The Houston Dynamo have 6 points out of a possible 6 points 2 games into the season and now they take their first game on the road as they visit another perfect 2-0 team, the Portland Timbers. Last week the Dynamo showed very well as they convincingly bested Columbus Crew SC 3-1 at BBVA Compass Stadium. The season as a whole has looked good for the men in orange as they’ve found the back of the net five times and only conceding twice. However, the Timbers have scored six times and have only allowed a single goal thus far into 2017. Last week the Timbers were able to hold onto a 1-0 win over a 10-men LA Galaxy. They’ll have a bit more trouble against the Dynamo in what could prove to be an extremely entertaining fixture.
In our preview of the match we discussed the Dynamo’s offense and how the Timbers have done this year, but we wanted an insider’s perspective so we spoke with William Conwell of Stumptown Footy to get a handle on our opponents in the Pacific Northwest.
Dynamo Theory: Coming off a season in which the Portland Timbers won their first MLS Cup, they failed to make the playoffs the following year in 2016. What have the Timbers done this offseason to ensure a place in the playoffs in 2017?
Stumptown Footy: The Timbers' biggest improvements since last season have come in the midfield thanks to the offseason arrivals of Sebastian Blanco and David Guzman. By integrating the pair, the Timbers have been able to wholly reshape their midfield and take on a level of tactical flexibility that was previously unavailable to them.
Blanco is the more high-profile of the two signings, taking up a designated player spot on the roster and lining up as the Timbers' right midfielder, where he is tasked with -- like Darlingon Nagbe on the opposite flank -- providing service and quick play through the middle with Diego Valeri and Fanendo Adi, bringing the full backs into the attack to provide width, and putting in a significant amount of defensive work at both ends of the pitch.
Guzman, meanwhile, is a less flashy but no less impactful signing. Playing alongside Diego Chara in the center of the pitch, Guzman is the Timbers' No. 6, giving the team both a strong defensive presence in front of the back line to compliment Chara's more free-roaming way of winning the ball, as well as providing excellent distribution from the base of the midfield. Of course, Dynamo fans may not have to worry about Guzman's presence in the Timbers' XI as he is currently dealing with a separated shoulder suffered under dubious circumstances against the LA Galaxy last weekend.
Taken together, the additions of Blanco and Guzman have given the Timbers' a midfield that is difficult to break down and capable of creating chances in droves. And, if one of those two factors is malfunctioning, the Timbers should have enough of the other to give them a chance regardless.
DT: The Timbers have begun the season by flying out of the gate with a flurry of scoring in their opening match against Minnesota United FC and then a well played 1-0 win over the LA Galaxy. What were early expectations for what the Timbers can achieve and are those expectations being re-measured given their early success?
Stumptown Footy: 2016 was a very disappointing season for the Timbers. Falling just short of making the playoffs the year following winning the MLS Cup was a big blow for the team. However, it is worth noting that the Timbers managed to get within two points of the playoffs without winning a single road match last year.
With that in mind, expectations around these parts have been reasonably high. A single road draw turned into a win gets the Timbers in last year and now, just two games into the 2017 season, the Timbers already have earned their first road win, making the expectations of many Timbers fans even higher. Of course, coming into the season with some people speculating that the Timbers could have the best front four or front six in the league has not helped in managing expectations.
Behind those front six, however, is the one factor that has kept the expectations around the Rose City in check: the Timbers' back line. After a dreadful defensive showing in 2016, the Timbers cut plenty of dead weight from their defensive corps over the offseason, only to see expected starter Gbenga Arokoyo go down with a ruptured achilles tendon during preseason. Although the Timbers were able to bring in center backs Roy Miller and Lawrence Olum as cover, a recent spate of injuries to the back line has left the Timbers defense looking once again like an unknown quantity.
DT: Fanendo Adi and Diego Valeri have become known producers in MLS and have done exceptionally well thus far. Apart from them, who are some players to keep an eye on?
Stumptown Footy: Well, we have already covered Blanco and Guzman, so let's cast an eye at Jake Gleeson in goal. The Timbers' first choice between the sticks won the job last year from Ghanaian international Adam Kwarasey and has held on to it ever since, bringing an imposing presence and some of the most impressive shot-stopping talent in MLS to the pitch for the side.
Although Gleeson is clearly still making progress on the mental side of the game, his ability to make big saves in big moments is well documented, most recently on display in the final minutes of last weekend's match against the Galaxy, when his tipped a flicked-on header wide of goal thanks to a split-second reaction save that won him the Save of the Week honors.
Projected Lineup: (4-2-3-1) Gleeson; Farfan, Miller, Olum, Powell; Guzman, Chara; Nagbe, Valeri, Blanco; Adi
For my answers to Will’s questions, check them out at Stumptown Footy!