It is game day once again and for the second time this season FC Dallas is taking on the defending MLS Cup champions in the Portland Timbers. We welcome Will Conwell from our fellow SBN site Stumptown Footy to discuss tonight's game with our little three questions segment.
BDS: Portland has had some ups and downs this season. Has it just been a matter of teams going all out against them as defending champions or is there something deeper going on that isn't being talked about?
SF: While some of the Timbers' struggles so far this season can probably be attributed to their status as the defending champs, the more dramatic difficulties have come from the side's glut of injuries, call ups, and even the odd suspension in the early going.
In particular, the defense -- whose efficacy we will return to in question three -- has been brutalized by injuries. Designated player center back and team captain Liam Ridgewell missed most of the first two months of the season, young right back Alvas Powell is out currently following a wrist surgery, and left back Chris Klute, who was brought in to replace Jorge Villafana, started the season on the sidelines after undergoing offseason knee surgery that required longer than expected to recover from.
All of this has added up to a team that has struggled to forge an identity in the 2016, trying several different approaches, but so far failing to carve out the chemistry needed to repeat the late-season success that carried them to the Cup in 2015.
BDS: The Timbers haven't done well away from home this season, can you talk to what has gone on that has caused them to stumble so much outside of Oregon this season?
SF: Again, much of the Timbers' lack of road form so far this season has been down to the same issues that have plagued them no matter where they are: missing players and a lack of chemistry. In 2015, the Timbers established a fearsome defense early in the season and used that as a foundation on which to build, eventually developing that fearsome counter attack that made them so effective.
This year, however, that foundation has yet to be built and the Timbers have struggled accordingly. From the top of the Timbers' formation all the way back to whomever is in goal -- currently New Zealand international Jake Gleeson while Adam Kwarasey is out, another player missing time due to injury -- the side are still figuring out how to shut down their opponents. These struggles can easily be picked out when looking at the side's shutouts: after recording a league leading thirteen in 2015, the Timbers have yet to register a single shutout in 2016.
BDS: The offense seems to still be clicking well with Fanendo Adi, Diego Valeri and company, but what does the defense need to do to get back to championship form?
SF: For the Timbers' defense to get back to form a number of things are going to need to happen.
Starting at the top, the Timbers will need to get some effective high pressure from their group of attacking players, particularly from speedsters like Lucas Melano and Darron Mattocks. If those players can get back to effectively turning over the Timbers opposition further up the pitch, not only will that take the pressure of the Timbers, but it will also allow the Timbers to create some of the quick and straightforward scoring chances that the team has lacked at times this season.
Additionally, the Timbers will need to put together some possession in the midfield, something that Darlington Nagbe will be key to doing effectively. When it is functioning properly, the midfield triangle of Nagbe, Diego Valeri, and Diego Chara is a thing of beauty and is more than capable of taking pressure off of the Timbers' back line.
For that same back line, the Timbers will need to do one simple thing: get some consistency. With injuries all across the back line this season, the Timbers just need a chance for their defensive unit -- including Chara and Nagbe -- to play together, figure out their spacing, and learn the tendencies of the team's new arrivals.