Know Your Enemy: Portland Timbers
OTF’s Stephen Mangat is a man without doubts, except when he’s not sure…
Meth binges, studying for finals, dating a girl from Club Risque. It’s easy to go from the highest-of-highs to the lowest-of-lows (and back again) over the course of a week. And from afar, it seems like Chicago Fire fans are riding that same roller coaster. Whether it’s a few days of up-the-nose-out-the-hose action or 90 minutes of MLS action, such a short time period is far too early to make judgments about individuals. So buck up, Fire fans, the season is just upon us! Get pumped up for your trip to visit the Portland Timbers!
PLAY OUR NEW MUSIC FOR THIS SEASON!!!
The Caleb Porter playbook is well-known, yet it seems few teams have figured out how to plan against it. Portland’s pressing 4-3-3 features athletic, difficult-to-handle forwards supported by athletic, skilled midfielders who are backed by athletic, no-nonsense defenders. Throw in the league’s most athletically gifted goalie (apologies to Sean Johnson), and this is a high-octane team of players who know their roles.
Basically, this is one of the league’s top outfits. All that said, the Timbers were very underwhelming last weekend against an underwhelming Philly Union team, so early season is probably a great time for Chicago Fire to take on Portland.
Donovan Ricketts was named the league’s top goalie last season, but one need not go far to find experts who find him to be more style than substance. Lots of flashy saves from the Jamaican, but his lack of quality in distribution and positioning often result in the need for acrobatics.
It’ll be Jack Jewsbury on the right and Michael Harrington on the left. They’re both unspectacular, but very solid. In fact, both fullbacks have made USMNT camps in recent memory, but haven’t been regulars, which is enough to explain how good they are (and aren’t). In the middle will be sounds-like-a-fake-name Pa Modou Kah and new-man (and sounds-like-an-Italian-dessert) Norberto Paparatto. The 6’4″ Argentinian Paparatto impressed vs. Philly and looks like a great pick-up.
It’s Diegos Chara and Valeri, plus Canadian Will Johnson in the middle. Johnson and Chara provide the steel and drive, while Valeri provides the smarts. Unfortunately for the Fire, that’s being harsh to Chara and Johnson, as they are very intelligent players in their own right. When firing on all cylinders, this is one of the league’s top midfields.
Up top will be Darlington Nagbe, new man Gaston Fernandez and Max Urruti or Frederic Piquionne. Nagbe is one of the league’s brightest young talents and can shred any defense. Fernandez is a proven goalscorer in Argentina and Mexico. Urruti is the unknown, and he’s yet to really impress. Piquionne is effective, yet inconsistent. Think of it this way: Nagbe is a mini-Thierry Henry (albeit on a much lower level), Fernandez is a smart goal-scorer, and the other two are unpredictable. This is Portland’s weakness.
How can Chicago win?
Numbers in midfield
Portland’s midfield is very good, yet the Philly Union won the battle in the middle via a combo of numbers and quality. At least one of the Union’s outside men pinched in (setup in a 4-4-2) and the outside defenders moved forward. This gave width and numbers in the center, negating Portland’s midfield strength. Yallop should push at least one fullback forward while pushing the outside midfielder on that same side in.
Challenge the Fire defenders
This is a perfect opportunity to see just how good (or bad) the Fire defenders are. The Timbers frontline isn’t spectacular and Philly handled them well. Yallop should challenge his backliners to matchup vs. Portland’s forwards. A victory for the Fire defenders should equal a win for the team. A loss for the defense should ring alarm bells.
Get the ball up top
Chicago’s midfield wasn’t so hot vs. Chivas, but their forwards are good. Amarikwa and Joya made an impact, though Anangonó seemed a bit lost and needed help. Thankfully, help should be on the way with MVP Mike Magee. Get the ball quickly up top to Chicago’s best players.
Good luck, Fire fans. It’s the Union’s home opener, so this weekend is time to really get this party started.
OTF’s Stephen Mangat is a Philly Union season ticket holder and won season four of the Romanian version of Dancing with the Stars. Follow him @smangat12.