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Portland Timbers Vs. Chivas USA: Three Questions

PORTLAND, OR - JULY 02: Nagbe was sharp for Portland last week (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)
PORTLAND, OR - JULY 02: Nagbe was sharp for Portland last week (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)
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Chivas USA are traveling up to Oregon this week to take on the Portland Timbers Saturday, and I figured it was time to learn some more about the coming opposition. This week, we talked to Geoff Gibson of SB Nation Portland Timbers blog Stumptown Footy about the team, and what they've done so far this season. We've talked with Geoff before, and you may want to take a look at our interview with him in March when Chivas met the Timbers in the preseason. Thanks very much to Geoff for taking the time to answer The Goat Parade's questions!

The Goat Parade asks Stumptown Footy:

1. Portland had high hopes heading into the season. How have they performed so far, and is this team in the position you expected at this point?

Not well, to put it succinctly. Out of the four games played the Timbers have acquired exactly 4 points for a 1-2-1 (W-L-D) result. Worse yet, in each game they've given up the first goal. Even their home opener against the Philadelphia Union the Timbers were forced to climb back from a nil-1 to win it 3-1. Last week against Real Salt Lake the Timbers went down, yet again, nil-1, but were able to climb back 2-1 until the last few minutes of the game where they gave up two goals in rapid fire succession. It was a little embarrassing to be honest.

Heading into the season I think we all expected a bit more from the Timbers. They're not a new MLS team anymore and reaching the play offs is pretty much expected. Luckily, it's still very early in the season so alarm bells aren't ringing yet.

2. Can you tell me about a player who has impressed for the Timbers so far, and a player who has struggled in the first month?

Kalif Alhassan has been consistently impressive, barring last week's game where he was out with an injury. He's very crafty in the midfield and, despite not picking his head up enough, he's able to absolutely wreck an opposing team's defensive sides. Very impressive. Additionally, I have to bring up Darlington Nagbe who scored the brace against Real Salt Lake. He didn't impress too much before, but we're all hoping that he's finally starting to get into the motion of things and score more goals for the Timbers, either as a forward or as a midfielder.

As for a player who has underwhelmed, I would have to point out our left back Rodney Wallace. He started off great against the Philadelphia Union, but since then has just been the major weak spot on the field, particularly defensively where he doesn't add much despite being so far back.

3. How is this match against Chivas being treated locally? Is it considered a must-win match? What opinion do Timbers fans and pundits have of Chivas?

Must win? I'm not so sure about that. Obviously winning is important, but it's just a little too early in the season to throw around words such as must. That said, it's a very important game. We're fast leaving the "beginnings" of the season and entering the middle portion. The more points you have heading into summer the likelier the chance of making the play offs, simple truth so getting 3 at home against Chivas would be a boon to the Timbers as well as a great send off to face the LA Galaxy next weekend.

As for the pundits and fans: I think most pundits, myself included, see Chivas USA as a transitioning club. Not necessarily a weak team, but one that doesn't have all the pieces put together to be consistent. That doesn't mean we expect a win, in fact, sometimes these transitioning teams can be quite surprising on the field (a la the New England Revolution). Unfortunately I can't speak for the fans as a whole. I would assume that many see Chivas USA as a weak team and one the Timbers should easily grab three points from at home. If only these things were as cut and dry as that.

Stumptown Footy asks The Goat Parade:

1. Since our last interview, the regular season has officially begun. Can you tell us a bit about how well it's been going for Chivas USA so far and, more importantly, what you like about what has happened?

Chivas do not have a great record at this point in the season, with just one win and three losses. But each loss has been very narrow, as Chivas have lost all three times by a 1-0 scoreline. There were considerable questions about Chivas' defense heading into the season, and considering their performances and the quality of the opposition, they have acquitted themselves very well so far. On the other hand, offensively, Chivas are sputtering, and have only scored one goal all season. If Chivas want to really recover and prove the boo-birds wrong, they need to maintain the defensive performances, but start scoring themselves.

2. They also, rather impressively, won away from home against Real Salt Lake. What went "right" during that game and how can Chivas USA repeat the success in Portland?

I think the cynic's answer would be that the Chivas' coaching staff had considerable inside knowledge of RSL's style and personnel, since they were formerly on the coaching staff there. I would rather think that Chivas had a very defensive gameplan, played as a coherent team, got a few fortunate bounces in their favor, and had a good play by rookie forward Casey Townsend to get the winning goal in that match. To repeat that success against Portland, Chivas need to play excellent team defense from whistle to whistle, but they also need to get their attack going. I wouldn't expect a blowout in the match, so it will likely be a cagey match for two teams desperately eager to get a result.

3. Since the pre-season tournament, has there been any stand out players? Any player that Timbers fans should keep an eye on?

Probably the biggest surprise in the first month of the season has been defender Rauwshan McKenzie. A center back who barely played in his previous stops with Sporting Kansas City and Real Salt Lake, he was out of contract in the offseason, and impressed coach Robin Fraser during the preseason. Although the Goats signed Colombian defender John Valencia as the projected starter, an injury in the first couple weeks of the season gave McKenzie the opportunity to demonstrate his ability in a meaningful game. He has been tremendous for the defense so far, even if the team's record doesn't indicate it. I'm certainly intrigued by Valencia, considering I haven't seen him play yet for Chivas, but if McKenzie continues to impress with the first team, Valencia may not get many starts.

4. And predicted starting line up?

I'll have to reiterate what I said during our last interview: Fraser is often unpredictable in his formations and team selections. But I'll give it my best shot:

GK: Dan Kennedy
DF: Ante Jazic, Heath Pearce, Rauwshan McKenzie, James Riley
MF: Laurent Courtois, Nick LaBrocca, Oswaldo Minda, Ryan Smith
FW: Casey Townsend, Miller Bolanos

Bolanos is a wild card of sorts. I figure Fraser will probably start two forwards, or at least a forward and withdrawn forward. I think Bolanos could get his first start of the season, but it could also be Alejandro Moreno or Cesar Romero, who scored against Portland in the preseason tournament.