Heeeeere we go. I’ve always wanted to type that (not true). Sunday the 6th, at 4:30pm, The defending champions, Portland, take on the defending losers, Columbus, in what is promising to be a real actual not-pretend soccer game. The MLS regular season has finally arrived.

In their last matchup, which was the 2015 MLS Cup title game, Portland overcame a talented Columbus team to win 2 to 1. Portland put it out of reach within the first 7 minutes with a pair of goals from Valeri and Wallace, and Columbus could just never fully recover. Prior to that, their record was tied up at 2 wins and 1 draw a piece. Historically, it’s a fairly even matchup. Right now? Not so sure.

Portland, you’ve changed, man

Portland is a slightly different team than they were just this past December. Different in a way that we don’t think is that good. The eventual winning goal in the MLS Cup was scored by a man no longer on the team, Rodney Wallace, and another one of their offensive threats, Maximiliano Urruti, was let go by the club for contract reasons and picked up by FC Dallas. One of their starting backs, Jorge Villafana was sold to Mexican club Santos Laguna.

Nobody has filled those shoes with any confidence. The Timbers have struggled offensively this pre-season, only finding their stride against a non-MLS team. One of the few things they may be able to point to is that one of their main playmakers, Nagbe, showed up to pre-season late because of practices with the USMNT. Let’s see what happens once he gets fully back in the swing of things. Defensively they’ve been mostly OK, and Jermaine Taylor coming into the team isn’t a terrible thing. My gut tells me the Timbers will turn it around quickly with the talent they have.

Oh cool, we’re in Columbus

Columbus is a city in Ohio. In fact, it’s the capital. Why is this important? It’s not at all, but we’re all about learning something new at HotFooty. Consider yourself tricked into an education. What else is going on in Columbus, particularly with their Crew? Glad you asked:

  • Kei Kamara, their lone goal scorer in the Cup final, had 22 goals and 8 assists in 32 games last year. That’s pretty fantastic and the Sierra Leone International, at 31, has plenty of pop left in him. And by pop, i mean pop-star. Check out this quote from his MLS bio:

“If he weren’t a soccer player, he would like to be a backup dancer for a music superstar such as Britney Spears.”

I can get behind this. Definitely one of my favorite players now.

  • Ethan Finlay is getting better. The young talent recently enjoyed his first call-up to the USMNT camp and recorded an assist in a friendly against Canada (His Dad is Canadian. Awkwardddd). He also had a ridiculously good season for the Crew last year.  He was one of four players in double digits in two offensive categories, with 12 goals and 13 assists. He does NOT suck, and the Timbers, who have seen his magic first hand, will need to play him tough.
  • Wil Trapp and Tony Tchani, central midfielders who basically manage the Crew game-plan, are young, talented, gaining international experience with the USMNT, and know how to distribute the ball. They’re a key piece to the Crew puzzle. Which happens to be one of those 3D puzzles you always got as a gift when you were a kid, started doing, and then said screw this and played Goldeneye (or Mario Kart, but let’s be real Goldeneye was better).
  • Harrison Afful, the tenacious defender who joined the Crew just in July on a “Discovery Signing” (who makes up these transfer names for the MLS?) and who also started all of Crew’s playoff games, has a great haircut and 58 caps for the Ghana national team. The Timbers are hoping he doesn’t make Afful out of them.
  • Ola Kamara, who is not related to Kei Kamara, hails from Norway, has international experience, and will sub in for Kamara throughout the year. This will make for surefire zany gut-busters from TV analysts. Can’t wait.

What to watch for

The Timbers need to match-up with Kamara, Finlay, and the dynamic due of Trapp and Tchani. The Crew need to contain Diego Valeri, Darlington Nagbe.  Let’s break it down quickly:

  • Watch for the Trapp and Tchani trying to play long balls and switcharoo to get the Timbers midfield out of position and spring loose their deadly attack.
  • Kamara will be trying to make runs and create a mess in the Timber’s back line, so Ridgewell/Taylor and Borchers, Timbers’ veteran central defenders, are going to need to track and position against Kamara carefully.
  • Watch for Nagbe/Valeri to hound Trapp/Tchani and play them physical to stop their distribution out of the midfield. Their goal should be to get those two off the ball and get it to their wings to put crosses into the box or to create big chances for Valeri or Adi.
  • I’m not sure what the Timbers answer to Villafana leaving is yet, but it appears to be either Jermaine Taylor, newly signed MLS vet, or moving Ridgwell to left back and having Taylor in the center.  Not a bad option either way, but whoever goes there is going to have their hands full with Finlay.
  • A bit off topic, but Jack McInerney, recently acquired from the Crew, could see a runout just to get him some minutes at his old club’s stomping grounds. Depends on how the game is going and if Asprilla/Melano/Adi need a rest.

HotFooty prediction: Portland Timbers 1-2 Columbus Crew

I think the Timbers are going to have a hard time with all the new things going on in their lineup against a team that is basically the same if not better.

 

“please don’t hit me in me timbers!” – Diego Chara, number 21, is absolutely horrified at the next 2 seconds