The Houston Dynamo fell short of a win against the New England Revolution in a match that they had control of early, but never capitalized on their chances. Today they're in Portland for a match that they need to see a result from to keep their playoff dream a little closer. The Portland Timbers have been a difficult club to best at home as the Dynamo know as their previous trip to the Rose City resulted in a 2-0 loss to our Houston side.
In our preview of the match we discussed some of the personnel returning for Portland, options for the Dynamo, and a few important matches for fans to keep an eye on, but we wanted to know a bit more about a Western Conference side sitting above us in the standings so we spoke with Will Conwell of Stumptown Footy to learn a bit more about what's going on with the Timbers.
Dynamo Theory: The Timbers have the hot hand having only lost once in their last 5 matches and are riding a 3 game unbeaten run. What's led to that level of success to help the club remain in the hunt for the top spot in the Western Conference?
Stumptown Footy: With a few notable exceptions, the Timbers have been rock solid on defense in 2014. Rebuilt from the ground up over the course of the 2014 season, the Timbers' defense has been the strong point of the team since the start of the year.
The center back pairing of Liam Ridgewell and Nat Borchers is one of the more experienced duos in the league, while Jorge Villafana and Alvas Powell are a pair of up-and-comers at fullback. Add that to a young international keeper in Adam Kwarasey, the now-healthy holding midfield duo of Will Johnson and Diego Chara, and a top-down commitment to defense all over the pitch and you get a team that has only allowed seven goals in twelve home games this year.
Of course, the opposite side to this coin is that the Timbers have struggled to get their attack consistently clicking this year, particularly with the absence of Diego Valeri for a good chunk of the season as he recovered from a torn ACL suffered in the final match of the 2014 season. If the Timbers can get both sides of the ball working at the same time, then look out, MLS.
DT: Portland is not among the top goal scoring teams in the league this year, but it's been Fanendo Adi leading the way with 10 goals this season, good for 7th overall in the league. What has made him such an effective striker and will we expect to see him after he missed out against Real Salt Lake?
Stumptown Footy: There are several things that have made Fanendo Adi key to the Timbers' attacking fortunes so far in 2015.
Adi is not a particularly great finisher of the ball, he does not tend to beat players on the dribble, and he isn't bending in free kicks. What Adi does excel at is in holding off a defender to get on a ball, or finding space to flick a header on goal, or using his ridiculous strength to make space for himself to get off a shot.
All of that has combined with that special knack for being at the right place at the right time has gotten Adi on the score sheet quite regularly since he joined the Timbers in 2014.
Moreover, the state of the Timbers -- among other things, no Diego Valeri for much of the year and a recovering Diego Valeri for the rest of it -- has demanded that the Timbers adapt a more defensively conservative and offensively direct style of play which involves getting the ball forward to Adi and either springing him on the break or earning a free kick on which he is well suited to get on the end of.
Dynamo Theory: This game clearly holds a lot of significance for the Dynamo in terms of playoff relevance, but how important is this game for the Timbers? Is it about moving up spots in the standings - possibly as high as the number 2 spot in the West? Or is it about keeping up in a very competitive conference?
Stumptown Footy: "Quite", "Yes", and "Yes", again. The Timbers are looking like a good bet to make the playoffs this year, but Timbers fans are acutely aware that a bad run of form could see a team like the Dynamo pass the Timbers and subject the team to its fourth year out of five as a team outside the playoffs.
Now, the Timbers themselves will tell anyone who asks that getting three points is the plan for every game, but in this one they are not just blowing smoke. If the Timbers are actually a team that can compete for the top spots on the table, then this is exactly the sort of match they need to win: a home game against a team with an abysmal scoring record on the road and a less than impeccable defensive record away from home as well.
The fact that a win could move the Timbers into a tie on points with the Vancouver Whitecaps, who were the talk of the league just a short week ago, and at least maintain Portland's points lead over the formerly high-flying Seattle Sounders, will provide the Timbers with a little bit of extra incentive on Friday as well.
Projected Timbers starting lineup: Kwarasey; Villafana, Ridgewell, Borchers, Powell; Johnson, Chara; Wallace, Valeri, Nagbe; Melano
For my answers to Will's questions hit up Stumptown Footy to check them out!