KeyBank Scouting Report: Portland Timbers vs. Toronto FC - Sept. 7, 2013

Robert Earnshaw leads TFC into Portland for their only regular season match-up

KBSR, Robert Earnshaw

Photo Credit: 
(USA Today Sports Images)

The Portland Timbers are back at JELD-WEN Field on Saturday evening to take on Toronto FC for the first and only time this season (8pm PT, KPTV, KXL 101.1 FM / La Pantera 940). Find out everything you need to know about the opposition.

A brief history…
Welcomed into MLS in 2007 as the league’s 14th team, Toronto has become renowned for attracting big crowds to their BMO Field home, which is located close to downtown in Exhibition Place. The Reds are part of the Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment group which also includes the city’s NBA Raptors and NHL Maple Leaf teams,.

How did they fare last season?
Last year was a season to forget as Toronto finished bottom of the overall league standings after securing only five wins from 34 games and letting in 62 goals. Even a couple of positive results in the CONCACAF Champions League could not mask how difficult things had become as head coach Aron Winter was dismissed following a nine-game losing streak and Paul Mariner stepped in as head coach/technical director to steady the ship.

However, the club decided to go in a new direction for 2013 when Ryan Nelsen was recruited by new president Kevin Payne, who worked together previously at D.C. United. Though it was recently announced that Payne would be moving on, the new-look coaching staff, which also includes Irishman Fran O’Leary as assistant, has worked hard on trying to turn things around after such a disastrous season last term.

Who have they brought in for this season?
The winds of change never seem to stop swirling in Toronto as they have seen many players come in and leave over recent years. This season alone has seen Milos Kocic, Ty Harden, Adrian Cann, Darren O’Dea, Danny Califf, Torsten Frings, Julio Cesar, John Bostock, Terry Dunfield, Luis Silva, Quincy Amarikwa, Hogan Ephraim, Jeremy Brockie, Joao Plata, Eric Hassli and Ryan Johnson all depart.

The club has been busy bringing players in too with two homegrown youngsters like Jonathan Osorio and Manuel Aparicio getting a chance to step up. But it is the arrivals of Jonas Elmer, Matias Laba, Bobby Convey, Alvaro Rey, Robert Earnshaw and Maximiliano Urruti who have caught the eye, while the trade with the Timbers for goalkeeper Joe Bendik has worked out well and midfielder Kyle Bekker is a promising recruit.

How have they done so far this year?
With a team that has undergone so many changes it is hardly surprising that they have struggled for form. Ahead of what will be their 27th league game of the season, Toronto sit second from bottom in the Eastern Conference after collecting only 22 points, which works out at 0.85 points per game and only four wins celebrated. It is clearly not good enough and their hopes of making the playoffs for the first time have disappeared for another year.

The strange thing is that there has been some encouraging signs this term. Nelsen has made them tougher with Steven Caldwell bringing the best out of Doneil Henry and Ashtone Morgan at the back, while Osorio, Laba, Convey and Earnshaw have all made big contributions. It is just that they have leaked far too many goals with 35 conceded and they have failed to see out games that were there for the taking, thus resulting in 10 ties.

KEY MEN

Head coach: Ryan Nelsen
In his first year as a coach, Nelsen actually had to cut short his playing days as he was still a starter with QPR in the English Premier League when Toronto came calling. The ex-New Zealand international knows MLS well from his time with D.C. United, where he helped the team win the MLS Cup in 2004, and he is now trying to put that experience to use with a club that has struggled in recent seasons by rebuilding the roster and identifying a new style of play.

Star Player: Robert Earnshaw
This Wales international has played for eight teams in five different countries and scored goals everywhere he has been. Now 32, he does not have the pace that made him stand out early in his career, but Earnshaw still possesses that sharpness in front of goal and is always a threat. Able to link play superbly, he is constantly peeling away from his marker to get involved in the action and is not afraid to unload shots from distance.

One To Watch: Jonathan Osorio
Fast becoming a fan’s favorite at BMO Field, this 21-year-old midfielder came up through the club’s ranks and has showed flashes of his talent this season. There is still a lot for the Toronto native to add to his game, but he is already comfortable with the ball at his feet, swift with his passing, and always on the look out for an opening to break into. If he can be a little cleverer with his movement and chip in with more goals and assists, he will become a top player.

TACTICAL VIEW

What can the Timbers expect?
The Timbers possess the weapons to fire their way past Toronto, but they cannot take them for granted despite their form and position in the standings. The visitors will bring a dogged style of play that will rely on physicality and work ethic to stop the Timbers from igniting their slick passing game, while Nelsen’s men can also be dangerous on the break when counter attacking and from set pieces.

Putting chances away has been a major issue for Toronto as they are currently the second-lowest scorers in the league behind D.C. United. Nevertheless, they will create openings as their knack of shifting the ball forward as quickly as possible can catch an opposing team out. And the overlapping runs from outside backs – Richard Eckersley and Morgan – are something to watch out for too.

Who are their main threats?
The main danger for the Timbers to be aware of is Earnshaw, who can be a tricky forward to contain. With a tendency to float around the pitch, he can just as easily be found out wide or storming through the middle. Alongside him, Andrew Wiedeman works hard to make space for his teammates and can finish anything that drops inside the penalty area as he did in the recent tie with New England Revolution.

In midfield, former Timber Jeremy Hall gets Toronto going alongside Osorio, while the experienced Convey is still someone who can spark his team to life. Injuries mean that Laba and Dutch striker Danny Koevermans will miss out, but recent arrival Urruti is starting to adapt to the league and he could turn out to be a big signing for the club. At set-pieces, Caldwell and Henry are men to keep an eye on.

Where are they most vulnerable?
The stats suggest that defense is their most vulnerable area, but it’s not as easy as pinpointing one area. Yes, the Toronto backline is amongst the weakest in MLS right now, although part of the reason behind that is the lack of cover that it gets from midfield. Ever since Frings retired they have been searching for someone who can provide that support to stop opposition attacks before they reach the final third of the pitch – that search is still ongoing.

Previous Meetings in MLS

2011: March 26 – Toronto FC 2-0 Portland Timbers

2012: August 15 – Toronto FC 2-2 Portland Timbers

Record vs Toronto: 1-0-1

Did You Know?
Toronto midfielder Jeremy Hall played 17 games for the Timbers in their first season in MLS before being traded to FC Dallas from where he moved onto Toronto in 2012.

Gareth Maher is a contributing writer to PortlandTimbers.com. He is a frequent writer about soccer for the Irish Daily Mail in Dublin as well as ESPNFC.com.