It's hard to really judge what to expect week to week in terms of results for the Houston Dynamo. Last week we dropped points at home after falling 1-0 to the San Jose Earthquakes and then finish up the week with a 2-1 win over Toronto FC on the road. What hasn't been lost, even in games where the team has actually lost, is the effort. This team rarely gives up and has worked to grow in many ways each week. The next team up for the Dynamo is the Portland Timbers who resemble this year's Dynamo in many ways. Both are likely underachieving and the defense has been the star of the season while the offense has looked inconsistent.
In our preview of the game we broke down the key matchups as the Dynamo look to put together consecutive wins for the first time all season. We also wanted to find out about what's going on with the Timbers from a Timbers fan so we asked Will Conwell from Stumptown Footy to share his thoughts on his club's season and a look at the return of their star player Diego Valeri.
Dynamo Theory: The Portland Timbers narrowly missed the playoffs last year and with the energetic fan base that the Timbers have expectations must always be high. This year Sporting Kansas City and the Houston Dynamo join the party in the Western Conference which makes the rough West, a bit tougher than it has been in the past. What are the realistic expectations about how far this Timbers club can go?
Stumptown Footy: The Timbers are a talented team that has so far been hamstrung by a few injuries and a bad case of the yips up top. That being said, the Timbers are absolutely talented enough to make the playoffs. In the early going this season, the sentiment has generally been that there is nobody in MLS that is a lock to beat the Timbers, but also nobody that the Timbers are a lock to bear. With the recent return of Diego Valeri and the impending return of Will Johnson, the Timbers have a real chance at changing up the second part of that sentiment.
The Timbers, and most of the Western Conference, are only a few slim points away from being in a top three spot in the conference. There is a firm belief in Portland that the Timbers are on the rise, something that the form table over the last four matches (W-L-T-W), but also a wariness of the team's slow start to the season, particularly after only taking five points from the first eight matches in 2014 and, as you mentioned, missing the playoffs by only a single point.
DT: This year the Timbers' defense has tied for 3rd fewest allowed goals, but an offense with average scoring production hasn't quite rewarded those defensive efforts. What's the discrepancy between the two? Is the defense just playing really well, or has the offense not been clicking?
Stumptown Footy: For starters, the Timbers' defense has performed quite well over the course of the season, putting up impressive numbers in goals against (0.9 GAA) and shutouts (4). There have been poor matches on defense from the Timbers, particularly their 2-0 loss to Orlando City SC, and individual errors that have been capitalized on by the their opponents, but overall the defense has been the high point of the season so far.
The defensive block of Jorge Villafana, Liam Ridgewell, Nat Borchers, Alvas Powell, Jack Jewsbury, and Diego Chara is not one to be trifled with.
On the attack, however, the Timbers have struggled. The chances have been there, but since an early run of three goals from Fanendo Adi the only consistency the Timbers have managed in the attack has been its futility. The Timbers' three forwards, Adi, Maximiliano Urruti, and Gaston Fernandez, combined for 26 goals; so far in 2015 they have managed four. There have been bright spots: Dairon Asprilla looks like a dangerous talent on the wing, particularly as a late-game sub, and Darlington Nagbe has continued his evolution into one of the league's top attacking players.
Now if only they had somebody to push them over the edge and change some of those chances to goals...
DT: So Diego Valeri apparently didn't need much of an adjustment period in his first start back. How troubling is this to Dynamo fans?
Stumptown Footy: It should be quite troubling. Half speed Valeri is still pretty good, just about full speed Valeri is a killer. To date in his MLS career, Valeri has 22 goals and 27 assists in 66 games, perhaps one third of those playing through or recovering from a sports hernia.
Without the Valeri in the lineup, the Timbers are a skilled, but occasionally one-dimensional, side. With Valeri, the team have a player that can unlock opposition defenses on his own, pick them apart with his passing and vision, or just force opposition defenses to give the Timbers' other attacking threats room in which to go to work. It should be no surprise that without Valeri on hand players like Rodney Wallace and Darlington Nagbe have had difficulty scoring and it should be no surprise that as Valeri reaches full fitness the scoring starts coming from across the Timbers' lineup.
It is hard to oversell how excited Timbers fans are to have Valeri back and they are not wrong.
For my answers to Will's questions head on over to Stumptown Footy to check them out!