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How You Doin'? Portland Timbers

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Stumptown Footy stops by for a chat prior to Saturday's match against Portland

Looks like they're having fun, but what do the Portland faithful really think about their side?
Looks like they're having fun, but what do the Portland faithful really think about their side?
Steve Dykes-USA TODAY Sports

Continuing Waking the Red's build in the tenth game of the 2015 season, WTR exchanged some questions with Will Conwell of SB Nation's Portland Timbers site, Stumptown Footy, to shed some light on the opponent from their perspective.

Question the first
Goal-scoring seems to have been an issue for the Timbers thus far this season. Granted injuries to Will Johnson and Diego Valeri undoubtedly played a role in that short-coming, but it does speak a little to a lack of quality depth. Is Fanendo Adi the man to fill the nets? And does the side have the necessary reserves for a long MLS season, especially at the back, where the absence of either Liam Ridgewell or Nat Borchers, no spring chickens, could create a serious gap?

The Timbers seemed to take a wait and see attitude to the attack over the offseason. The absence of Valeri was always going to be a big issue, but some decent appearances from Gaston Fernandez and the overall goalscoring rate of the team through the 2014 season (only LA and Seattle scored more) seemed to indicate that the team could make do until The Maestro made his return. Instead, the Timbers concentrated on solidifying their defense, the weak point of the 2014 season.

Things did not quite go to plan. Fernandez, asked to pull the strings of the attack from the center of the pitch, looked lost in the preseason and was soon dropped in favor of an attack focused on and flowing through Darlington Nagbe. While a dynamic and dangerous player who stood out when asked to be at the center of the Timbers' attack, the game plan for neutralizing Nagbe -- foul him, foul him, foul him -- remains the same when he is in he center of the pitch, and as such Nagbe's struggles only made it harder for the rest of the Timbers' attack to chip in like they did in previous seasons.

But now Valeri is back. With Valeri on the pitch, the Timbers have a player that can hurt opposing teams in so many different ways: playing in his teammates with immaculate passes behind the defense, curling home ridiculously taken first time shots, or just opening up space for the rest of the Timbers attack to go to work. With Valeri on the ball, no matter who the Timbers have at the top of their formation, they will be in position to score and both Adi and Maximiliano Urruti have the quality to finish off the chances that come their way. Both have been in a bit of a funk, although Adi appears to be breaking out of it, but most of that funk came without Valeri providing golden chances for them.

As far as the defense goes the big worry is not Nat Borchers and Liam Ridgewell, the Timbers have unfortunately undervalued Norberto Paparatto to step in there, the worry is what the Timbers will do when Alvas Powell departs for the Gold Cup and the bevy of Jamaican National Team call-ups that the youngster is sure to receive. Jack Jewsbury, the team's right back in recent years and holding midfielder in Will Johnson's absence, is not getting any younger (although he no longer appears to be aging) and the team's other first team fullback with any minutes is young Brazilian Jeanderson, who is undoubtedly skilled but is yet to prove himself in actual play with the Timbers' first team.

Question the second
Now in his third season at the helm of the club, some of the sheen and spotlight has worn off of Caleb Porter and his Akron-ball. Is he on the clock, or is there plenty of patience and confidence in his ability to lead this side to the playoffs and beyond? Is he capable of guiding Portland through a competitive Western Conference or may it soon be time to try something different?

The answer to this question seems to change week by week, but the quick answer is that the Timbers seem to believe in what Porter is trying to build. The team is in it for the long haul with a core group of players that are locked in for several years and should provide the nucleus to a team that could be a perennial contender.

Of course, that all supposes that the Timbers get their *stuff* together. The Timbers of 2013, free scoring with an unbeatable defensive corps, are the dream, but since then the reality has been somewhat less shiny.

The Timbers have been one of the teams in MLS regularly hamstrung by injuries, tending to lose between two and three players from one position to injury at a time. Being in the absurdly competitive Western Conference has not helped either.

So, can Porter pull it all together and get this team playing at the level that many think it is capable of? Nobody seems to be able to agree on an answer to that in Portland right now, and that is probably not a good thing.

Question the third
When TFC entered the league they were heralded for the raucous home atmosphere, win or lose. Many losses later a cynicism has infected the crowd, the passion is still there, but it has been cowed by the unfaltering failure. For Timbers' fans, who similarly raised the standard of support upon joining the league, this is the fifth season into the MLS experience, with only patchy, moderate successes to celebrate, what is the mood around the ground? Has some of the enthusiasm waned over the years or do the faithful, still have, well, faith?

It is always possible that the Timbers being a truly bad team could pare away some of the hangers on around Providence Park, but in my experience fans of the Timbers only get more hardcore in the bad years.

Back in the USL era, when the Timbers were at one point owned by a baseball league that was essentially operating the team because they were obligated to if they wanted to continue to use the stadium for the Portland Beavers, Timbers supporters coined the phrase "So What If We Suck?"

S.W.I.W.S. doesn't mean that Timbers supporters are apathetic about the performance on the pitch. On the contrary, they care deeply even about the most terrible teams that have been run out wearing the green and gold. There might be some railing against the performance, the players, and the management when things are not going well, but the team is always going to have the support of the Timbers Army.

Barbed question
Toronto FC is a team that has turned very much towards having an American influence, both on the pitch and in the front offices. Why is it that the Timbers have gone the more international route, with barely a domestic face in the starting lineup? Even the US National Team hopefuls – Darlington Nagbe – are foreign-born. Does the Pacific Northwest consider itself so different from the rest of the country as to distance itself from the American player? In a related note, any interest in trading Will Johnson in order to correct this oversight?

Similarly barbed answers, in order: In hopes of making the playoffs, which has worked slightly better for them than whatever Toronto has been doing.

Any player that plays for the Timbers is a Cascadian player. Darlington Nagbe may have been born overseas, but he has lived in the United States since he was eleven. Rodney Wallace was born overseas as well, but he has lived in the US since he was nine. Will Johnson was born in Canada, but his family moved to England shortly thereafter, then moved to the US when he was ten.

The answer on the Will Johnson thing is a flat no


Lineup? It seems unlikely that there will be any changes from the Timbers' last lineup, despite the result. Will Johnson could make his return in this match in the same stadium that he broke his tibia and fibula last year, but my bet is on Wednesday's match against D.C. United. The wings could also see some changes, with Dairon Asprilla looking consistently dangerous in substitute minutes, while Wallace and Nagbe were less than stellar last match.

Kwarasey; Villafana, Ridgwell, Borchers, Powell; Jewsbury, Chara; Wallace, Valeri, Nagbe; Adi


Many thanks to Will for spending some time with Waking the Red – he can be followed on Twitter @williamconwell – and be sure to check out all the latest Timbers news over at Stumptown Footy.

Waking the Red's answers to their questions can be found here.