1. The acquisition of Will Johnson seems to be paying dividends for Portland. He's already beaten his season high for goals, what's been clicking for him this year?
I think it's a combination of things for Will. First and foremost I think giving him the captaincy of the club really boosted his confidence which is now helping him with his performances over previous years. He's always been that kind of player where, if he's not on your team, you absolutely hate him, but now that he's playing with confidence, he's become more than that I think. Aside from that, I think it's just a matter of Caleb Porter's style of play. Jason Kreis with Real Salt Lake is a great coach, no doubt about it, but each coach has their own style and I think Will Johnson was identified early on by Porter as the kind of player who would excel under him. It's also worth pointing out that he plays a bit more centrally than he did with RSL.
2. An old friend to the Galaxy, Donovan Rickets, has been patrolling in front of goal in Portland. How is he working out?
Great! I'm not sure what exactly happened to him during the 2011 and 2012 seasons, but he's at the top of his game so far in 2013. Saturday's match against FC Dallas brought a few more highlights from the Timbers' keeper. I honestly wouldn't be surprised if he earned yet another Save of the Week through it.
I think what we enjoy more about Ricketts up here in Portland, and I'm sure LA fans can relate, is his demeanor and composure on the field. While his clutch saves are great, what I've seen from him that's truly impressive is his defensive backline organizational abilities. With the Timbers' shaky defense so far this year, I believe he's been the difference maker in that regard.
3. Is the short turn around going to affect the lineup Portland rolls out? Any fatigue concerns?
Yes, unfortunately. The Timbers are in the middle of a 4 game, 12 day schedule and fatigue concerns are always an issue during those spells. The good news, however, is that a combination of 3 out of 4 of the games being home games and the timing with regards to Timbers players returning from international duty might actually alleviate some of these issues.
I think we'll probably see some small lineup changes, however. Ryan Johnson, for example, will probably start over Frederic Piquionne. The latter striker started against both Tampa Bay and FC Dallas. Ryan Johnson only get about 20 minutes last Saturday and should be ready to go. Diego Chara and Will Johnson should also still be able to play most of the match, though Diego Valeri might be an issue. We'll have to wait and see.
4. We talked last time about the increased possession and chances created by Porterball, but there still seems to be an issue in limiting opponents chances. What's going on there?
Honestly it's been an issue with injuries this season. Every time the Timbers' defense started shaping up and becoming a very solid entity, an injury would come up and they would be forced to start over. First David Horst went out followed by Mikael Silvestre. On both occasions the Timbers have been forced to bring on new talent. They're now getting comfortable again having brought on Pa Modou Kah and Mauwshan McKenzie, but both players are still figuring out how to gel with the team. If the Timbers can keep their defenders healthy, I think they'll be far more effective in the second half of the season.
5. Predicted starting lineup?
Donovan Ricketts; Jack Jewsbury, Andrew Jean-Baptiste, Pa Modou Kah, Michael Harrington; Will Johnson, Diego Valeri, Diego Chara; Kalif Alhassan, Ryan Johnson, Darlington Nagbe