out publicly, but suffice to say, there is some tension among the sides. Much like the Valeri - Blanco duo makes the Timbers go, it's Diomande and Carlos Vela with some help from Diego Rossi and Christian Ramirez, formerly of Minnesota United.

Being just 2 weeks into the season, how will the Timbers rebound from the near win and wintery conditions to much warmer conditions under a faster paced tempo? Our group ponders that very situation in this week's predictions. To add a more interesting element to our proceedings, we will tabulate points based on each week's results with a correct prediction (picking a win and the Timbers win for example) at 1 point, and an exact match (score and results) with 5 points. Spot was the only one that picked the correct result with a draw, so she is leading our group with a single point.

This looks like a goal, right? 

Tortie - Timbers 15, LAFC 11; 0 points.

The diminutive one was chatty per usual when asked about this match, and we had trouble keeping up with her various noises. Her usual tactic is to ask for lots of goals, and Tortie thinks that Jeff Attinella and Tyler Miller will be picking the ball out of the net a lot on this afternoon. Unlike some old Timbers Army Football Club or Old Growth FC matches, however, both sides will be lighting up the scoreboards in this one per the tortoise shelled one. 

Thinking cat is thinking.

GB - Timbers 2, LAFC 5; 0 points.

GB hasn't predicted many multiple goal matches in his career as a soccer expert, but he's predicting that both sides will get plenty of goals like his girlfriend, Tortie. However, he isn't expecting the track meet that she predicted, instead thinking that both sides will eventually get hungry and slow down the attack. Granted, we asked him about this right before his late night snack and he could have been distracted by food, but GB gave 5 meows for LAFC and just 2 for the visitors. Considering he went right to sleep after this, he must be confident in his findings. 

I am the only one allowed to have points.

Spot - Timbers 1, LAFC 0; 1 point.

We actually got Spot to pick a score for once. After showing off that she was the only one to correctly predict that nobody would win in week 1, Spot did a loud mew when asked if the Timbers would score a goal in LAFC. She remained very silent at each of the other questions, even after getting plenty of time with the brush while sitting in the sunlight. Of all the experts this week, Spot is the only one picking a Timbers win - and she was by herself last week as well. Can she make it two weeks in a row?

If you didn't like last week's pick, you might not like this either.

Pilot - LAFC 1, Timbers 0; 0 points.

Pilot's interview was early Saturday morning, when he started giving the gift of kisses to anyone about. While learning this from Daisy, our blind calico that used to be their caretaker when she was with us, he gave kisses when asked about the match. Jennifer asked if this was a gift, and Pilot thumped his tail down; we interpreted this as somebody giving a gift. When she asked if the Timbers were going to give LAFC a goal, the tail thumped again, so this means that somebody will give LAFC an own goal. He then left the proceedings to run downstairs and beg for food, so he's convinced it won't be a happy day for the Timbers at all. 

 This picking soccer isn't so difficult.

Lucy - Timbers 4, LAFC 4; 0 points.

Lucy doesn't meow so much as she yells. She yells about everything, and so we have to conduct her interview in a quiet part of the house to avoid waking up everybody. She gave 4 yells for both sides, then proceeded to walk away to use the litter box. We weren't going to ask for any follow up questions considering the circumstances, but since she was very loud and confident, we'll go with her original thoughts of both sides getting 4 goals and it's another sharing of the points for everybody. 

My cats might know soccer better than me. 

Kip - Timbers 1, LAFC 3; 0 points.

I haven't predicted the Timbers to lose or draw that often in these proceedings, but I don't like the matchup this weekend. Portland's defense was very suspect at points against the Rapids, and while I feel the conditions had something to do with it, the other fact is that LAFC has a much better offense than Colorado. I'd like to see somebody step in and be the defensive leader, and hopefully this happens in this match. But I'm not holding my breath at this point, either. Portland will look good for most of the match, but they will come up short and absorb their first loss of 2019. 

Friday, March 1, 2019

Week 1 Predictions - Portland Timbers vs. Colorado Rapids

Beautiful city, Denver is, but this weekend will be cold and snowy.
And so begins the 2019 MLS season, and thus my 12th season of covering the Portland Timbers. This whole process started in 2008 after returning from my honeymoon when my dear friend, Rick Curwen, decided to try and resurrect the Timbers community blog at old media home. I asked if he needed a hand in producing content, and the rest is history. It's weird to think about there being another season of MLS soccer going on here on the site, and we once again bring back weekly predictions. Over many seasons, my old editors would send out repeated emails asking for score predictions and a few paragraphs of explanation, and it led to a lot of posts and some interesting comments. Now that we've moved onto our new site, I've added a new group of experts willing and able to provide their thoughts about the matches - our cats - for the past few seasons, and once again, the felines are happy to provide their various thoughts about the Portland Timbers and their match for the week. We'll see how this goes over the coming weeks.

The first match of 2019 finds the Timbers traveling to Denver, Colorado to play the Colorado Rapids. The weather conditions are going to be very similar to what the Portland area is experiencing right now with cold and wind, but there is snow in the forecast and on the ground. Portland has usually avoided the snowy stuff for their pre-seasons, but in something truly weird for this year, the snow followed them down to Tucson for the last days of their preseason matched for the Mobile Mini Sun Cup. Portland has traditionally struggled with adjusting to the conditions, as their record in Colorado has been decidedly in the home side's favor until most recently. Most experts attributed that to the mile high altitude, which can be difficult to acclimate to in a short time period. Portland has arrived early or just before the match in previous years, and it didn't seem to matter much either way, but with new conditioning programs and a renewed emphasis on fitness, I expect the Timbers to be just fine in any respect.

Colorado, meanwhile, has undergone quite the transformation from a team that has languished near the basement of the Western Conference for many years. After winning MLS Cup in 2010, they have played in the post season three times and missed out 5 times with the past 2 years finishing dead last in the West. Under new coach Anthony Hudson, the Rapids have tried their best to ditch the defensive minded play from previous regimes to play more pressing soccer, and they seem to have found the horses to finally implement that strategy. They've added talented but somewhat temperamental scorer Kei Kamara from Vancouver, speedy winger Diego Rubio from Sporting Kansas City, plus midfield stalwarts Nicolas Mezquida from Vancouver and Kellyn Acosta from FC Dallas. Acosta was acquired last year, but played sparingly due to injury, but when healthy, he gives some pace and width to an attack that has stagnated at times. Colorado added center back Keegan Rosenberry to pair with the hulking Axel Sjoberg to provide cover from either Tim Howard or Clint Irwin in goal, but suffice to say, Colorado has added some pieces that might finally mesh together.

With this being the first match of 2019, what do we all expect from the festivities? Let's find out what our crack team of predictors are thinking.

I like goals

Tortie - Timbers 12, Rapids 9.

Team Tortie loves goals. Team Tortie likes lots of goals. Team Tortie is all about the ball going into the net. She eeped and mewed through her interview, making lots of racket when asked about the number of Timbers goals. When asked why she thought this was the case, she said, "Eep blergh mew oop." She kept repeating this, so apparently it's really important but for the life of me, we can't figure out what this means. Maybe it's "lots of goals" in Tortie speak.

Well, actually, I do know a lot about soccer. 

GB - Timbers 2, Rapids 1.

GB was a bit more relaxed, providing his thoughts after a breakfast of crunchy food while begging for peanut butter and oatmeal. He meowed twice for Portland, but just once for the host team. I didn't realize he knew the song, "We always win 2 to 1", but apparently he knows more that we all realize. Since he went for a nap right after providing his thoughts, I think he feels confident about this information.

I am the queen of the world!!

Spot - no score.

The princess was more interested in the brush when asked about the Timbers - Rapids match, but she eventually gave enough attention to the questions to at least provide some thoughts. She didn't make any noise when asked about goals, but when asked about a scoreless draw, she sneezed several times before leaving to drink some water. Maybe she's allergic to the altitude.

I like purple. And chasing people.

Pilot - Rapids 3, Timbers 1.

I'm not sure what Pilot has against the Timbers, but he seemed to be very focused and excited when talking about the Rapids. After providing three loud meows for the number of goals for Colorado, he ran over to the cat tree in our cat room, and scratched it for several moments. I tried to ask if he meant yellow cards versus goals, but he declined any comments to clarify, so for now, we'll assume he's talking about goals.

I'm switching the channel to watch CSI again.

Lucy - Timbers 2, Rapids 0.

Lucy is our screaming cat. All of her talking is done at very high pitch and sounds like yelling, so much that during work from home days, my co-workers think we have a young child at home. She screamed twice about Portland very loudly, but didn't say one word about Colorado. Considering it was the quietest she had been for a few hours, I think she's convinced Portland will get the win this weekend.

I am bundled up. And very green.

Kip - Timbers 2, Rapids 1.

I am really not trying to copy GB, but the history for the Timbers hasn't been the best in Colorado. In 11 matches there, Portland has 2 wins and 2 draws, although the last match there was a very dramatic 3 to 2 result. In the first match of the year, both teams will be excited to be playing meaningful matches for the first time, and for me, I just think Portland has more talent collectively. Colorado isn't the pushover that they have been in previous years, but I believe the Timbers will get the full three points to start the year.