The LA Galaxy are in Portland after breaking into the quarterfinals of the CONCACAF Champions League with a win in Costa Rica. This final meeting between the two clubs has the most on the line, with not much in the standings separating the two sides. Landon Donovan's status might still be a question mark, but ahead of Sunday's match at Jeld-Wen Field, we asked some questions of Michael Orr at Stumptown Footy to get a sense of what's going on up in Portland. My answers to his questions can be found by following this link.
1) Diego Valeri was recently profiled on MLS Insider, and has gotten mentioned as an MLS MVP candidate. What makes him the most valuable player to the Timbers this season?
1. Valeri is the most important player in Caleb Porter's 4-2-3-1. As the central hub of offensive sequences, and one of the better counter attacking players in Portland, Valeri dictates the pace of the game and is equally capable of scoring himself or providing others with scoring chances. With Diego Chara and Will Johnson patrolling the central midfield behind him, Valeri has the freedom to move wherever he likes and often switches places with Darlington Nage on the right. At the moment, the 27-year-old Argetine is tied for the team lead in goals with 8 and shares the league's top assists mark with a dozen. But all of those interesting numbers and tactics aside, what makes Valeri the most valuable player for the Timbers in 2013 is he's simply the best player on the field.
2) Portland has really relied on the draw this season, keeping them in the top half of the standings despite not having as many victories as the other top teams. Have there been more defensive letdowns or crazy comebacks?
2. Earlier in the season, the Timbers had a knack for giving up early goals and finding a way to come back for a draw. Down 3-1 to New York, 2-0 in Colorado, 2-1 in Vancouver and 1-0 in Seattle, Portland took back points all before June. During the summer, Portland gave up a two-goal lead in Chicago, went 0-0 in LA and Philadelphia and gave up late equalizers at home against Vancouver and Real Salt Lake to even some of that out. There hasn't been one dominant way the Timbers have drawn games, but in a league where the first tie-breaker is games won, it could very well come back to cost them when playoff seedings are made.
3) One thing LA dealt with last week against Seattle was an aggressive, physical defense. It seems like Portland is also guilty of giving up fouls in dangerous areas. Has defending those set pieces been an issue, and if so why?
3. In general, Portland has been terrible at set piece defending this season. Bad, bad goals have been given up in San Jose, Columbus and Salt Lake and at home against Vancouver, leading to three losses and a late draw. Often it's the second ball in a set piece sequence that kills the Timbers, though in the aforementioned cases, it was just non-existent marking on corners and free kicks. The Timbers do have a bad habit of giving up fouls just outside the box, so it is very likely the Galaxy will get at least one or two chances to test Donovan Ricketts and Portland's marking ability. Set pieces are the one area of the game where Porter's possession and pressing style don't really translate. The more chances a team has from stoppages instead of from open play, the more likely goals will be. Especially, for some reason, in Portland.