The Houston Dynamo are coming off a 4-2 regular season win over the New York Red Bulls and a 2-0 win over the Austin Aztex in Open Cup play and are looking to extend their streak. They'll have to do so without a few key players due to international absences and injuries, but with the opportunity to move up in the Western Conference Standings, the Dynamo need a result.
In our preview of the game we broke down some of the players ready to step up to the challenge based on their previous outing over the Aztex. Still we wanted to know a little bit more about the Timbers since the last time we faced them so we went back to Will Conwell to see how the Timbers were doing.
Dynamo Theory: Since these clubs last met back in mid-May the Timbers have been rolling through their competition including wins over D.C. United, New England Revolution, and a satisfying Open Cup over rivals the Seattle Sounders. What's been the biggest turnaround in that time for the club?
Stumptown Footy: Frankly, there really hasn't been much that has changed in terms of how the Timbers are playing since they last saw the Dynamo. Their formation is the same. Their personnel are still consistent along the back line and in flux everywhere else. They are still very rarely giving up goals and still not scoring a ton of them.
If anything, what the Timbers have now is confidence. Both Fanendo Adi and Maximiliano Urruti have been lauded for their play recently, after the pair of strikers had a decidedly cold start to the season, and it shows in both their ability to take their chances and their willingness to do the little things that make the Timbers work like put high pressure on the defense when looking to win the ball back, or body up a centerback to give the Timbers an option to dump the ball down field when needed.
Plus, the return of Will Johnson, the emotional spark behind this team, has been pretty nice too.
DT: Speaking of that Open Cup match, it seems that the Timbers utilized many of their first team players (in contrast the Dynamo only used 2 regulars with 1 of those being a late substitution). While it helps that the Timbers will play at home, what kind of adjustments, if any, will the Timbers make in preparation of their clash with Houston?
STF: The Timbers pride themselves on their depth, which has been tested already this year, and coming into this match we will get our first real glimpse of how the Timbers will utilize that depth when they have most of it available to them. Expect to see Liam Ridgewell back in the lineup after he missed the match against the Sounders due to illness; Diego Chara and Will Johnson will certainly make their return to the Timbers' holding midfield spots after missing out on the Open Cup due to suspension and an international call-up, respectively; and Maxi Urruti will almost certainly take the place of Fanendo Adi at the top of the formation after a literal battle against Chad Marshall for ninty-plus minutes for the Timbers' big man.
The real question marks for the Timbers come when we look at the team's core of attacking midfield players. Gaston Fernandez will likely take the center slot to start, with Valeri coming in later, but on the wings Darlington Nagbe and Rodney Wallace both played hard for the full 120 minutes on Tuesday and with Dairon Asprilla still out the Timbers are thin in terms of reinforcements here. Ishmael Yartey and Michael Nanchoff are both available, and Yartey is a real possibility to start, but Nanchoff seems less likely to do so.
The final wild card for the Timbers is left back/midfielder Jeanderson. The young Brazilian has been decidedly o the fringe of the first team for most of the season, but has shown his ability to combine and get forward in the attack in games with T2 recently. Although I am hard-pressed to actually predict he will be in the 18, it wouldn't surprise me at all if Jeanderson played some part in this match for the Timbers.
DT: The Dynamo have struggled to get 3 points on the road this season, only notching 1 of their 5 wins on the road, but only 2 of their 5 losses come from the road as well. How can the Dynamo try to exploit potentially tired legs against a very good defensive side in Portland?
STF: The Timbers centerbacks will be rock-solid. That is just the way it is. Although the trio of Ridgewell, Borchers, and Paparatto have managed their fair share of goofs in their collective time with the Timbers, right now all three are playing their best soccer since coming to Portland and they have been a huge part of the Timbers' defense that is the first best in the league in terms of goals allowed per game.
Also, the man behind them, Adam Kwarasey is playing out of his mind right now. If Kwarasey's double save from the Open Cup match against Seattle was eligible for Save of the Year, it would have a real chance at winning.
Where are the Timbers vulnerable, then? Down the wings. The Timbers wide players have been pretty good for much of this year, with both fullbacks, Alvas Powell and Jorge Villafana, regularly being recognized for their excellent play. Powell, however, went down with a cramp against the Sounders in the early going and it is not entirely certain how that will affect him for this match. Villafana got through the whole match without any adverse effects, other than being kicked by Brad Evans while laying on the ground, but he covered a lot of ground over those 120' and even his ironman-esque stamina probably can't stand up that without some ill-effect.
Combine all that with the fact that DeMarcus Beasley essentially broke Powell in the two teams' last match up with one of those "wily veteran" moves of his and it looks like the flanks are definitely a potential weakness for the Timbers in this one.
Projected Lineup: Kwarasey; Villafana, Ridgewell, Paparatto, Powell; Chara, Johnson; Nagbe, Fernandez, Yartey; Urruti
For my answers check out Stumptown Footy!