Five Thoughts On The Timbers’ Schedule
Tuesday, January 13, 2015
But after the 2014 Timbers' season ended in Dallas on October 30th, almost two and a half months went by before MLS finally released its 2015 schedule today in the midst of the Steven Gerrard signing, Mike Petke firing, CBA negotiations, and links to Jozy Altidore (more on that in a minute), Mix Diskerud, and Sacha Klijestan.
In a sentence? 2015 is going to be tough.
Portland plays thirteen times on national television, three times against LA, Real Salt Lake, Seattle, Vancouver, Sporting Kansas City and Houston, with two trips to LA, Seattle, and RSL each.
In the already uber-competitive Western Conference, the Timbers will only play twice against weaker sides Colorado and San Jose, along with two games against FC Dallas.
Here are five thoughts on the schedule:
1. Starting Fast
Portland's slow start in 2014 has been documented and lamented exhaustively, but what has been overlooked is how soft the Timbers' schedule was in March last year. The Timbers' didn't play a playoff team until a mediocre FC Dallas at the end of the month.
Portland opened with Philadelphia and Chicago at home, then a road game at Colorado. The Timbers weren't on national TV until Seattle came to Providence Park in April, which was followed with a rebound game against Chivas USA.
It'll be different this year. The Timbers start with five straight 2014 playoff teams before playing both expansion teams and then the Sounders in Seattle before another game against Vancouver.
The Timbers are more than focused on getting out of the gate quickly in this season. With the games they have to start the season, March and April will be a whirlwind and Portland will have to be on top of their game - perhaps without Diego Valeri and Will Johnson.
2. Ricketts' Return
It was a perfect storm for Donovan Ricketts returning to Portland: Orlando City's matchup with the Timbers is at Providence Park in April, so presumptive Orlando starter Tally Hall will still be out recovering from an ACL tear suffered last year, meaning Ricketts will be the starting goalkeeper.
He should get the biggest reception ever for an opposing player at Providence Park. Due respect to Troy Perkins, Ricketts was ten times more important to the Timbers in his two and a half years with the club, both on the field - where he was personally accountable for saving at least twenty points - and off the field, where he was a consummate pro and couldn't have been easier to be around.
Adam Larsen Kwarasey has big, big shoes to fill. Ricketts himself was able to win over the Timbers Army with a season that won MLS Goalkeeper of the Year. Kwarasey will have to produce something similar if he doesn't want Timbers fans pining for the Iron Lion with the Big Smile.
3. Luck Of The Draw
With the subtraction of Chivas USA and addition of New York City FC and Orlando City, MLS' balanced schedule has been thrown out of whack. In seasons past, the Timbers played each Eastern Conference team once, and each Western Conference team three times.
Which Western teams Portland would play twice at home and once on the road rotated each year, as the location of the one matchup against the Eastern Conference team.
This year, though, that rotation has been upset. For instance, for the second year in a row, Portland will play two road games at LA and Real Salt Lake, while only getting them once at home - in the first two games of the season.
On the flip side, Vancouver travels to Portland twice for the second season in a row. The Timbers will have to travel to Canada, however, to play both the Eastern Conference Canadian teams Montreal and Toronto for the second season in a row.
The biggest change in the schedule is going from one to three games against Houston and Sporting KC, and how the Timbers do against those two sides will go a long way in determining the success of their 2015 season.
4. Odds And Ends
The 2015 season promises a lot of big matchups - Portland play on ESPN networks more than any other team in the league, for instance - and an even tighter Western Conference will make each game vital.
Portland gets their last match of the season at home for the first time since 2012, playing Colorado on the last day of the season. Portland plays two August home matches at 8:00 PM on UniMas, and get ready to go to the park on Sunday - that's when all matches televised by ESPN2 and Fox Sports 1 will be played.
For locally televised home games - which will almost be entirely played on Saturdays - the Timbers have pushed the start time back to 7:30 PM. There's no word yet on what the team's local television broadcast schedule is yet this year, or whether the duo of Keith Bleyer and Ross Smith will return to call the action.
5. Get Ready
Seattle comes into town one time, and one time only: Sunday, June 28, at 4:00 PM. If you're only going to remember one date, make it that one.
- The Timbers' were linked with Jozy Altidore by ESPN's Taylor Twellman on Wednesday, along with the New York Red Bulls and Toronto FC. TFC need to move Jermaine Defoe and have uncertainty at the top of their organizational structure with MLSE CEO Tim Leiweke on his way out, and Jeff Carlisle has reported that the Red Bulls don't want to pay. Portland is obviously the most stable, and quite possibly the most attractive option Altidore has. But reportedly seeking Clint Dempsey money and having such a torrid 18 months, the Timbers might not want to pay either. Getting Altidore would mean moving one of the team's three designated players, and the promising Fanendo Adi, who just arrived last summer, would almost certainly be on his way out. This isn't a question of the Timbers' ambition, it's a question of whether Altidore is worth the huge gamble it would take it to get him. Wouldn't the Timbers be more comfortable breaking the bank with Altidore money for a Didier Drogba type of player? There's really no way to know where the Altidore pursuit is, but it looks like it will dominate Timbers news in the winter transfer window.
- Gaston Fernandez has been re-signed for the 2015 season. Fernandez did well in 2014, and - aside from that bizarre penalty spat against FC Dallas with Will Johnson - seems like he has a good head on his shoulders. La Gata will be key as long as Valeri is absent, and he has more than earned a second season with the Timbers.
- Liam Ridgewell's loan to Wigan is a no-harm no-foul proposal. Ridgewell is only set to be with the Latics for a month and a half, and this move more shows how desperate Wigan is than anything on the Timbers' end. As long as Ridgewell stays healthy, the chunk of cash coming the Timbers' way with the loan deal makes it well worth it.
The 2015 season is coming into focus. The countdown to March 7th can begin in earnest.
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