Tomorrow the New England Revolution will be making their first-ever trip to Jeld-Wen Field to take on the Portland Timbers in a match that will be nationally televised on FSC's Soccer Night in America. New England will be looking to build on a gutsy and composed performance last Saturday that saw them run out 2-0 winners against MLS Cup runners-up FC Dallas, breaking an extended streak of draws and losses decided on late conceded goals.
The Revolution's last encounter with Portland wasn't pretty, having been forced to settle for a disappointing 1-1 draw at home in a period when the Timbers were playing particularly poorly. Portland's major threat is in their unpredictability in attack, but mostly it's their engine, Jack Jewsbury. The MLS veteran has seen a renaissance since moving to Portland and taking the captain's armband, scoring goals and setting them up at a career-high pace.
Today's Q&A is a little different. Geoff Gibson and I elected to have a gchat conversation and record that rather than doing our usual emailed questions. You can see more of Geoff's work (and my answers about the Revolution) over at his blog, Stumptown Footy, SB Nation's Portland Timbers blog.
Me: So you guys are still in a playoff spot, which is always a good look for an expansion team. What's been the key to the Timbers success this season?
Geoff: I would say it's been a few things. First you have the captain Jack Jewsbury, who was a phenomenal pick up from Sporting Kansas City earlier this year and a great choice for captain. I fully believe that the Timbers would have been a much worse team had he not come aboard. He box-to-box plays in the beginning part of the season were crucial to the team.
Second, I'd say it has a lot to do with the energy of the team and the stadium opening. In the beginning of the season, when Jeld-Wen opened up and the Timbers went on a 5 game home win streak it wasn't because the team was magically better. They were feeding off the energy from home. Obviously it didn't last but it got them 15 very crucial points early on.
Now, finally, as the team has played together for many games and practiced with each other we're finally seeing those plays that were missing earlier in the season. The defense has been coming together and the midfield and forwards are finally connecting to get some meaningful run-pf-play goals. Those are the primary reasons I believe we've seen any semblance of success this season.
Me: So who is your team MVP right now?
Geoff: Jack Jewsbury. No question about it. He leads in goals and assists. He's played well defensively when he needs to. Everything about him right now just screams MVP. I'd be surprised if he wasn't at least in the running for league MVP.
Me: So Rodney Wallace scored the goal that beat the US a couple weeks ago. Is that having a positive effect on his play of late, or do you think he was already playing better and that's just a continuation thereof?
Geoff: He's always had a knack for goals, despite being primarily played as a left back this season. I think he's still maturing as a player and we were all very happy to see him get that goal, even though it was against the USMNT. That said, he's not currently a regularly starter for the Timbers anymore so it's hard to tell just what kind of improvement he has had since the international game. I will say though that during the last game against Philadelphia Rodney Wallace came on as a sub late in the second half as a left mid instead of his usual defensive position. So it appears the Timbers FO is clearly trying new things.
Me: Last time we spoke you said Sal Zizzo was an under-the-radar player we should look out for, and gave honorable mention to Jake Gleeson. Who would you give that title to now?
Geoff: Hmmm good question. Right now I'd say that David Horst is probably the under-the-radar player. He's a young center back, but his defensive abilities have been phenomenal for the last three games. He's been there when the Timbers needed him to make those last minute saves. In a sense, he's one of the prime reasons the Timbers have done well lately.
Me: On the other hand, who do you think the Timbers will fear most on the pitch for New England? Last time you said Shalrie Joseph.
Geoff: Based on recent performances I'd say Rajko Lekic. If I'm not mistaken he's performed very well in Philly and against Dallas. I'd also say Monsef Zerka. Both seem to be on a bit of a hot streak right now.
Me: Ok, let's have your projected XI.
Troy Perkins; Mike Chabala, David Horst, Eric Brunner, Lovel Palmer; Kalif Alhassan, Diego Chara, Jack Jewsbury (c), Sal Zizzo; Jorge Perlaza, Kenny Cooper
Me: And a scoreline prediction?
Geoff: I don't really do score predictions. Soccer is just too erratic. That said, I wouldn't complain if if the Timbers walked out Friday night 2-nil.