Michael Orr from Portland's Stumptown Footy was kind enough to exchange questions with us here at Big D Soccer this week. This weekend's match looks to be a very interesting one as both teams are missing key players due to injury or red card suspension. The Portland Timbers, a team highly touted coming into 2014, have been less than impressive in front of the goal so far this season, and FC Dallas, similar to 2013, has jumped out of the gate and is currently leading all of MLS with 7 points after 3 weeks.
1) With Donovan Ricketts unavailable this weekend due to red card suspension, how difficult of a reach will it be for the Timbers' remaining keepers to hold their end together? Between Portland's other two GKs, it appears that they combined to play only 1 game last season in league play, a loss.
Donovan Ricketts was the Goalkeeper of the Year in MLS last season and given the slow start offensively, could have been Portland's most important player in its first two games this year. His replacement will be Andrew Weber, who conceded a penalty of his own last weekend against Colorado and then fumbled the save, allowing a rebound goal. Jake Gleeson, the team's third choice keeper, is on a season-long loan with Sacramento Republic of USL Pro and will not be available. The Timbers called in pool goalkeeper Daniel Withrow, who spent last season with Columbus Crew, to be the back up in Frisco. Weber is universally described as a journeyman, and though he is adequate cover, playing against one of the league's top teams this early in the season could be problematic for Portland. Struggling to score, rotating through center backs (due to injuries already) and using a back up goalkeeper who is new to the team this year is hardly where Caleb Porter wants to be. Weber won't be a disaster, but he is absolutely not Donovan Ricketts.
2) Delving into supporters' culture: the Timbers Army is known for having outposts all over the country. What kind of presence do you expect to see in North Texas this weekend? How much coordination does Portland TA HQ put into the remote branches for away games?
Every year there are some folks in Texas who attend the FC Dallas-Timbers games. But unlike cities in closer proximity to Portland, there won't be a big coordinated effort for traveling fans (meaning organized flights, buses, etc). To the best of my knowledge, local Timbers fans organize tailgates and gathering spots while away tickets are collected through the Timbers Army, thanks to the relationship with the club. So the best answer would be that there will be a definite Timbers Army section on Saturday at Toyota Stadium but it will probably not be as big as the group that just traveled to Commerce City last weekend.
3) Two goals in three games for Portland; two draws and one loss. Scoring so many goals last season, do you think the spark will return? Is this just a slow start, or is their a glitch in the Porterball operating system?
This seems to be a slow start, though there is definitely something missing from last season. Part of that is comes down to the slow recoveries of Steve Zakuani and Diego Valeri, and part of it is an adjustment to having as many as four finesse attackers instead of two or three plus a more traditional forward in Ryan Johnson. There will continue to be plenty of possession, attractive play and even chances, yet something happens in the eighteen yard box that is keeping Portland from turning stylish maneuvers into tallies on the score sheet. It's easy to suggest this without any real evidence yet this year but the Timbers are probably pretty close to breaking out and scoring a few goals. But that has been the thought entering each game this season and so far almost nothing has happened. Scoring first against Portland is the way to go, especially if the Timbers aren't able to score more than one. It not only provides the obvious advantage of, you know, having scored, but also puts some strain on Porter's system as the Timbers chase the game. The biggest question then is whether doubling down on 'Porterball,' a phrase that he hates, enhances what was so good last year or is that step too far and actually makes the Timbers less diversified.
Bonus: Projected Starting XI and known injuries -
GK Andrew Weber
LB Michael Harrington
CB Futty Danso (Norberto Paparatto if he recovers from his groin injury in time)
CB Pa Modou Kah
RB Jack Jewsbury
CM Diego Chara
CM Will Johnson
LM Steve Zakuani
ACM Diego Valeri
RM Darlington Nagbe
F Gaston Fernandez
Thank you again to Michael from Stumptown Footy. Feel free to wander over their way to see my answers and all kinds of other insight into the Timbers.
What do you think of Portland coming to town? Think FC Dallas has what it takes to remain undefeated? Thank you for reading.