So let’s talk about Portland.
There is a distraction continuing in the background with Andy Polo. Is it affecting performance on the field? Hard to say. Portland enters week 4 with five points: 1W-0L-2D. Diego Valeri, of course, has parted ways with the Timbers, but Yimmi Chara has moved from the wing into the playmaker role – and managed to make the MLS weekly highlight reels with a couple of bicycles from the first weeks. Steve Clark left for Houston (he must have had reasons... smh). Sebastian Blanco is currently a late-game sub, but Diego Chara – all 35 years of him – is running full speed for the full 90 minutes.
Last week against Austin, the two sides combined for one shot on goal (and 29 that weren’t on target); center back Bill Tuiloma found the back of the net on a corner to give Portland their first win of the season.
The other statistic that stood out to me was possession – the Timbers had less than 40%. And I couldn’t help but notice the immense gap between the Portland backline and their attackers – the antithesis of Nashville’s compact lines. Defensively, the Timbers aren’t going to press – they will drop back, attempt to block the passing lanes, and invite Dallas to move forward. Diego and Yimmi Chara are still two of the fastest players on the field, and by sitting on the passing lanes, Portland herds opponents towards passes that Chara and company can pick off with their speed. This is why their matches sometimes resemble a track meet. They are looking to attack on the break and in transition.
Offensively, Portland have scored four goals so far: two bicycles from Yimmi Chara, the header from Tuiloma on the corner, and Dairon Asprilla had the first goal of the season. The last one concerns me the most. Chara’s individual moments of brilliance are difficult to replicate, but the pass from Santiago Moreno to Asprilla in the box... is a pattern that Portland have attempted multiple times and will again. In contrast to Nashville which only had Mukhtar and Sapong in the box, Portland – like FC Dallas - will get multiple runners in the box who look to combine.
Player notes for Portland Timbers:
Yimmi Chara: two goals, two assists. This is Edwin’s task for the week. Chara had six goals last season, which makes me wonder about his ability to be a consistent scoring threat, but he had seven assists from a wider position and maybe the most dangerous distributor with Blanco playing limited minutes.
Diego Chara: Matt Doyle’s question for Portland to start the season was whether or not Diego could continue to be a dominant player this year. The Timbers have only allowed three goals so far and the elder Chara is a primary reason why the team has been as successful as it has – this year and for the last decade.
Dairon Asprilla: ten goals last season and one so far this season. The winger is a primary recipient of key passes. He’s probably not the starter if Blanco is healthy, but he’s a capable player.
Santiago Moreno: he’s one of the few Timbers players that I don’t recognize from meetings past. Arriving last July from CD America, the 21-year-old right winger may be a foundational building block for the future. He has just one assist so far this season, but he’s the most creative player on the team who isn’t named Chara or Blanco – and he plays significantly more minutes than Blanco. When Portland attempts to combine in the box, Moreno is a key cog in the machine.
Line-Up Prediction: 4-2-3-1
Asprilla – Y. Chara – Moreno
D. Chara - Paredes
Bravo – Tuiloma – McGraw – VanRankin
Worth nothing – Niezgoda has five shots so far this season – no goals, no assists. Primarily, he seems to be part of the build-up. Also, Bravo missed last week after picking up a second yellow against Minnesota, but I expect him to return this week.
OUT: Tega Ikoba (abdominal), Felipe Mora (knee surgery), Eryk Williamson (knee surgery), Hunter Sulte (left ankle sprain), Marvin Loria (left ankle sprain)
Game Time: 7:30 at Toyota Stadium in Frisco
The weather report looks beautiful for Saturday – we’ll call it about 72 degrees at kick-off.
P.S. I hate the Portland jerseys – the Heritage Rose jersey. Someone referred to it as grandma’s curtains. That’s about right.