Nov 2, 2013, 4:32 AM EDT
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.
- 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.
Apr 27, 2015, 4:15 PM EDT
Maybe the best player in MLS that you don’t know about, it’s time to recognize Ethan Finlay.
Apr 27, 2015, 3:30 PM EDT
28 goals in 9 games means choices aplenty for this week’s MLS Team of the Week.
Apr 27, 2015, 3:11 PM EDT
Now 21-year-old midfielder John McGinn is set for three weeks on the sidelines, though he also has a heck of a story.
Apr 27, 2015, 2:18 PM EDT
The 29-year-old Belgian center back joins a unit which has conceded just 19 goals in La Liga play, the best total in the league by six goals.
Apr 27, 2015, 1:35 PM EDT
Hazard is now the PFA’s reigning Player of the Year. We doubt very much this video will make his peers think they voted incorrectly.
Apr 27, 2015, 1:16 PM EDT
Backup keeper Erik Kronberg is ineligible for the competition since he was a part of Sporting KC earlier in the tournament.
Apr 27, 2015, 12:07 PM EDT
The headlines aren’t being kind to Newcastle on Monday morning, and it seems their manager is sick of his players’ performance and grief from supporters.
Apr 27, 2015, 11:08 AM EDT
True to form, the West is leading. Perhaps not to expectations, but leading nonetheless.
Apr 27, 2015, 10:35 AM EDT
PST’s Lead Writer and Editor takes an alternative look at Week 34 in the PL.
Apr 27, 2015, 10:10 AM EDT
Find out which club put forth a performance that was second to none in Round 34 of the Premier League.
MLS official squashes rumor of emergency intra-MLS goalkeeper loan for CONCACAF Champions League final
Apr 27, 2015, 9:21 AM EDT
A potential week-long loan of Chicago Fire goalkeeper Sean Johnson to the Montreal Impact for this Wednesday’s second leg of the CONCACAF Champions League final against Club America is not going to happen.
Apr 27, 2015, 8:35 AM EDT
Find out whose star shone above the rest in the Premier League this weekend.
Apr 27, 2015, 8:08 AM EDT
Elton John. American skippers and Harry Potter. Get to know the Hornets ahead of their PL return.
Apr 27, 2015, 7:50 AM EDT
Sturridge and Luis Suarez registered 52 PL goals last season. Liverpool as a team has 47 this season.
Apr 26, 2015, 11:50 PM EDT
Final: Sounders 1-0 Timbers
Apr 26, 2015, 10:21 PM EDT
Roundup of La Liga and Serie A competition from Sunday.
Apr 26, 2015, 9:21 PM EDT
Final: Orlando City 0-2 Toronto FC
Apr 26, 2015, 8:15 PM EDT
Watch the Premier League highlights from Sunday’s matches.
Apr 26, 2015, 7:18 PM EDT
Final: New York Red Bulls 1-1 LA Galaxy
Apr 26, 2015, 6:24 PM EDT
Who took the PFA prizes today?
- MLS Player of the Week — Week 8: Columbus Crew SC’s Ethan Finlay 0
- MLS Team of the Week — Stars of Week 8 0
- Not even allowed an appeal: CONCACAF confirms Bush suspension for Champions League final 2
- Premier League Playback: Chelsea brilliant, not boring, as title inches closer 0
- MLS official squashes rumor of emergency intra-MLS goalkeeper loan for CONCACAF Champions League final 10
- VIDEO: Premier League Player of the Week — Round 34 0