Ahead of Wednesday's game with the lowly Timbers, i got in touch with Geoff Gibson of Stumptown Footy, SB Nation's excellent Timbers blog, where you can go for the Portland view of the game, to answer some of my questions on just what's going on these days in Portland. After the jump we talk Kris Boyd, Jack Jewsbury what sort of lineup TFC could be looking at, and how Gavin Wilkinson's making john Spencer look good, and I also answer his TFC related questions. So Portland, how you doin'?
Waking The Red: Expansion team with fans that raise the bar for the league, an underachieving team, and a lot of turmoil, it certainly sounds familiar, you're just a P away from being TFC. Do you have confidence in the long term direction of the club? Has the recent managerial change and trades affected that at all?
Stumptown Footy: In a word: Yes. But I'm also an eternal optimist. The fact is that it's still way to early to be comparing Portland to Toronto. Most new expansion teams are inconsistent and, frankly, bad for their first few seasons. Look at Real Salt Lake. Their first three seasons were seriously inconsistent. Philadelphia is going through a similar thing right now. The Seattle Sounders are, of course, the exception.
I think it's important to have faith in managerial decisions that are happening right now. I know fans are angry and upset, but the fact is we're not in panic mode yet. Now if the next head coach doesn't pan out I'll start to become a little worried.
WTR: Kris Boyd. 7 goals. Are Timbers fans happy with his contribution so far? Also, has Jack Jewsbury lived up to his all star first year in Portland?
SF: Nobody is upset with Kris Boyd. That's the best I can give you. I think fans have seen what he can do given the right circumstances and are now mostly annoyed by the lack of service to him. When he gets the ball he can do some amazing things with it.
As for Cap'n Jack. Unfortunately, no. He was the hero last year for a new club which desperately needed one. Unfortunately, he hasn't shone as bright this year. That's not to say he hasn't contributed, but he's moved around the field a bit and in some games can just seem lost. It's not really a Jewsbury-specific problem though... the team in general just has this malaise feeling about them.
WTR: Given all the recent changes, and potential international absences, what sort of lineup and formation are we likely to see on Wednesday? Is the team playing better now under Gavin Wilkinson?
SF: I'm not expecting any wild changes, aside from the man in the net, obviously. Here's my predicted starting line up:
Donovan Ricketts; Kosuke Kimura, David Horst, Hanyer Mosquera, Steven Smith; Diego Chara, Jack Jewsbury, Darlington Nagbe; Brent Richards, Kris Boyd, Franck Songo'o
Some of the players could be weather dependent (Boyd and Smith don't do well in high heat).
Overall, no the team has played far worse under Gavin Wilkinson than John Spencer. In fact, Spencer is coming out of this firing looking a bit like a genius who cobbled together some decent wins with an obviously deficient team.
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SF: As another bottom dwelling team, what are the expectations for the team this season? Have your team's own managerial changes been effective? To what extent? Is this another "build for next season" season?
WTR: Sadly, expectations have already been once again reduced to "providing hope for next year" and "not doing so badly that we have to fire another coach". It's difficult to even look at the CCL as something to hang on to given the format means we'll have to finish above Santos Laguna, who absolutely killed us earlier this year.
The firing of Aron Winter and shuffling of Paul Mariner have made a difference, we're certainly a more effective and difficult to break down team than we were. It's not a massive difference though, 16 points in 12 games is an improvement but that's still not playoff form or anything. That modest improvement has come with a sharp reversal of overall direction away from the Jurgen Klinsmann influenced 4-3-3 plan. It just wasn't working for Aron Winter, but many would have liked to have brought in an experienced coach who could have kept playing that way, as opposed to Mariner's back to basics approach.
WTR: When fit, Frings and Koevermans have once again played very well. Frings brings the experience and control you'd expect in defensive midfield, helping to protect a very young defence, and has also managed to knock in a couple of long distance goals this year as well. He takes most of our corners and free kicks, and though they're a bit hit and miss, he's definitely improved in that regard over the season.
Koevermans is just a goal machine. We don't generally get much possession or create too many chances under Mariner, so having someone who could make the most of those chances was crucial.
A big part of Aron Winter's downfall was the fact that the two of them were very rarely fit at the same time earlier in the season, and now Koevermans is done for the season. mariner acted quickly to replace him, brining in another DP in Eric Hassli, which theoretically should work very well, though he's only played barely over 60 minutes so far as he recovers from injury.
SF: We know about Frings, and Koevermans. Tell us about a player or two who is perhaps not as well known nationally, but is expected to make a big impact on the game. Who should Timbers fans keep an eye out for?
WTR: Here I'll go for Reggie Lambe. He's a Bermudan Right Winger who never quite caught on in England, but has done quite well with TFC so far. He's chipped in with a few goals, and has the skills you'd expect from a tricky winger (though surprisingly hasn't really shown off any great speed yet). With Hassli just coming back from injury, TFC will be hoping for goals from elsewhere, if Lambe can have a Javier Martina-esque game against Portland, that would do nicely.
SF: Predicted starting line up?
WTR: Mariner has gutted the squad and not had the time to rebuild it yet, add in some injuries, a suspension and 5 players called up for internationals, and it's going to be a very makeshift team, and probably a half full subs bench. Starting lineup, I'll guess at the following: Milos Kocic; Ty Harden, Richard Eckersley, Adrian Cann, Ashtone Morgan; Torsten Frings, Aaron Maund, Reggie Lambe, Eric Avila; Eric Hassli, Luis Silva.
Thanks Geoff, best of luck for the rest of the season.