Skip to content

MLS Playoff Focus: Notes on Portland ahead of Saturday’s trip to Seattle

Nov 2, 2013, 4:32 AM EST

San Jose Earthquakes v Portland Timbers - Portland Timbers Tournament Getty Images

Ahead of Saturdays’ first-leg of this conference semifinal series, here are the must-knows about the Portland Timbers: (Saturday’s match kicks off at 10 p.m. ET Saturday on NBCSN):

  • Valeri and Nagbe: Different peas in the same pod

They’re playmakers of different types, though calling Darlington Nagbe that would be a stretch. In three Major League Soccer seasons, Portland’s attacking midfielder has eight assists, yet as somebody who can operate in a number 10′s space, he’s shockingly reliable with his passes. Eschewing risk for accuracy, Nagbe’s pass completion rate of 85.4 percent was the highest among Major League Soccer’s attackers in 2013.

Contrast that with Diego Valeri, who only completed 73.1 percent of his passes (ranking 185th among all players in Major League Soccer). Willing to take the chances Nagbe won’t, Valeri led the league in assists (13). In Opta’s key pass stat (passes that lead to chances), he averaged 2.3 per 90 minutes. Nagbe? 1.4.

Together, each provides something the other does not, but there’s one playmaker here, even if both can drop into that role. And as Portland fans found out throughout the last two months of the season, if there’s one player that’s more likely to decide a match, it’s Diego Valeri.

[WATCH: Sounders-Timbers will be available on NBC Sports Live Extra]

  • The four-headed monster

The Timbers starting lineup is utterly predictable with one exception: The team’s number nine. At the point of their attack, the team has four options, with Caleb Porter’s choice potentially telling us how he plans to approach Saturday’s game:

    • Maxi Urruti, the late-season acquisition from Toronto, has been battling a hamstring injury and is unlikely to play. If he’s chosen, Porter will be selecting the group’s best goal poacher, Urruti’s positioning able to exploit the hole Valeri and Nagbe create. His pressing is also seen as a virtue.
    • Jose Valencia has started the team’s last three games and would be the option Porter chooses if he wants to test Djimi Traoré and Jhon Kennedy Hurtado with pace. That pace can also be used wide, to take on fullbacks Leo González, DeAndre Yedlin or Brad Evans.
    • Frederic Piquionne is the direct option. If Portland wants to test Marcus Hahnemann’s willingness to come out and challenge balls sent into his area, the 34-year-old is their best option.
    • Then there’s Ryan Johnson, the one-time first choice whose minutes have dwindled as the season’s progressed. In addition to experience, he offers a little bit of every of everything, though his tenacity distinguishes him from the others. He might be Saturday’s ‘play it safe’ option.

Going four deep at striker can be seen as special of frightening. Either your the U.S. Women’s National Team and have an enviable army, or the lack of a stand-out contributes to your indecisiveness. Caleb Porter has talked up the virtues of having four solid options, but at striker, quality may be better than quantity. Particularly when you’re playing with only one up top.

  • What does playoff experience mean?

When you see how Colorado and Montréal performed mid-week, you can’t help but notice teams light on playoff experience being controlled by more tested squads. Perhaps that was coincidence, or maybe we’re biased toward seeing what we want, but Houston and Seattle seemed more intense than their regular season selves. For Colorado and Montréal, it might as well have been game 34.

Portland’s in the same boat. Donovan Ricketts and Will Johnson have won MLS Cups, and Jack Jewsbury has been here before, but the rest of Saturday’s potential starters have only smatterings of playoff experience (at most). If that experience is important, Portland’s at a huge disadvantage against Seattle.

  • The importance of Will Johnson

That’s where Portland’s captain comes into play. If you could only have two experienced players, you’d probably want them in goal (or, maybe central defense) and central midfield. And although Diego Valeri has been Portland’s best player in 2013, Will Johnson has been their heartbeat. It’s hard to overestimate the value his vitality has brought to the team, something that translated into his numbers (nine regular season goals) and the team’s success.

Seattle may see Johnson in a different light. In last year’s playoffs, he was the subject of a homophobic slur from Marc Burch that saw the Seattle defender subsequently suspended. In this year’s last regular season meeting between the clubs, Johnson drew an elbow from Osvaldo Alonso that saw the Sounders’ midfielder ejected from the game. As Sigi Schmid put it after that game, “whenever things happen, Will Johnson always seems to be at the other end of things.”

Unless the unexpected happens again, Johnson’s most important role should bea  less controversial one: That of helping Diego Chará protect a vulnerable central defense. That two-man shield has helped Portland survive the season with their third and fourth choice central defenders (Futty Danso, Pa Modou Kah). Protecting that Gambia duo by cutting off access to opposing forwards is more crucial in Portland games than most.

Latest Posts
  1. Lukas Podolski is “not some clown” and sounds like a man ready to leave Arsenal

    Nov 24, 2014, 12:36 PM EST

    Arsenal Training Session Getty Images

    Seven of his eight appearances have been substitutions, all in the 76th minute or later.

  2. Yikes: Suspended Bradley Wright-Phillips, teammates, Petke “didn’t know rules” of card accumulation

    Nov 24, 2014, 11:35 AM EST

    Bradley Wright-Phillips AP

    No one told Wright-Phillips another yellow card would keep him out of an MLS Cup Playoff game. Pretty unsettling if you’re a Red Bulls fan.

  3. Arsenal captain Mikel Arteta “shocked” at loss to Manchester United, rues “lack of ruthlessness”

    Nov 24, 2014, 10:45 AM EST

    Arsenal v Manchester United - Premier League Getty Images

    Arteta felt they were dominating the game before an own goal from Kieran Gibbs changed the temperature and, at the risk of losing something in the language, doesn’t think highly of the Red Devils.

  4. England women set attendance record in loss at Wembley Stadium

    Nov 24, 2014, 9:46 AM EST

    England v Germany - Women's International Friendly Getty Images

    It wasn’t quite a number that rivaled top American matches, but women’s soccer in England can take an extra bow.

  5. Americans Abroad review: Boyd bags brace, Johannsson heads home (video)

    Nov 24, 2014, 9:09 AM EST

    Dutch Eredivisie - "AZ Alkmaar v Vitesse Arnhem" Getty Images

    A trio of American attackers scored goals and a bevy of defenders and netminders worked good shifts in the own end.

  6. FIFPro’s World XI five goalkeeper shortlist includes… Iker Casillas???

    Nov 24, 2014, 8:20 AM EST

    iker_casillas Getty Images

    Certainly keepers like David De Gea, Tim Howard, Wojciech Szczesny, Hugo Lloris and Salvatore Sirigu are scratching their heads.

  7. Premier League Preview: Aston Villa vs. Southampton

    Nov 24, 2014, 7:30 AM EST

    http://www.avfc.co.uk/ http://www.avfc.co.uk/

    Two teams on very different form meet on NBCSN to finish off the weekend’s Premier League action.

  8. La Liga and Serie A roundup: Valencia, Napoli falter in Champions League bids; Milan derby a stalemate

    Nov 23, 2014, 10:20 PM EST

    FBL-ESP-LIGA-LEVANTE-VALENCIA Getty Images

    Catch up on all of Sunday’s action and movement in La Liga and Serie A.

  9. Inside Look, MLS Cup Playoffs: How Revs, Galaxy built very different one-goal leads

    Nov 23, 2014, 8:15 PM EST

    Jermaine Jones AP

    The Revs and Galaxy may both hold one-goal advantages, but they’re very different leads built in very different ways.

  10. Video: Warnock delighted with “old fashioned cup tie” from Palace

    Nov 23, 2014, 7:45 PM EST

    Warnock Getty Images

    The Crystal Palace manager hailed his side’s “Neil Warnock performance” as they pull themselves out of the relegation zone.

  11. Recap: LA Galaxy grab 1-0 lead over Seattle Sounders in Western Conference Championship

    Nov 23, 2014, 7:14 PM EST

    Seattle Sounders v Los Angeles Galaxy - Western Conference Final - Leg 1 Getty Images

    The Galaxy find themselves just 90 minutes from the third MLS Cup final in four years after a narrow victory over the Sounders.

  12. Halftime, MLS Cup Playoffs: LA Galaxy, Seattle Sounders in 0-0 Western Conference Championship stalemate

    Nov 23, 2014, 6:05 PM EST

    Seattle Sounders v Los Angeles Galaxy - Western Conference Final - Leg 1 Getty Images

    Zeroes on the scoresheet, but plenty of action in the first half. Sounders very patient, but Galaxy getting close.

  13. Despite artificial turf, New York Red Bulls’ Thierry Henry says he’ll play next week at New England

    Nov 23, 2014, 5:32 PM EST

    New England Revolution v New York Red Bulls - Eastern Conference Final - Leg 1 Getty Images

    He’s only ever done it twice in his MLS career, but with the season — and maybe his career — on the line, Thierry Henry will play on artificial turf next week.

  14. Video: Mauricio Pochettino keeps even keel after Hull win

    Nov 23, 2014, 4:50 PM EST

    Pochettino Getty Images

    The Spurs manager wouldn’t be drawn into talk about the winner from Christian Eriksen or the red card to Gaston Ramirez, instead discussing how he was just delighted to get three points any way he can.

  15. Lineups, MLS Cup Playoffs: LA Galaxy host Seattle Sounders in Western Conference Championship, leg 1

    Nov 23, 2014, 4:25 PM EST

    Juninho, Landon Donovan, Dan Gargan, Robbie Keane Juninho, Landon Donovan, Dan Gargan, Robbie Keane

    Lineups are in for the Galaxy and Sounders’ Western Conference Championship first leg matchup. Two massive omissions leave Seattle shorthanded.

  16. Recap: New England Revolution snatch 2-1 lead, two away goals from New York Red Bulls

    Nov 23, 2014, 4:07 PM EST

    Jermaine Jones, Luis Robles AP

    The Eastern Conference Championship first leg finished Red Bulls 1-2 Revolution, putting Jay Heaps’ side in full control of the series.

  17. Video: Bruce rues Ramirez red card which “ruined the spectacle”

    Nov 23, 2014, 3:10 PM EST

    Bruce Getty Images

    Steve Bruce challenged the decision to give Gaston Ramirez a straight red card, and criticized Tottenham defender Jan Vertonghen for going down too easily.

  18. Halftime, MLS Cup Playoffs: New York Red Bulls 1-1 New England Revolution after thrilling first half

    Nov 23, 2014, 2:52 PM EST

    Bradley Wright-Phillips, Bill Hamid Bradley Wright-Phillips, Bill Hamid

    The first 45 at Red Bull Arena was wild. Take a deep breath and relive the thrilling actions, goals and all.

  19. Watch Live: New York Red Bulls vs New England Revolution (Lineups)

    Nov 23, 2014, 2:00 PM EST

    Jones AP

    New England is undefeated in 11 straight matches with Jermaine Jones in the lineup.

  20. Video: Brendan Rodgers says Liverpool needs to “become a team”

    Nov 23, 2014, 1:29 PM EST

    Rodgers AP

    Brendan Rodgers was quite downtrodden following Liverpool’s 3-1 defeat at Crystal Palace, the club’s third defeat in a row.

Featured video

Week 12: PL Sunday recap