The MLS All-Star Game is in the past, and attention fully turns to the final months of the MLS regular season now. Chivas USA's next chance to snap their losing streak comes Saturday with a game in Oregon against the Portland Timbers. The Goats have been struggling lately, but the Timbers have had their share of struggles as well, so it will be interesting to see how this game goes. In order to get us ready for the game, we welcome back Michael Orr of SB Nation Timbers' blog Stumptown Footy to give us the scoop on Chivas' opponents. Thanks again to Michael for taking the time to answer my questions!
The Goat Parade asks Stumptown Footy:
1. Teams that host the All-Star Game tend to do poorly in their first competitive game following the event. Has that been discussed/considered at all in Portland in the run-in to this game?
That's funny you ask about that because it really hasn't been a talking point in the lead up to the All-Star week. Perhaps that's because the Timbers are at home on Saturday. But with three players (Will Johnson, Diego Valeri and Liam Ridgewell) involved, plus coach Caleb Porter, there has to be at least some degree of distraction from the exhibition on Wednesday night. All three players logged 45 second half minutes and Porter spent the better part of the second period really coaching. It's unlikely that means they're somehow now no longer on the same page as their teammates but it certainly does change the normal scope of the week's preparations. That said, Chivas is a familiar opponent, especially with this coming as the third meeting this season. We don't know too much about Ridgewell's personality just yet but I don't think anyone in Portland would accuse Porter, Johnson or Valeri of being underprepared or not intense enough to handle this kind of distraction, though. So the likelihood is that they'll be slightly more fatigued than their teammates but otherwise probably pretty happy to have taken part in what was a cool week and an entertaining game.
2. There have been some big changes in defense for the Timbers since their last game against CUSA. In particular, they signed a DP in Liam Ridgewell - how's he doing so far, and will his addition help solidify the often-shaky defense?
As has been repeatedly pointed out by non-Portland fans this week, Ridgewell has only played three games with the Timbers so far. In those games Portland allowed one, then two, then three goals. To be fair, the result last weekend against LA Galaxy is a condemnation of the whole team, not just the defense and certainly not just Ridgewell. But the fact remains, even in such a limited sample size, Ridgewell's signing has not lifted the team to the point where defending is no longer an issue. It is worth noting that Portland did win its first two games with Ridgewell in the team, so it isn't like it's all been a disaster. However, his signing may be highlighting exactly why most teams don't give a DP contract to a central defender. Is he better than Rauwshan McKenzie? Yes, without a doubt. But does his inclusion immediately alter the outlook of the team? Not necessarily. Over time Ridgewell will probably make a more significant impact but in the short term it's just too soon to say exactly how it will all shake out in defense.
3. The Timbers sit outside the playoff places at the moment, though they are certainly within reach. What's your gut feeling right now on their playoff prospects for this season?
Until the defense can put in several consecutive solid performances, this team is going nowhere. As good as the attacking has been at times, especially lately with Valeri leading the way, the Timbers just can't score enough to outgun every team they play, every week. The only clean sheet all year was that weird 2-0 win against Chivas USA in which the Goats really didn't try to attack at any point in the game. Otherwise it's just normal that teams score two or three goals against Portland, home or away. Adding to that, Darlington Nagbe and Gaston Fernandez are a bit banged up just now (with Nagbe being worse off) so Porter will have to rely on Kalif Alhassan or Steve Zakuani, who simply do nothing to help their more defensive teammates. None of that means the Timbers can't beat Chivas on the weekend but it doesn't really bode well for what is a very difficult schedule the rest of the way with four Champions League fixtures thrown in starting in mid-August. So I don't see it happening. I think they'll be one of the better on-paper teams to finish sixth or seventh.
4. (Bonus) Prediction for this game?
Missing Nagbe and potentially Fernandez (though I do think he'll make it back for Saturday) is not good. Though Nagbe hasn't scored in the league this year, he's been Portland's second best player after Valeri. However, Valeri has been amazing of late and both Diego Chara and Johnson have picked it up over the past month so unless there are defensive calamities, Portland should still be good enough to win this one at home. There have only been two home victories in Portland all season (DC United and Colorado Rapids) so if there is any hope of making the playoffs, Saturday is a good chance to make it three. I do not expect a clean sheet but I do expect multiple Timbers goals.
Find my answers to Michael's questions here.
What do you think? Leave a comment below!