Strong's Notes: Have more in the tank
That sound you heard in Southwest Portland Saturday night around 9:00 pm was a giant breath of fresh air that blew in to JELD-WEN Field after the Portland Timbers ended a frustrating and troublesome week with a very satisfying 2-1 win over their rival Vancouver Whitecaps. Their prize for such a win? Getting the chance to do it again, on short rest, against a team with whom they’re battling for a playoff spot (8:00 pm PT, ROOT Sports, 750 AM The Game; La Pantera 940 AM).
Chivas USA is one of a few teams right now in MLS that isn’t exactly on fire, but doing enough to hang around and make life interesting in the race for tenth. LA’s second team has just three wins in their last nine games…but has also lost just one of those. And, around a Starting XI that’s solidified itself around maybe the best goalkeeper in the league right now, they’ve just added the league’s best goal scorer of the past four years.
It’s the final game at JELD-WEN Field for more than three weeks and it’s a game the Timbers simply can’t afford to leave empty handed.
Have More in the Tank
It’s safe to say that every MLS player is getting to the point in the season where they’re some form of tired or hurt going into a game; pretty much nobody is 100 percent this time of year, and we still have two months left to go in the regular season. The Timbers will be playing their sixth game in the month of August, and their fourth game in the last eleven days—never mind the upcoming game Saturday at D.C. United.
Chivas USA, while not quite that chaotic in their schedule in recent weeks, will be playing the last of five straight away games, having battled to a 2-2 draw at Colorado on Saturday.
So, who’s got more left? Who’s more willing and able to fight in the 85th minute, the 90th minute, the 92nd? It’s going to be a constant theme the rest of the year, and it’s something the Timbers did very well—despite one bad moment on Camilo’s goal—against Vancouver. But so did Chivas USA, scoring in the 86th minute to grab a point against the Rapids.
Be Strong in the Spine
One of the things I liked to see so much against Vancouver was how good the Timbers two centerbacks, David Horst and Futty, were against Whitecaps forward Eric Hassli. They were strong, they were physical, they were smart, and they marked Hassli out of the game so effectively that he stormed straight to the locker room when subbed off.
Eric Brunner stands to come back in for Futty on Wednesday after the Gambian suffered a hamstring injury, but the task is the same: against the Past Master, newly-acquired Juan Pablo Angel, and one of the following—experienced Alejandro Moreno or clever Marcos Mondaini—can the Timbers be as good in the center of defense again?
Similarly, the middle of the field will have to be good as well; Chivas USA operates a diamond midfield, with Nick LaBrocca operating as the attacking point. He gave the Timbers real trouble in the 1-0 loss back in June, forcing the Timbers’ flat midfield two to figure out how to deal with what he was doing.
Since then we’ve seen Jack Jewsbury emerge that much more so as an attacking option and Diego Chara turn into a real force; can the Timbers win that battle this time around and use it as a launching pad to a quality performance across the entire field?
Be Precise, But Keep Firing
March 29 was a turning point in a few different seasons. That was the night the Timbers beat Chivas USA 2-0 in a US Open Cup qualifying match at Merlo Field, their first competitive win as an MLS team. We all know how significant that victory was to send the Timbers on their way up the league standings, but there was another big shift on the other side of the field.
At the start of the night, Chivas USA goalkeeper Dan Kennedy (above), who was given the start in relief of the No. 1 Zach Thornton, was a career backup, with 14 appearances in the previous three years after, interestingly, being drafted by the USL Timbers in 2005. Since that night, a strong performance despite the loss, he’s started every game, almost tripling his career appearances stat.
He’s also become perhaps the best goalkeeper in the league over the last few weeks: his constant stream of massive saves, big charge downs, and commanding aerial wins, have helped Chivas USA grab points in the standings they wouldn’t otherwise have. It’s gotten to the point that coach Robin Fraser has joked that he’d rather not be talking so much about his goalkeeper because he’s having to bail them out.
The Timbers will have to be precise to beat Kennedy Wednesday night. Coach John Spencer is spot on with his laments about off-target shots being “another spectacular miss,” and of course it does you no good to fire straight at any goalkeeper, but the Timbers’ ability to find some way, any way, to get it past Kennedy, will be a big thing to watch.
It’s a very regular XI for Chivas USA right now: Kennedy has been starting in goal since April, the midfield has been pretty much the same since early July, and the center back pairing of Heath Pearce and Michael Umana has been unchanged since June 1.
Chivas USA is capable of real fireworks: their five games of three goals or more is tied for the league lead with LA, KC, and Real Salt Lake—the Timbers are just behind with four. Similarly, forward Justin Braun--listed as out with an abdominal strain on the injury report--is the only player in MLS to have two hat tricks this year, and is personally responsible for one third of the hat tricks scored in the league this year.
Chivas USA were supposed to be in a rebuilding year after missing the playoffs in 2010 for the first time since their expansion season. They looked it at the start, beginning 0-2-3 and in last place after a month. They had just one win in an eight game stretch in May and July, but their one-loss-in-nine through the present has them in striking distance for a playoff spot, just ahead of the Timbers in the standings.