It's a quick turnaround for the New England Revolution as they fly out to Portland to take on the Timbers at Jeld-Wen field on Thursday night. The Portland Timbers are riding a hot streak, having picked up ten points out of a possible twelve in the month of April. New England is coming off their second win of the season, a convincing 2-0 victory over Philadelphia at home.
It figures that just as the Revs put together a decent offensive performance, their chances of building any momentum are shot by a midweek cross-country flight. Portland's defense has let up eleven goals in eight games, which speaks to some level of vulnerability, but the Timbers Army tends to make it very difficult on visiting teams to get anything going.
Today's Q&A is with Geoff Gibson of Stumptown Footy, SB Nation's Portland Timbers blog.
TBM: April's been a hell of a month for the Rose City. You guys pulled 10 out of 12 points, earning big wins over Houston, Kansas City, and San Jose in the process. What's been the key to this surge up the table?
GG: I think a lot of it has to do with confidence. Caleb Porter introduced a bunch of new players to the team and a new mantra that's dominated by high possession, high attack. The first month we saw a little bit of that, but the guys were still a little shaky. In April we saw the team finally work within Porter's system the way he envisioned. Couple that with the players just naturally gelling with each other a bit more and you have the makings for a solid team. Don't let the standings fool you though, this is still very much a team in transition and the Timbers have a ways to go before they can be considered a trophy winning team.
TBM: Talk to me about Caleb Porter. I'm always a little leery of a college coach making the jump directly to head coach in the pro ranks, but it looks like Porter has the right ideas. How's he been as the guy in charge in Portland so far?
GG: Caleb Porter is probably one of the more tactically minded coaches in the league. Certainly up there with Jason Kreis, though I'm not as familiar with Real Salt Lake so I'm hesitant to make a direct comparison. Porter's game revolves around out-possessing and out-passing the opposing team. Doing those two things, the Timbers are able to pass the ball until there's an opening the the midfield or the defense. We saw against Sporting Kansas City just how effective they can be at the specific type of play, even if they're out-possessed in the stats, which is becoming rare these days.
Over all, he's done a miraculous job getting the team to where they are today from where they were last November, but I think he would be the first to tell you that there's still a lot of work left to do. Don't expect the Timbers to be 100% complete in their moving around of players both on and off the field.
TBM: Ryan Johnson is a guy with Boston roots who is tearing it up for the Timbers right now. I remember a good season he had a few years ago with San Jose, but since then he's seemed fairly inept. Not so this year, I guess. How important is he going to be to the team going forward, and what's different now that's allowed him to succeed?
GG: He's an important central forward certainly and he's certainly skillful at getting shots on target when he's able to. Really though, he's not creating his own chances. In fact, nobody is creating their own chances except for maybe Diego Valeri who is just unreal at times. The fact is he has a system behind him that is constantly working to break down a defense and feed him the chances he needs to get the goal. And he's part of that system to. He won't always attempt to make a goal. We saw last week against Sporting where, if a better chance is available, he'll pass the ball off and let the sure-thing go rather than attempt to add to his own tally.
TBM: Give us an under-the-radar player Revolution fans should watch out for.
GG: Probably Rodney Wallace at this point. I say that because Diego Valeri, Diego Chara, Will Johnson and Darlington Nagbe are probably fairly well known to most MLS fans at this point. Wallace is a player that's been with the Portland Timbers since the pre-season just before their entry into MLS in 2011. He's currently one of the club's original MLS players at the point. Still, aside from his time as a left back in 2011, he didn't see much time. This season, Porter moved him as a left attacking forward and he's been a revelation for himself and the team. I hope you guys have yourself a solid right back because you're going to need it.
TBM: Finally, let's have your projected starting XI and a scoreline prediction.
GG: Here's my predicted starting lineup as a 4-2-1-3, though Porter likes to mix up his formations so don't take this as fact:
Donovan Ricketts; Jack Jewsbury, Mikael Silvestre, Andrew Jean-Baptiste, Michael Harrington; Will Johnson, Diego Chara; Diego Valeri; Darlington Nagbe, Ryan Johnson, Rodney Wallace
Unfortunately I don't give game predictions. A bit of a superstition of mine.