For our three questions we were happy to chat with Michael Orr of Stumptown Footy. Michael Orr is also co-host of the NASN podcast Soccer Made in Portland and recently wrote a well received post on the 120th anniversary of the first soccer played in Goose Hallow, which is the space that Jeld Wen Field now occupies.
For the other side head on over to Stumptown Footy where you can read my responses to Michael's questions
Portland needs to do something it’s never done before—win in Carson—this weekend to win the Western Conference title and, possibly, the Supporter’s Shield. One of the reasons cited is the cavernous pitch dimensions of StubHub Center (formerly the Home Depot Center). The stats don’t bear this out: Portland’s road record against teams with fields as big as or bigger than the StubHub Center (list here), is 1-2-5. It’s an even split as the Timber’s overall road record is 2-4-10. Could this be a mental thing?
For starters, the Timbers also haven't lost at StubHub Center this year, so most of that losing record comes from teams not coached by Caleb Porter. That said, the recent 1-1 draw with Chivas USA was a big disappointment. The pitch size seems to be less of an issue this season, compared to years past, and the Timbers appear to have been content with as many away draws as possible. Saturday will be different, with the top seed in the Western Conference on the line, so a more aggressive, attacking team could be in order. Pitch size definitely plays a role but it might be a bit overrated.
Portland leads the league with 14 clean sheets. Is it as simple as just chalking it up to Donovan Rickett’s amazing prowess in the net or is there something more to it?
Ricketts has had a great season. He's come up with tremendous stops at key moments to preserve leads or draws. But only giving the goalkeeper credit for such a good goals against record over the course of the season would be denying due credit to what has turned into a very solid defensive unit.
Once the injuries to the center backs slowed and Porter could get a regular pairing for a significant number of games, the Timbers have barely allowed any goals. Part of that coincided with the benching of Andrew Jean-Baptiste and the reinsertion of Futty Danso alongside Pa Kah. Michael Harrington, at left back, has been an extremely effective player all year, but has been under the radar. With Jack Jewsbury healthy again and playing right back, Portland's experience and compactness is a serious threat to opposing attackers going in to the playoffs.
The New Zealand All-Whites were in town a couple of weeks back. I don’t this for a fact but I don’t believe Jake Gleeson made the trip. While Rickett’s was gone with Jamaica it was Kocic getting the start. Is the coaching staff still high on Gleeson being a future number one keeper?
Gleeson is an enigma in Portland. He was highly touted as a teenager and had a sparkling record as an emergency starter early in the 2011 Timbers season. Since then he's faced myriad injuries and international duty (mostly in 2012) that have kept him either away from Portland or on the sideline. Milos Kocic is a more proven MLS goalkeeper so he is the natural choice to replace Ricketts when injured or absent. Gleeson hasn't played a single minute this year and has barely appeared in reserve games. He's a good kid with a lot of raw talent, and still only 23. But he doesn't seem likely to crack the XI any time soon.