The New England Revolution are all set to open play at Gillette Stadium tomorrow against the Portland Timbers at 4 PM. The match is part of a double-header at the Razor that will also feature the Canadian Women's National Team taking on Marta and the Brazilian Women's National Team.
This match, as Brendan Schimmel already postulated in this space, could be the first must-win fixture in the young season. If New England drops three points here, they face an incredible uphill climb to win any points at all, with their next two matches taking place away at Los Angeles and Dallas, two of the better teams in the league. Portland meanwhile, is 1-0-1 after two great second-half performances, but are carrying the specter of a horrendous away record from last season that has yet to be banished.
For today's Q&A, we spoke with Geoff Gibson of Stumptown Footy. He prefers to do this as a fluid process over gchat, so these answers might seem a little longer than usual. Check out his responses after the jump.
TBM: First of all, describe the impact of a signing like a Kris Boyd. How's he done so far, and what do you expect out of him going forward?
GG: Kris Boyd has had an immediate effect on the Timbers. While it remains to see if that impact will last, I'd say his signing has done wonders for the Timbers' attacking prospects so far. His first game was during the the Timbers' pre-season tournament against Swedish side AIK. He scored in the first 7 minutes. He also scored in the Timbers home opener against the Philadelphia Union and, while he was not able to net anything away from home against FC Dallas, he was certainly hustling and getting on the ball enough.
The thing about Boyd is that he's a fantastic striker, but little else. His ability to get on the ball and send it towards the net is great. He's very technically gifted in that manner. You just can't expect him to drop back and help out with the midfield as one would expect of strikers like Thierry Henry. For the Timbers, however, this isn't a problem as the midfield is solid. What we needed was a solid striker and I believe Boyd will fill that role nicely.
TBM: Last season the Timbers had a serious issue with road form. I don't remember the record, but I do know that John Spencer has been pretty stand-offish about it when asked this year. Do you have any idea what that might have been down to last year, and do you think that any related problems have been fixed?
GG: First year jitters? The Timbers had a bad road record, no doubt about it, but towards the end of the season there were very clear signs that the ship was "righting" so to say. The last five road games for the Timbers were 1-1-3 (W-L-D). Not fantastic mind you, but it showed that the Timbers were beginning to get an even footing when they were away from home. You also have to realize that the Timbers did very, very well for a first year MLS team especially considering that they largely consisted of new players that were still working on gelling. What raised them so high, I believe, was a fantastic run brought on by the home crowd energy.
This year I think you'll see a more evened out Timbers side on the road. I don't expect that they'll win every game, but there'll be more draws and a few more wins. Which is perfectly fine. If they can maintain their home win mentality and get a few more road points they should be in a good position to make the play offs... although with this year's Western Conference seemingly the strongest ever anything could happen.
TBM: Who do you think Revs fans should look out for on the Timbers side this weekend?
GG: Aside from Kris Boyd, for obvious reasons, the player that has really broken out so far this season is Kalif Alhassan, a winger. He's always been a dangerous player, even last year, where he was able to consistently tear down an opposing team's defense. This year, however, he's also begun to seriously contribute to the goals being scored. Already, in two games, he has a goal and an assist to his name and I fully expect those numbers to go up over the course of the season.
TBM: On the flip side, who do you think the Timbers are most wary of on the Revolution roster?
GG: Benny Feilhaber and Shalrie Jospeh immediately spring to mind. The Timbers rely on breaking down an opponent's midfield to make those deep attacking runs and with Joseph there I'm more than a little worried about the outcome of players like Alhassan attempting such a thing. Additionally, we're still figuring out our defensive core with new players such as Hanyer Mosquera. So Feilhaber's speed and technical ability also worry me a bit.
TBM: Last question: You have a projected starting XI and a scoreline prediction?
GG: Predicted starting lineup:
GK: Troy Perkins
DEF: Lovel Palmer, Eric Brunner, Hanyer Mosquera, Mike Chabala
MID: Kalif Alhassan, Diego Chara, Jack Jewsbury (c), Eric Alexander
FWD: Jorge Perlaza, Kris Boyd
Unfortunately, I'll refrain from giving a scoreline prediction as I just don't think there's any real way to guess the outcome. That's what I love about soccer!