The Colorado Rapids and Portland Timbers met up way back on March 22nd for the second game of the season, a match that ended 2-0 in favor of the Rapids at Dick's Sporting Goods Park thanks to a penalty by Vicente Sanchez and another penalty that, because it was originally missed, counted as the first open-play goal of the season from Deshorn Brown. Since then, the Rapids have slowly risen in the Western Conference, and the Timbers have slowly sank.
To see what's going on with the Timbers, we exchanged some questions with Michael Orr of Stumptown Footy. My questions to him are below, and you can see his questions to me over at their blog.
BW: When last we met, there hadn't been enough soccer played to get an idea of how the season would go. Now, the Timbers are in a surprising place, low in the standings. What's been the difference between the impressive 2013 and faltering 2014 teams?
SF: There are not enough words in the universe to adequately answer this question. However, short story is that the career years enjoyed by so many in 2013 (Darlington Nagbe, Will Johnson, Ryan Johnson, Rodney Wallace, to name a few) either have not come close to being repeated, derailed by injury or in Ryan Johnson's case, led to signing in China. Diego Valeri is still producing at a high rate and several newcomers (Fanendo Adi, Gaston Fernandez and Maximiliano Urruti) have picked up the slack offensively but it hasn't been nearly enough to offset the terrible defense. From poor performances to injuries, the defense has been a disaster all year and only some good performances from Donovan Ricketts have kept this season from being Montreal-like. So basically no one is as good as last year, especially the defense, and other teams have figured out how to combat the Timbers' style.
BW: Tell us a bit about the Timbers newest DP, Fanendo Adi.
SF: Adi is technically the second newest DP, with Liam Ridgewell's signing coming a few days later. (Ed note: Hurp derp) Pedantry aside, Adi is a beast of a forward and is just 23. He'd been at FC Kobenhavn and after scoring four goals in his first four games, the Timbers bought out his contract and signed him to a multi-year deal. Though he hasn't scored since signing the DP contract, Adi is a constant threat for center backs, especially if they're not as big and good as Chad Marshall. He's great with his back to goal, he wins headers, he's got a cannon shot and he's got really nice ball skills for a guy his size. He's the polar opposite in style from Urruti or Fernandez, which at least theoretically gives Caleb Porter options depending on the opponent. Whenever Urruti is back from injury, which seems like it could be this week, Adi will be more a part of the overall rotation and that makes the Timbers slightly less predictable. Still, Adi has been a really good addition to the Timbers. Whether or not he justifies the financial investment is question that will require a bit wider of a lens.
BW: What are the expectations for the second half of the season among Timbers fans? Are the fans still expecting playoffs, as you would assume they were in preseason? How high do you think the Timbers could end the season?
SF: Until the defense improves, the Timbers are going nowhere. It doesn't much matter how much they score because they'll always allow a few goals through poor marking or bad decisions. If, and it's a huge if, Ridgewell comes in and turns the defense around, Portland can definitely challenge for the playoffs. The roster is way too talented to be in competition with San Jose Earthquakes as the worst team in the Western Conference. That said, fans are starting to get antsy. There aren't that many games left this season and the team looks to be getting worse, not better, through the middle part of the year. Add in four Champions League fixtures between August and October and the schedule gets more difficult, not less. Merritt Paulson today (Tuesday) reiterated his guarantee that the team would make the playoffs, but that looks like about a 35/65 deal just now. Porter mentioned that if the team just wins eight or nine games, they'll have no trouble making the playoffs. Well that would double the current total in fewer games remaining. Obviously possible but with the more difficult stretch of the schedule approaching, Champions League midweek and a roster that's essentially set in stone with Ridgewell's arrival, I just don't know how it's going to happen.
Lineup prediction: Donovan Ricketts; Jorge Villafana, Danny O'Rourke, Rauwshan McKenzie, Michael Harrington; Diego Chara, Will Johnson; Darlington Nagbe, Gaston Fernandez, Diego Valeri; Fanendo Adi (4-2-3-1)
I should throw in a note to say that Caleb Porter is publicly debating starting Liam Ridgewell. I don't know if there's any truth in it, in fact I think it's just a ruse. But it is something that's being said on the record, anyway.
Thanks to Michael from Stumptown Footy for the words. Head over to their blog for all you need on the Timbers ahead of our nationally televised match on Friday.