Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports
New Head Coach, New Players, New Core but still the same high expectations. Let's have a look at some key players on the Portland Timbers.
After an impressive second half comeback against the New York Red Bulls, we could take the lazy path and just say that the Impact needs to:
(*) Cover all the Timbers players
(*) Shoot from anywhere towards Donovan Ricketts
(*) Defend, Defend and Defend
But a few players caught my attention as did the whole mindset of the Portland Timbers.
Diego Valeri: Play Maker Extraordinaire
The Argentinean midfielder is tagged as one of the key signings that will mark the reign of Caleb Porter, or at least the beginning of the Caleb reign. The 26-year old is on loan from Argentine club Lanús and the Timbers have an option to buy.
He made himself noticed when he scored a beautiful goal against the New York Red Bulls, making excellent precise passes while making runs in the offensive zone. A sweet and sour stat of 37 successful passes against 27 unsuccessful passes makes him look imprecise but the quality is still there. His first touch is remarkable but not impossible to counter if you bother him enough.
It's pretty clear that the Timbers' game plan is to involve Diego Valeri when attacking from the center. This is where the importance of the dense Montreal midfield comes into play.
Should the Impact man-mark Valeri and asphyxiate any type of offense coming from him?
With a 4-1-4-1 formation, it would be difficult to ask Patrice Bernier to hold that important zone all alone, specifically in front of the defense. I will be surprised if they do so but having 2 CMF instead of one might help counter Valeri's game.
Offensive Mind Set From The Defensive Midfielders
Diego Chara and Will Johnson will have the task to patrol the Portland midfield. As first defenders, they did a great job against a talented Red Bulls midfield. Chara's athleticism is one of his strengths and I would watch for him to pin down Felipe Martins all game long. Johnson is the captain on and off the field and his fighting spirit was the key to start the crazy comeback against NY.
Outside fighting spirit and physical presence, Johnson and Chara had respectively 63 and 66 successful passes, respectively approximately 80% and 90% in passing accuracy. We are talking about 2 highly skilled defensive midfielders that will get involved in the offensive buildup.
Between Valeri, Johnson and Chara, Arnaud-Bernier-Felipe will have huge task to keep them under control.
Offensive Trio: Warning to the Impact's Wings
Darlington Nagbe and Kalif Alhassan will be patrolling the sides of the Timbers offense as wingers/midfielders. Part of an overrall complete game, the Timbers will be leaning as much on Valeri's central game than on the wings from Nagbe and Alhassan.
Both ''wingers'' will be providing pace and crosses to Ryan Johnson, who has had success against the Montreal Impact during Di Vaio's first game with the club.
Being the pivot/top man upfront, R. Johnson will need to suck in the Impact Italian duo of Nesta and Ferrari. But also, Portland's more complete game will include attacking directly from the middle and from the sides. So we can expect a mix of plays in which the Timbers will stretch out Montreal's defense and to mix that with upfront attacks to find gaps between the lines and between the players.
Defensively, the Montreal Impact have shown to be very organised early in the season. That poise and tactical discipline/awareness will be key to survive what seems a very spread out offensive Timbers team. I do not expect a high tempo like against NY as the circumstances were different.
One way of taking the crowd out of the game and the opponent is to control the ball and make the Timbers run after it. Whether that is actually possible or not is another story as it's more than possible that Portland will apply high pressure on the Impact early in the game.