The Montreal Impact are currently last place in the Eastern Conference and are looking for a huge win this Saturday vs the Portland Timbers at Stade Saputo. The Timbers are currently in 4th place in the Western conference and have been playing great soccer as of late.
To get an idea of just what the Montreal Impact will be facing from this weekend, we spoke with William Conwell from Stumptown Footy to get a good look at the Timbers.
The Portland Timbers are currently in 4th place in the Western Conference, where do you see the team finishing towards the end of the season?
Well, the Timbers's time at the top of the table was fun while it lasted, but I think that a fourth-place finish in the Western Conference would have been acceptable for most in the Rose City if it was on offer back at the start of March. Still, the bar has been raised just a bit since then thanks to the rampant starts of Fanendo Adi and Diego Valeri to the season, and if the pair can ramp their production back up to where it was at the start of the season then the Timbers will be in very good shape indeed.
If the Timbers can stabilize their back line and if the Timbers can get healthy in the attack and if the side's new arrivals -- Sebastian Blanco and David Guzman and unnamed summer center back signing -- can fully adjust to MLS, there is no reason not to think that the Timbers can compete for a spot near the top of the West. But that is a lot of ifs.
Who has been the Timbers unsung hero for the 2017 season so far?
When this sort of question comes up the answer is almost always Diego Chara. He makes plays all over the place, he covers more ground than anyone else on the team, and he is always popping up at just the right time. Add to all that one of the best-worked counter attacking goals of the season and you have a player who is decidedly under-appreciated outside of Portland.
Of course, there is some competition to be had when it comes to "unsung heroes".
Fanendo Adi is always going to be recognized for his goal scoring exploits, but his hold up play and defensive presence are both under-appreciated by many. David Guzman has gotten some recognition since coming into the league for his defensive play, but it is his ability to see the field and spring the attack that the Timbers prize. And, finally, Lawrence Olum deserves some recognition for stepping in at center back following the loss of Gbenga Arokoyo to a ruptured achilles tendon during the preseason and doing just enough at a position that is not his first choice to get the Timbers through the opening weeks of the season.
After winning the MLS cup back in 2015 and then not making the playoffs last season what has changed this season that might make us see the Timbers back to the team there were back in 2015.
The difference between 2016 and 2017 comes down to two things for the Timbers: personnel and mentality.
The 2017 Timbers have made several key additions, most notably bringing in Argentine attacking midfielder Sebastian Blanco and Costa Rican defensive midfielder David Guzman to fill two key gaps in the starting XI.
Blanco, 29, is a smart, tenacious attacking player, capable of playing anywhere in the attack and the Timbers have used him as such, playing him at right, left, and center attacking midfield so far this season. He replaces fellow Argentine Lucas Melano in the Timbers XI, trading out speed and potential for a more well-round game and greater defensive work rate. To date, Blanco has only notched a goal and two assists, but his contributions on the wing have still been notable, winning balls, setting up plays, and allowing Darlington Nagbe to play on his preferred left side.
Guzman, 26, is the first true No. 6 that the Timbers have run out in the Caleb Porter era, taking over the role from club legend Jack Jewsbury following his retirement at the end of the 2016 season. Guzman is a player who is unafraid to get stuck in, while also possessing the technique and vision to function as a deep-lying playmaker. When he is on Guzman's impact is apparent, allowing the Timbers to boss games and making up for some of the back line's less fortunate moments.
More than just the players on the pitch, however, it is the Timbers' mentality this season that should get the side over the hump. While the Timbers were one of the league's best at home in 2016, they failed to find a single win away from the friendly confines of Providence park. Those road struggles have already been put behind the side in 2017 as they have already bagged a pair of away wins early in the season.
Projected lineup: Jake Gleeson; Alvas Powell, Roy Miller, Liam Ridgewell, Vytas; Diego Chara, David Guzman; Sebastian Blanco, Diego Valeri, Darlington Nagbe; Fanendo Adi