After a win to kick off the season, the Dynamo head north for their first road contest of the season tomorrow night in Portland. Before the match, we spoke to Sam Svilar of Stumptown Footy to get some inside information on the Timbers.
Dynamo Theory (DT): Portland suffered a disappointing loss in week 1 to Vancouver after successfully advancing in the CONCACAF Champions League earlier last week. How are the Timbers handling the early season congestion of league and CCL and what is one thing they need to do better this week to get their first points of the MLS season?
Stumptown Footy (SF): The Timbers have been notorious slow starters in MLS league play, so a faceplant on opening day fits right in their wheelhouse. It isn’t the most positive sign, because the CCL now looks like a daunting proposition as they face LigaMX giants Club America in the next round. Right now, the Timbers haven’t rotated their lineups much, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see some lineup changes soon (possibly Saturday) as players get healthy. On the field, the Timbers have to stay locked in for ninety minutes. A lapse on a set piece doomed them against Vancouver, which is very much in line with their inability to see out games that they showed last season. To improve in league play, and even stand a shot in the CCL, Portland needs to lock down their set piece defending, and play a full ninety minutes.
DT: At some point it would make sense that Diego Valeri would slow down but the playmaker is showing no signs. What makes Valeri still so good in his mid 30s, and how big of a role will he have for the Timbers in 2021?
SF: Wherever the fountain of youth Diegos Valeri and Chara and drinking from, I hope they let me know where it is when I hit my 50’s. Neither talisman has showed any sign of a drop in play yet, and Valeri’s in particular is astounding. And to be honest, his longevity is defined by him just being a smart player, and adjusting his game to fit his physical level. He has evolved to become more of a second forward than a true attacking midfielder, but he is still just as influential a playmaker and can create many dangerous chances. Valeri will set up shop higher up the field, and look more to combine in and around the box or hit defenses on the counterattack, which eases the amount of running he has to do in a given match. Ideally, this would be the season someone steps up to shoulder some of the playmaking burden, but for now, Valeri remains Portland’s most dangerous and creative player, and if he’s on his game, Portland is scoring goals.
DT: Some big pieces of the Portland attack, Sebastian Blanco, Jaroslaw Niezgoda, and Jeremy Ebobisse are still recovering from injuries. We mentioned Valeri above, but who else will need to step up for the Timbers to get their offense on track?
SF: The player who has the biggest microscope on him has got to be Yimmi Chara. He is Portland’s only healthy Designated Player at the moment, so all eyes are on the winger to perform. Even after the injured players return, Yimmi is being relied upon this season to be a legitimate goal threat. He had a slow start to 2020, but a strong finish, and Portland will need him to continue that momentum into 2021. Chara scored a hat trick against CD Marathon in the CCL, but then followed that up with a “not bad, but not great” performance against Vancouver. As the Timbers get healthy and target trophies in 2021, the younger Chara brother will be key to any success they find this season.