Nashville hits the road for the first time as an MLS team this weekend. I caught up with Portland Timbers blogger Kip Kesgard for a look at what NSC can expect out in Rose City.
FCAC: Obviously last weekend’s game was a disappointment. The xG numbers say it was a relatively even game despite the loss, does that feel right? How did the game turn against the Timbers?
KK: I agree that the match stats indicated it was a fairly even affair, but the Timbers struggled mightily in transition and that really was the difference in the match. With both fullbacks pulled up very far in the attack, Minnesota was able to exploit space on the counter as the Timbers scrambled to defend back. While this has been a bit of a pattern with the Loons – the Timbers struggled with Minnesota much of 2019 – the same issues cropped up when the teams met in the preseason as well. Some of it is due to changes in the defensive line, some is due to adjustments in the midfield, but a big part is Gio Savarese’s desire to push the tempo forward.
FCAC: Portland has been a team built around the Diegos (Chara and Valeri) for some time now, but both are 33. Are they expected to continue being the faces of the team? Who is ready to step up as they enter the twilights of their respective careers?
KK: Both Diegos remain huge contributors to the club, but I do see their roles changing some in 2020. The Timbers want Christian Paredes to become the heir apparent in the central midfield for Chara, and so far, he’s started to do that – but Portland isn’t the same team with Chara. Valeri was a huge catalyst for the attack, but the team is hopeful that Felipe Mora, Jaroslaw Niezgoda and Jeremy Ebobisse can shoulder more of the scoring burden and offensive creativity. Valeri will remain in Portland as long as he wants in my opinion.
FCAC: The Timbers have been known as a lethal counter-attacking team in recent seasons. Is that expected to continue into 2020?
KK: Gio lives and dies by the counter, and I don’t expect that to change. Even in the light of last week’s result, he’s made it a point that it was a lack of discipline and focus that cost the team dearly. While I agree with that to some extent, I wonder if Portland will stick with this approach if the results continue to go against them.
FCAC: How does the team succeed on the defensive end of the pitch? Is it a press-and-turn-you-over side, a lower block?
KK: Portland will survive defensively with organization and communication. Right now, Larrys Mabiala is working with another new center back, Dario Zuparic, and it was apparent they were still trying to figure out their chemistry. With the backs pushing up quite often, it will be up to Mabiala, Zuparic and Diego Chara to effectively clog the middle to slow down the opposition counter until they can get reinforcements. We’ll see if it works.
FCAC: For Nashville fans who haven’t yet been to Providence Park, what should they expect out of one of the American cathedrals of the sport?
KK: Providence Park has a rich history of sports prior to it becoming the full time home of the Timbers before their 2011 MLS debut. From hosting concerts to baseball to football to a litany of other sports, the park simply is one of the unique jewels of soccer. The fact it’s just outside the core of downtown Portland within walking distance of that hub is huge, but the new design also holds in crowd noise like nobody’s business. Home matches are a cacophony of action, songs, flags and jumping, and while we are friendly to visitors to a point before and after the match, during the match, it’s all business.
FCAC: Finally, what are you expecting out of the game? Do you have a final score prediction?
KK: I expect it to be tight. Portland’s finishing is still an issue but I expect a more spirited effort in that respect. Nashville showed some promise in their debut as well, but I will give it to the Timbers to get a 2 to 0 win with Yimmi Chara and Valeri netting goals to give the home side their first points for 2020.
Many thanks to Kip for his insight on the Timbers. Follow him on Twitter @kipkesgard. Top photo courtesy Portland Timbers.