We caught up with Michael Orr of Stumptown Footy to exchange questions leading up to this weekends game between Toronto FC and the Portland Timbers. The good news is that Portland has also been hit by international call-ups and will be without some of their regular starters. That opens the door for some familiar faces to TFC and CMNT fans to play a major role.
You can find my answers to their questions up on Stumptown already as I talked about key players, international call-ups, and the latest round of restructuring around the club.
Waking the Red: Toronto and Portland came together for a bit of a surprising trade this offseason that saw Portland add Ryan Johnson and Milos Kocic. How have the two former TFC fan favourites done since making the move over?
Ryan Johnson has been a really important part this Timbers team under Caleb Porter. As a player who can hold the ball up, make good passes and of course finish when the opportunities are presented, he's fit in quite well as the starting forward in the usual 4-2-3-1 set-up. Of course, he won't be playing in Saturday's game due to his call-up with Jamaica, which is a big blow given Frederic Piquionne's extended injury absence. Kocic has appeared in just one game this year, while Donovan Ricketts was gone for World Cup qualifiers. He seems to be well liked among teammates but is largely an unknown figure to fans, as his sole appearance was in Chicago and included allowing two goals in the second half when the Timbers were ahead 2-0.
WTR: When Will Johnson seemed to be on the market in Salt Lake a lot of fans around these parts were clamouring to see him come to Toronto. It seems that TFC's loss was Portland's gain in this case. How important has the Canadian been for Portland this year and do you expect him will be able to play this weekend after being out injured recently?
It might be overstatement to say Will Johnson has been the most important offseason acquisition for Portland, as Diego Valeri has made a name for himself league-wide in just six months. But Johnson has been a crucial part of the midfield for the Timbers and very effective captain. When he and Diego Chara play together in central midfield, Portland is a composed, high functioning team. Though his absences does not prevent the Timbers from playing well, it has contributed to a general slide in form over the past month. How close he might have come to going to Toronto will probably never be known but Johnson is exactly the kind of hard-working, versatile player Porter needs for his system.
Johnson will almost certainly play as Ben Zemanski and Jack Jewsbury are both out this weekend due to suspension and injury. His effectiveness will likely be based on his threshold for pain, as it does not seem like his shoulder blade injury is completely healed.
WTR: There has been a lot of talk about "Porterball" this season as people try to explain the Timbers improved performance. What has been the biggest change outside of bringing in Porter that has led to such an improvement on the Timber's 2012 record?
The overall quality of players has increased greatly from 2012. Taking those better players and giving them specific responsibilities and a system that holds them accountable has given average players the chance to be good and good players the chance to be great. This is by no means a perfect team and Porter will surely have more moves to make in the coming years, but the retained players formed a good core entering last winter and the added players have strengthened areas of weakness to give Porter a starting point. With a better, more coherent plan in place, player attitudes have improved which has led to better performances and training. It's impossible to remove Porter from the equation but the willingness of players to try a new system and buy into the short-term and long-term plan is a credit to them and a big reason for the change in fortunes this year.
Bonus: expected starting XI (4-2-3-2)
GK - Kocic
Defenders - Harrington, Jean-Baptiste, Kah, Ring
Midfielders (2) - W Johnson, Chara
Midfielders (3) - Wallace, Nagbe, Alhassan
Forwards - Valencia