Waking The Red: On paper Portland look like they should be better than they have been, especially with the midfield. How come having Will Johnson and Diego Chara back there hasn't led to a better defensive record? How come Darlington Nagbe hasn't even scored a league goal this season?
Stumptown Footy: The first question here is answerable, the second is impossible, but here we go. Mostly the answer to the first question is that individual defensive errors on the back line and less than optimal positioning by Donovan Ricketts have been major contributors to the poor defensive record. It also did not help that Danny O'Rourke and Rauwshan McKenzie were the starting center backs for more than a month. Some of the signings have not worked out very well (Norberto Paparatto) and other guys just haven't been as good as they were a year ago (Michael Harrington). Within the system, it makes no sense why the Timbers allow so many goals with ostensibly six defenders but then again the reality is that at any given time, one or both outside backs could be forward and Johnson is likely to be drifting up field, too. With poor one-on-one defending a characteristic of several Portland defenders, the attacking, pressing style farther up field sometimes leaves the defenders out to dry as well. You can pick any one of those stories or combine them in an infinite number of pairs but the reality is that it's all working against Portland's hoping of reducing goals scored.
As for Nagbe, who in the world knows? He did score in the US Open Cup against the Seattle Sounders but otherwise it's been a big blank this year. Part of deal is that he's involved a bit deeper than in the past, so he's passing to the likes of Diego Valeri or Gaston Fernandez who are then creating goals themselves. Nagbe is second on the Timbers with six assists so he's staying involved in the games. It's also worth noting that in very few games does Nagbe look out of sorts. He's had a visually great season despite being almost completely statistically deficient. That said, he still all but refuses to use his left foot and seems more hesitant when approaching goal than he has in years past. But, then again the Timbers are on track to have as many as four players score eight goals so it isn't like they're really in need of more scoring to keep up in the Western Conference. It's been pretty confounding, though, and an endless topic of conversation around town.
WTR: There's been big in season additions at both ends of the pitch. What have they brought to the team and who's been more influential, Adi or Ridgewell?
SF: It's hard to argue Liam Ridgewell isn't more influential if only because he starts every game. Fanendo Adi alternates starting with Maximiliano Urruti so while he's got a great scoring record, that impact is felt in fewer whole games. To whatever degree it's possible to say the defending has improved over the second half of the season, a lot of that is attributable to Ridgewell and his ability to control the back line with better communication. Yes, he's had a few poor-ish outings (especially against the Seattle Sounders last month) but overall he's made the team better in an area where it was desperately needed. Not to mention scoring two goals along the way. Adi has been fantastic but the truth is that the Timbers were already in a pretty good place offensively. They are most certainly better with Adi as an option but his overall influence is as one of a pair of very good forwards not as the only good central defender.
I'm not sure I totally buy my own argument there but it's plausible enough. Both have been very important additions.
WTR: Is Maximiliano Urruti living up to expectations in his first full season in Portland. Do you see him as a long term piece of the puzzle there?
SF: To answer the second part of the question first, no. And the reason is that he's one of the few players the Timbers didn't have to pay a ton to acquire who could also fetch a hefty sum from another league around the world. As far as expectations go, I really don't think they were particularly high when he arrived from Toronto FC last fall because no one had ever really seen him play. Despite scoring a spectacular goal against LA Galaxy he quickly got hurt and then the Timbers went on a playoff run without him. So going into this year there wasn't a ton of pressure on him to be a star player, especially when the Timbers added Gaston Fernandez in the offseason. But Urruti has proven that he's an excellent player that is improving with each month that passes. In the short-ish term, he's a very important piece of the line-up puzzle, both as Portland tries to get into the playoffs and continues in the Champions League. I just don't know that he's going to last forever in MLS because at some point there's going to be big interest, provided he continues playing at or near his current level.
WTR: Lineup and score prediction.
GK Donovan Ricketts
LB Jorge Villafana
CB Liam Ridgewell
CB Pa Modou Kah
RB Alvas Powell
DM Will Johnson
DM Diego Chara
LW Rodney Wallace
ACM Diego Valeri
RW Darlington Nagbe
F Fanendo Adi
Toronto 2 - Timbers 2
Thanks to Michael, be sure to check out Stumptown Footy for the Portland view of the game, starting with my answers to his questions here.