KeyBank Match-up of the Match: Mike Chabala & Lovel Palmer vs. Thierry Henry

Worldly striker against catalyzing wingbacks

Thierry Henry: Arsenal legend, World Cup champion, Barcelona alum, 2011 MLS goal-scoring leader. His list of accomplishments and accolades goes on and on.

His goal and assist against the Timbers back home in June put Portland on their heels and he continues to be a constant threat across Major League Soccer.

Given the freedom to roam up top, Henry is ever elusive and slippery. With a tendency to float towards the outside areas in the attacking third—both left and right—he then makes devastatingly slashing runs into the middle. By that point, he leaves it to his expert timing and finishing ability, which, given his 12 goals on the season, are testament to his skill.

But the Timbers have come a long way since June and the mid-season addition of two important wingbacks to the defensive line brings us to a Robbie Earle KeyBank Match-up of the Match that deals not only with tactical challenges, but also with a test to overall form that shows two different teams heading in two potential different directions.

 

Robbie Earle's
KeyBank Match-up of the Match
Mike Chabala & Lovel Palmer vs. Thierry Henry
 

 

Mike Chabala and Lovel Palmer arrived from the Houston Dynamo in a trade towards the end of July. Inserted into the starting lineup almost immediately, the two are excellent examples of Portland head coach John Spencer’s ideals around aggressive wingback players that push forward as well as cover and compliment the midfield wings, be it Kalif Alhassan and/or Sal Zizzo. Moreover, the duo’s service into the attacking third has been a steady and catalyzing improvement.

Given their marauding runs forward, however, Chabala and Palmer will both have to be very wary of Henry’s lurking presence in their end. They will have to trust to know when to charge forward in offense and make sure to shut him down in defense. If they get too ambitious, Henry could make the Timbers pay.

To go deeper however, all three players represent different and respective directions of team form. New York is a squad whose unity is in fractured flux. Rafa Marquez has been suspended for this game due to comments made to the media regarding his thoughts on his teammate’s play following their 3-1 loss at home to Real Salt Lake earlier this week.

Beyond Marquez and Henry, they are filled with numerous weapons in Luke Rogers, Joel Lindpere, Tim Ream, and Juan Agudelo; yet whether it be numerous national team call-ups, cultural differences, or coaching, the team has yet to truly gel and fully capitalize on its talent. The veteran and worldly Henry is leading the charge to keep them together but cannot do it alone. He can change a game, but can he lift the team as a whole?

For the Timbers, the addition of Palmer and Chabala has coincided with a team-wide added level of game experience maturity over the past two months. While there were challenges in matches against Houston and Sporting Kansas City in August, Portland is undefeated in the past five and are showing a greater resilience and confidence in gritty games than they had earlier this spring. The team is evolving positively at a fortuitous time given the intense race for the playoffs with a match between two teams that are separated by only a point for the 10th playoff position.

If the Timbers’ team unity can overcome an increasingly desperate Red Bulls team—who’ll be hosting Portland in an expected sold out Red Bull Arena—then securing the three points in the crowded playoff race will be a truly auspicious occasion.