The Portland Timbers have yet to win a game this season, but they are hoping to turn it around against the less than stellar Houston Dynamo. The Dynamo bring home a single point after three games on the road. To try and figure out what is wrong with the Timbers and if the Dynamo have a change to return to their winning ways we donned some flannel to talk to Stumptown Footy's Michael Orr
1. Last year was Caleb Porters first year in MLS coaching and the team finished the year first in the Western Conference. So far this year they have yet to win a match. Is having a year worth of film on 'Porter Ball' allowed other coaches and teams to figure him out?
Part of the issue has been the willingness of other teams to either set up similarly to the Timbers, using two holding midfielders to clog up Portland's most dangerous attacking areas. Some, like Chivas USA, have just filled the entire midfield with bodies to slow Portland down. For the most part, teams have been successful with these tactics because the Timbers have failed to convert most of the chances that have been created and at the same time have always yielded the goals necessary for their opponents to justify continuing the tactics. If the Timbers could ever score first and hold a lead (ok, I guess that did actually happen against Chivas) it might draw teams out to the point where Portland could counter-attack and break games open. But as long as the defense remains as poor as it has been through the first two months, there's not an easy fix.
2. What has been the biggest problem for Portland on the field? The midfield or the defense?
While every part of the team has struggled to some degree (see question three for more on goalkeeping), the defense has been the obvious answer to the biggest problem. But the forward line has been the sneaky bad area, while the midfield finishes fourth in this contest. New center back Norberto Paparatto has been benched, and justifiably so, while teams with particularly speedy wingers have given the Timbers trouble, particularly at right back. Yet as bad as the defense has been, the forwards simply have not contributed enough to the attacking effort. Maximiliano Urruti, despite scoring a wonderful goal against Seattle, has not been good. He might go back to the bench in Houston after a poor outing at Real Salt Lake, including a terrible miss. The problem is, Gaston Fernandez has looked much better replacing Diego Valeri in the no. 10 role than he has at forward, despite two right-place-right-time goals in early March. And Frederic Piquionne is dealing with a family emergency in Martinique on top of being poor whenever he has managed to get on the field. Overall, while not fantastic by any means, Portland's midfield is the best part of the team right now, especially now that Will Johnson has emerged from his early season slumber.
3. Donovan Ricketts hadn't looked very good this season either. Is he just in an early season slump or do you see it as foreshadowing of something bigger?
3. Donovan Ricketts is an interesting question. That's a weird thing to say, and it doesn't quite make sense, which is kind of a fair way to describe his 2013 season. Everyone knows Ricketts can be one of the best goalkeepers in the league, and he was for the majority of last season. Yet he's rarely that healthy (he started 32 of 34 games, only missing two for Jamaica duty). The combination of a two-game red card suspension and a nagging knee injury suffered on the play that earned his suspension have made Ricketts tentative and even slower than normal to get to the ground. Unfortunately for Portland, Andrew Weber is not exactly waiting in the wings as the next great goalkeeper: he allowed seven goals in 105 minutes while Ricketts was out. Ricketts is still very capable of having a great game, but he is absolutely not the bulwark he was in his award-winning 2013 season.
GK - Donovan Ricketts
LB - Michael Harrington
CB - Futty Danso
CB - Pa Modou Kah
RB - Jack Jewsbury
CM - Diego Chara
CM - Will Johnson
LM - Darlington Nagbe
ACM - Diego Valeri
RM - Kalif Alhassan
F - Gaston Fernandez
Score: Houston 1 - Portland 1
You can head over to StumpStumptown Footy to see my answersis burning questions.