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Timbers Look To Control Playoff Destiny

Saturday, September 20, 2014


Tims_Betony Mezsaros

Defense is a position all players must play. Photo Credit: Betony Mezsaros

The Portland Timbers will clash with Cascadia rival Vancouver Whitecaps FC on Saturday, Sept. 20, in what is undoubtedly the most important game of the year.

Kickoff is set for 2 p.m. PT at Providence Park.

With five games left in the MLS regular season, there are points yet to be played for, but the momentum-shifting implications of this game are hard to ignore.

Vancouver comes into the matchup positioned one point ahead of Portland in the fifth and final playoff spot.

Below, we offer a match preview for the most anticipated game of the season.

What To Watch For:

Defensive Effort from the Frontline

As you may know, Portland has had its fair share of defensive woes recently. But as you Barcelona or Bayern Munich fans may also know, gaining the ball back within the first six seconds of losing it is the easiest window in which to regain possession. 

Honestly, the defensive effort begins with those who lose the ball. More specifically, it’s the attacking midfielders and forwards who typically lose possession. That’s just the nature of the game.

So before we start blaming Liam Ridgewell for a defensive lapse again, keep an eye out on how well Diego Valeri, Diego Chara, and Darlington Nagbe communicate defensively.

Valeri always seems to be a play to watch out for in the match preview, based on his offensive presence, but keep an eye out for how his defensive positioning influences Vancouver's attacking opportunities. The Whitecaps prefer to advance down the left flank, thereby creating crossing opportunities or an easy cutback into the center from Pedro Morales, who is willing to shoot from range.

Given the offensive production Portland has put up in the last five game, including a 3-0 routing of Vancouver on Aug. 30, look for an increased defensive awareness from the attack-minded players. This, in the end, helps prevent counter attacks and allows more time for the defense to anticipate where the ball is going.

For Portland; Defense! Defense! 

Yet oddly enough, it must come from the offense.

Only Chivas USA (51) have conceded more goals than Portland (48) in the Western Conference.

Containing Pedro Morales

The ‘Caps have only lost once when Morales records a point, making it vital to shut down Vancouver’s goals (8) and assists (10) leader.
Morales and Valeri play a similar style - they’re both attacking midfielders who are willing to sit high up, looking for combination play with the designated forwards.

Valeri is tied for the league lead with 87 chances created for his teammates, while Morales is fifth in MLS with 67, according to a Whitecaps FC report.

That said, they are also willing to singlehandedly take a chance on goal. Therefore Vancouver’s offensive output will depend upon the impact Diego Chara can have defensively.

Head Coach Caleb Porter only had positive things to say about Chara after the Aug. 30 matchup.

“We sat Chara a little bit more and locked him in on Morales,” said Porter. “I thought that was a key because in some games we haven’t had that protection in the hole. I thought Chara did a really good job on Morales, who I think is one of the best attacking mids in the league.”

Chara ranks second in tackles among MLS players with 117. The next highest player has 92. Diego Chara and Matias Laba are tied for the league lead with 99 tackles won.

In their previous game at Vancouver, Portland exhibited a large amount of possession in Vancouver’s half, despite placing a lot of emphasis on using the through ball to create goal scoring opportunities.

This is where Portland’s ability to regain possession in the attacking third will play a critical role.

These are two match highlights to keep an close eye on, but in reality, the whole game should feature exciting play from all sections of the field, from Fanendo Adi’s impressive combination of physicality and touch to Alvas Powell’s quickness and nag for scoring from the winger position.

Home Page Photo Credit: rayterrill via Compfight cc


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