The Portland Timbers step into tonight’s match with high expectations. Last week, an MLS-season-opening loss to Cascadia rivals Vancouver dampened the excited mood for the season, albeit without usual starters Sebastián Blanco and Jeremy Ebobisse.
This week Portland face another team that reached a surprise result in week one: the Houston Dynamo, who beat San Jose 2-1 behind a match-winning goal from former Timber Maximiliano Urruti. The Dynamo and head coach Tab Ramos ran a 4-3-3-ish formation that conceded 60% of possession to the Earthquakes. But more on that later.
Urruti will be flanked up top by Tyler Pasher on the left (who put up .89 goals plus assists per 90 in the USL Championship last season and assisted Urruti’s goal last week) and Fafa Picault on the right (who struggled mightily on a last-place Houston squad last season). Ariel Lassiter, Darwin Quintero, and Christian Ramirez may offer attacking support off the bench.
Liga MX vet Joe Corona and third-year Dynamo man Matias Vera are the holding mids, while #8 Memo Rodriguez usually pushes a little higher up to create the bulk of chances (sound familiar?). Memo scored the opener last week for Houston with some great 1v1 skill after Houston’s high press forced a turnover.
The back line consists of left-back Adam Lundqvist, MLS vets Boniek Garcia and Tim Parker in the middle, and (another) former Timber Zarek Valentin on the right. Goalkeeper Marko Maric had three clean sheets in 23 games last season.
There have been questions about squad rotation as the Timbers host Club América in the Concacaf Champions League this Wednesday, but I don’t think Gio will bite. This is an important game against a Western Conference opponent, and at home no less.
Portland are still likely without both Blanco and Ebobisse, and of course Niezgoda remains out until mid-June. That means we’ll probably see the same starting XI as last week, including the formidable Dairon Asprilla. I would like to see Marvin Loría start over him, but I’m nitpicking.
Houston will probably use that high press again at times against Portland, but what worked best against the Timbers last week was Vancouver’s mid-low block that seemed to target (or rather suffocate) Diego Valeri. When Blanco is off the pitch, Valeri is the only one who can consistently create chances for the Timbers. With so many weapons this usually works out fine, but…injuries. Overall I expect a classic MLS regular season match—you know, the ones which are famously impossible to predict.
In all seriousness, the Timbers could and should win this match. I’m looking for a 2-0 win, although I’d settle for 1-0. The big emphasis has to be on the attack that struggled to create anything last week, while the back line gave up a stupid set-piece goal to the Whitecaps.
We haven’t seen enough of this season yet to say exactly how Portland might unlock Houston’s defense, but I have a hunch it revolves around Yimmi Chará. I predict he scores in this match.
Follow @doublepostpod for total coverage of tonight’s match (and every match!), including our postgame reaction podcast later this evening.
As always, RCTID!
cover image by HOUSTON DYNAMO FC via MLS (used with permission)