The Dynamo return home Wednesday night to welcome the Portland Timbers to BBVA Compass Stadium. Houston is coming off a loss in Seattle Saturday night and now take on another Cascadia foe on short rest.
To preview the match up, we spoke with William Conwell of Stumptown Footy to find out more about the Portland Timbers.
Dynamo Theory: Portland is off to a slow start in 2019 after making MLS Cup in 2018, what has caused the Timbers to stumble out of the gates this season?
Stumptown Footy: The MLS Cup hangover has proven to be a real problem for teams over the last few years and for the Timbers the struggle of starting 2019 after a short, but intense offseason has only been exacerbated by the 12 game road trip with which they will start the season. Twelve games is an obscenely long time to be away from home and it will be June before the Timbers have a chance to play in front of a friendly crowd.
Still, there are other issues that the Timbers have had to contend with to start the season.
First there is the matter of the team’s tactics. For the second year in a row the Timbers have started the season with an attempt to move toward Giovanni Savarese’s preferred pressing style of play, and for the second year in a row the Timbers players have been totally unable to execute that style. The side have made marked improvements since returning to the same defensive, counter-attacking methods that carried them through 2018, but the inability to transition was certainly a large part of the team’s early struggled.
Second is the matter of the team’s mentality. While nobody has come out and said it, there have been oblique references to divisions in the locker room early in the season from the Timbers. It is hard to look at some of the results that the Timbers put up early in the season and see anything other than a team without motivation or drive, unwilling to fight for a point over a full ninety minutes. It is a harsh assessment of the side, but one that the Timbers seem to have moved past since their much improved week six performance against FC Dallas.
Finally is the matter of the sides that the Timbers faced: the Colorado Rapids in a white-out snowstorm; Los Angeles FC before anyone really knew just how crazy good they are; Cincinnati FC in their first-ever home game since joining MLS; the surprisingly competent LA Galaxy; the San Jose Earthquakes in the first game after Matias Almyeda decided to throw everything out and do things his way. Looking back, none of those were easy matches to play away from home.
DT: Jeff Attinella started the season in goal for Portland but Steve Clark has been playing of late. Has Attinella been relegated to bench duty now and can we expect to see Clark Wednesday night?
ST: In Attinella and Clark the Timbers have two goalkeepers in the prime of their careers. Both have been starters in the MLS Cup Final -- Attinella with the Timbers and Clark with Columbus Crew SC -- but neither are thought of as being among the top tier of keepers in the league.
So, after Clark made the most of his scheduled opportunity to take over for Attinella for a match by leading the Timbers to their first win of the season, Gio Savarese stayed with the hot hand and let Clark continue to start. So far Savarese’s decision to go with Clark has paid off with the keeper only allowing four goals in his four games played to the 17 allowed by Attinella in his six starts this year.
That might not be entirely fair to Attinella, but the results that the Timbers have seen with Clark on the field have been hard to argue with. While his shot-stopping might not be at the same level as Attinella, Clark’s distribution, mobility, and comfort with the ball at his feet have looked like a good fit for a Timbers side that are not all that mobile along the back line and could use some help in getting the ball moving when looking to hit opponents on the break.
All that is to say that while Attinella might have started the year as the Timbers’ starter in goal, Clark has made the most of his opportunities and it seems likely that Savarese will give him at least one more look before returning Attinella to the starting XI.
DT: The Timbers added forward Brian Fernandez from Necaxa in LigaMX at the transfer deadline. What is the timetable for the new DP and could we see Fernandez on Wednesday?
ST: Fernandez will be available for the Timbers on Wednesday and, coming directly from the Mexican clausura, he should be fully match fit to step in and play.
Just how acclimated the Argentine attacker is to his new teammates remains to be seen, but most quotes coming out of the Timbers’s camp seem to indicate that the side would like to bring him along quickly and get him involved as soon as possible. Throwing a wrench into that desire is the Timbers’ absurd travel schedule, which would have prevented Fernandez from spending much time with the team at all while they make the quick turnaround from Friday’s match in Vancouver against the Whitecaps to Wednesday’s match against the Dynamo.
Moreover, no matter how the Timbers fit Fernandez into the lineup, he will necessitate a new look from the team. If played out wide on the wing, Fernandez will represent a much more attack minded player that Andy Polo or Andres Flores and will put more of a defensive onus on right back Jorge Moreira. If played as a center forward in place of Jeremy Ebobisse, Fernandez would give the Timbers a much different look going forward, prioritizing stretching the opposition back line through his movement, rather than providing a fulcrum through his hold up play.
All of that means that Savarese has a big decision cut out for him: how fast can he integrate the biggest signing in club history without disrupting the hard-won chemistry that the club has developed over the course of their hard start to the season.
We want to thank William for taking the time to chat with us. What say you? How will the Dynamo fare tonight against the Timbers?