As we do around here, Geoff from our Timbers blog Stumptown Footy and myself exchanged a handful of questions about each other's teams yesterday to help get ourselves acclimated with our foes. Considering both teams had massive player turnover during the off-season, I'd say it's a welcome exercise.
My questions to Geoff about the Timbers are below, you can head over to Stumptown Footy to see what I responded to their questions to me.
Onward to the questions!
BW: Diego Valeri was my early favorite for Newcomer of the Year prior to the season, how's he doing thus far?
SF: Valeri has done very well so far. He's still working on meshing with the team correctly and finding his groove, but his creative talent is very apparent. From his first goal against the New York Red Bulls you could tell he was going to have a huge impact on this team, if not this year, then in the the years to come. Of course, he's not unstoppable. While he had solid games against New York and the Seattle Sounders, the Montreal Impact's Italian hit squad was able to mute him very efficiently. My guess is that it will take the Timbers a little while before they're able to move him around at will and get him to play in peak conditions.
BW: Portland had a lot of turnover in the off-season, just like the Rapids. Which of the newbies to the team -- other than Valeri, of course -- should we keep our eyes on?
Oh so many! I guess the primary one would be Will Johnson. You guys should be very familiar with him already from his days playing with Real Salt Lake. He's one of those tough, knock em around type midfielders you just love to hate when he's not on your team. I know I did when the Timbers played against him in the previous two years.
There's also Mikael Silvestre. The veteran Manchester United defender. It's true he's lost a step from his primetime days in the EPL and his first game against New York was disastrous, but he has gotten better with each game he's played since then. As with Diego Valeri, with him it's all a matter of learning and, in a way, training his fellow defenders. It will take time, but I think he's the right guy at the moment to build that defense.
Another big name to look out for would probably be Ryan Johnson. We've yet to see him really break out in the regular season so far, but during the Timbers preseason tournament it became apparent just how dangerous he can be when Diego Valeri feeds him the ball. Against the San Jose Earthquakes he was able to get a hat trick. As the partnership between him and Valeri grow it will be interesting to see if he's able to replicate those results.
BW: Considering their well documented struggles away from home, what's been the biggest thing holding them back from points on the road the past season and change?
There weren't any tactics last season, or at least any good tactics. Combine that with a team that was focused around a striker with no creative element feeding him the balls he needs in the box and you can see how the Timbers struggled all season long. For their road games, the failures were simply magnified. When playing in front of the Timbers Army the team would play better, faster and stronger in an attempt to prove themselves to the fans. That energy isn't there away from home. The team, under Porter, has to learn to deal with that by playing a smarter match.
BW: Starting XI?
SF: Donovan Ricketts; Ben Zemanski, Mikael Silvestre, Andrew Jean-Baptiste, Michael Harrington; Diego Chara, Jack Jewsbury, Will Johnson; Diego Valeri, Ryan Johnson, Darlington Nagbe
The big question mark here is Darlington Nagbe. Porter hasn't confirmed whether he'll be available or not yet so, instead of him, we could see somebody like Kalif Alhassan instead.
Thanks to Stumptown Footy for answering the questions I had, check their blog out for all you need to know about the Timbers ahead of the game tomorrow.