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Houston Dynamo vs. Portland Timbers Preview: Dynamo's Face Defending MLS Champions

With Giles Barnes back, the Dynamo head to Portland

Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Back from his stint with the Jamaican national team in the soon to be concluded Copa América Centenario, Giles Barnes travels with the Dynamo to play the Portland Timbers at Providence Park. The Timbers have been dealing with some transfer rumors swirling around powerful striker Fanendo Adi and are without dynamic midfield Darlington Nagbe who will be with the USMNT in Glendale tonight as they complete bookend Copa matches with Columbia.

Before the international break Portland had been turning around what was a slow start to their 2016 season. The champs have won three of their last five outings, including an Open Cup match against San Jose, and taken draws in the other two. They seem to be coming into good form and are poised to make a strong playoff push at the midpoint of the season. They still sit closer to the bottom of the Western Conference, however, which speaks volumes to the amount of work it takes for a team to dig themselves out of an early hole. The Dynamo should take note as they try to pull themselves out of last place. Portland will be without one of the best players in MLS as Nagbe fulfills his international duties. It will be up to Adi and Diego Valeri, in particular, to pick up the slack. No doubt Valeri is up to the task as he always maintains a strong presence in the midfield, but Adi is a different question. The striker has tallied nine goals so far this season, but may be in a bit of a dispute with the club over a proposed transfer to Liga MX’s Tigres UANL. The very public disagreement between Adi and his current club could certainly have an effect on the whole locker room, though how much is uncertain.

Since the appointment of Wade Barrett as Interim Head Coach, the Dynamo have tightened things up a bit and may be gaining a better team identity. It’s all starting with the defense. Through the three games since Owen Coyle’s departure the club has only allowed two goals. Raul Rodriguez has started in all three of those matches alongside David Horst. That pairing did not work particularly well early in the season but the two players have been solid during this second chance. The right back position is still being shared between Jalil Anibaba and Sheanon Williams, and unfortunately remains a bit of a weakness. Fortunately Andrew Wenger has provided support from his midfield position and continues to be one of the hardest working players on the field each time he steps out. Houston has taken a draw in all three of Barrett’s games and should focus on improving midfield attacking play and hopefully allow for more chance creation. Ricardo Clark has been working with Collen Warner which has been the other part of the defensive successes, and Warner's tendency to stay back with the center backs will allow Clark to roam up to the top of the Timber’s box where he has been quite dangerous this season. Barnes’ return creates a little uncertainty with the lineup as he could slide back into his winger role on the left side, or perhaps Barrett will tweak the lineup a bit to put Barnes up top which is where he played with the Jamaican side. Will Bruin has suffered from a lack of service as his game truly requires strong support from the mids, and Manotas has looked good but is still not seeing a lot of minutes on the field. There certainly is room for improvement on the offensive side, and no matter the position Barnes should be able to contribute.

The Dynamo are again facing a tough opponent in an unfriendly road atmosphere. The team has yet to notch a coveted road win this season, and it will be no easy task in Portland. It will certainly be a good game for the fans to get a better feel for Barrett’s strategy for the rest of the season.  And yet, Portland may be vulnerable without Nagbe and could potentially be a bit distracted with the Adi fiasco. It could be the perfect time for a hungry Houston team to poach a win.