The Portland Timbers head into New England to take on the Revolution this weekend having picked up four points out of six to start the season (Mar. 24, 1:00 p.m. PT, ROOT SPORTS, 750 AM The Game, La Pantera 940 AM). Of particular note in those first two matches is the Portland's ability to pick up those points having fallen behind a goal in both matches.
Encouraging? Certainly. But definitely not something the team is looking to rely upon. As striker Kris Boyd said in training on Wednesday, “We’ve shown we can come from behind but we don’t want to keep depending on that every week. We want to get out of the blocks, we want to start sharp.”
Perhaps one of the more essential cogs in the machine to get that quicker start off and running is midfielder, and fellow designated player, Diego Chara. Chara’s incredible work rate both on and off the ball, in attack and in defense, and constant back and forth play makes him a prototypical box-to-box midfielder. Getting him into the game and getting him to control the midfield alongside fellow box-to-box mid Jack Jewsbury is the first step towards getting off on the right foot.
The second will be how Chara deals with New England’s own designated player and longtime stalwart Shalrie Joseph and which brings us to the KeyBank Match-up.
The Revolution are a team, as Timbers play-by-play man John Strong has written about, in transition. A new coach in Jay Heaps, a number of new players, and a series of injuries have prevented them from truly finding their rhythm so far in 2012.
Joseph stands as the veteran leader on this team in flux. Entering his tenth season, the Rev’s captain has served primarily as a superb defensive midfielder who expertly dispossesses the ball from attackers and provides quality distribution to fire up a transition and attack. The perennial MLS All-Star and four-time MLS Best XI selection, Joseph is an intimidating presence in the middle of the pitch.
In a show of versatility, Joseph moved to centerback last week against Sporting Kansas City. Shorthanded already on the backline due to injuries, the Revolution went down to 10 men early in their 3-0 loss in Kansas City forcing the change. It is a position that New England beat writer Kyle J. McCarthy says is still a potential starting scenario for Joseph this week against Portland.
Regardless of where the Grenadian international may be positioned, the question for Chara will be: can he utilize his quicksilver speed and uncanny field awareness to avoid the lurking Joseph?
Over the course of two matches against the Philadelphia Union and FC Dallas, Chara attempted a total of 85 passes misfiring on only 14 for a completion rate of 84%. Moreover, as he has become more familiar with MLS, Chara has become a surgeon in carving the ball away from opponents' attacking players. That takeaway skill plus his ability to continue that high passing completion rate and potentially even improve upon it will help with the Timbers' possession, playing out to the speedy wings, and ultimately penetrating the Revolution defense.
The Colombian does have some precedence to achieving this plan having played it to perfection last September at JELD-WEN Field. Back then, Chara slipped through the New England backline in the 9th minute to score the first goal in a 3-0 dismantling of the Revs.
Provided he and the Timbers will be able to overload Joseph and the makeshift Revolution backline this Saturday, there’s a very strong chance Portland’s strong start to the 2012 season will continue.