Here’s what you need to know ahead of the LA Galaxy match against the Portland Timbers on Sunday evening.
1) While it was only Week 1, and against an expansion team in Minnesota United, what did you like seeing in Portland's offense?
Well, the Timbers attack has had instant chemistry since the start of the 2017 preseason, scoring goals regularly once they got rolling and looking pretty good doing it.
Last Friday's demolition of the Loons, however, was another thing entirely and it showed a Timbers attack that is as multifaceted and dangerous as anything we have seen from the side since they joined the league. Of course, that match was at home against an overmatched expansion side, but it was how the Timbers got to 5-1 that was most heartening.
Throughout the preseason, the Timbers were able to boss possession against most of the opponents their first team faced, but that was not the case against Minnesota, a side that were able to get on the ball and stay there for large stretches of the match -- even if they were rarely able to turn that possession into scoring opportunities. Against previous Timbers sides, the fact that the match was not unfolding in just the way that they wanted might have caused things to unravel -- and for a moment it looked like they might when Minnesota scored and brought themselves within one goal of tying things up -- but instead the Timbers adjusted their game plan, welcomed on the Loons attack, and hit the visitors repeatedly and ruthlessly on the counter to put the game away.
2) Do Portland have the pieces to get back into the MLS Cup Playoffs after finishing in seventh in the West the previous year?
If the Timbers' defense can stay healthy for more than a week at a time, then the Timbers should have what it takes to make a deep run this year.
The attack is well stocked, not just in the starting XI, but on the bench as well with able back up players like Dairon Asprilla and Darren Mattocks as well as head-turning youngsters like Victor Arboleda, Jack Barmby, and Jeremy Ebobisse. The starters could be the most dangerous front six in the league and that group should be more than capable of filling in the holes that will appear over the course of the season.
The Timbers' back line, however, is looking a little more anemic, particularly in light of a rash of injuries along the Timbers' back line this week. The first choice back four of Vytas, Liam Ridgewell, Lawrence Olum, and Alvas Powell has been disrupted by injuries to all but Olum, meaning that we could see recently arrived Roy Miller, formerly of Saprissa and the New York Red Bulls, paired up Olum in the center of the pitch and flanked by eighteen year old Marco Farfan on the left and MLS veteran Chance Myers on the right; a prospect that definitely has Timbers fans nervous.
Ridgewell and Powell are both "day to day" according to Porter and could be a factor this weekend, but with the Timbers' defense already the main question that most have about the team's playoff bona fides, none of this is particularly comforting.
3) What does Sebastian Blanco bring to the Timbers?
More like what doesn't Sebastian Blanco bring to the Timbers? Well, height, for one.
Anyway, the diminutive Argentine attacker does bring a number of important qualities to this revamped Timbers side on both sides of the ball.
Primarily a wide attacking player, Blanco is comfortable playing on either side of the pitch or in the center, giving the Timbers a great deal of flexibility going forward and allowing him to interchange freely with Darlington Nagbe and Diego Valeri, both of whom are at their best when allowed the freedom to roam in the attack. Beyond his level of positional comfort, however, is Blanco's intelligence in his passing and movement, working his way into positions to combine with his teammates, whether that is his fellow attacking players or a full back -- usually Alvas Powell, but potentially Chance Myers this weekend -- making an overlapping run.
On the other side of the ball, Blanco is a player who is willing to put in a full shift of hard defensive work, leaving the Timbers with less ground to cover for players like Diego Chara and David Guzman coming from the center of the pitch. While he is not likely to win too many aerial battles, Guzman is an opportunistic defender and one who has already shown that he is ready and willing to win the ball back and start the attack, making the Timbers that much more dangerous in 2017.