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. 

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