KeyBank Match-up of the Match: Timbers Defensive Line vs. Eric Hassli

Shut down Hassli & Co. to mount counterattack

Coming back from a road trip where the Portland Timbers had back-to-back losses against Houston and Kansas City, they now find themselves hosting their fellow 2011 MLS debutant and Cascadian rival Vancouver Whitecaps (7pm PT, FOX Soccer; 750 AM The GameLa Pantera 940 AM).

With the playoffs still within reach but a window of opportunity closing quickly, the Timbers have been talking all week about how every point matters.

Though Vancouver sits at the bottom of the Western Conference, they have the tools to cause real challenges for the Timbers. With an offense that likes to press way up high on the field, the Whitecaps like to pin their opponents back in their own end and put pressure on their opponent’s defensive line.

Though the ‘Caps offense has many options, leading their point of attack is their big, brawny, and fiery Frenchman Eric Hassli. His role in the match and how the Timbers handle it bring us to our KeyBank Match-up of the Match.

KeyBank Match-up of the Match
Timbers Defensive Line vs. Eric Hassli

At 10 goals on the 2011 campaign, Hassli sits at just two off the MLS leader (and fellow Frenchman) Thierry Henry. With the Whitecaps, Hassli is positioned way up top and brings with him fellow offensive weapons in Brazilian forward Camilo (7 goals in 2011) followed quickly by midfielder Davide Chiumiento (8 assists). Still coming into form is their new Gambian striker and designated player Mustaphu Jarju.

By pressing deep into the opponent’s defensive third—and bringing the rest of the squad up field in support—the Whitecaps hope to control the flow of the game by cutting down on the Timbers options at the back.

However, the best offense in this match may be a good defense—or, more aptly, a good counterattack. With the Timbers centerbacks marshalling the troops along with goalkeeper Troy Perkins directing traffic, Portland can weather the Whitecaps attack with smart, crisp tackles. But the real key will be not only be stealing and keeping the ball away from Hassli & Co., but then solid and quick pinpoint ball distribution.

Once the Timbers can hold on the ball and channel it out via their quick wingbacks and midfield, they can then hope to take advantage of a Vancouver side that is already way up the field. Push quickly through on the counterattack to catch the Whitecaps out of position, and Portland could create some real problems for their Northwest rivals.

With all the offensive weapons that Vancouver presents, the Timbers defensive line will have to set the tone. Do that, and not only could Portland enjoy a Cascadian victory; they would also be gaining ground with their ongoing quest for the playoffs.