PORTLAND, OR - MAY 06: Kalif Alhassan #11 of the Portland Timbers dribbles the ball against Michael Farfan #21of the Philadelphia Union on May 6, 2011 at Jeld-Wen Field in Portland, Oregon. (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)
Tonight marks the start of the 2012 season for the Philadelphia Union as they face the Portland Timbers as part of MLS First Kick. In advance of the game, the Brotherly Game spoke with Geoff Gibson of Stumptown Footy, SB Nation's Timbers blog, to preview the game between Philadelphia and Portland. You can read my answers to Gibson's questions by clicking here.
The Brotherly Game: Last season, Diego Chara and Jorge Perlaza brought South American flair to Portland and helped the team turn some heads throughout the 2011 MLS season. The Timbers recently acquired Scottish striker Kris Boyd, who rejected interest from the Houston Dynamo. Do you think he can impact the team as much as Chara and Perlaza did?
Stumptown Footy: In a word: Yes. But he's a very different player and striker than Diego Chara and Jorge Perlaza. We've already seen how he plays when he was about 65 minutes against AIK last Sunday and really he's the exact type of player we needed last year. What he's going to do is sit himself in front of the goal and make chance after chance after chance because that's what he's good at. He scores so many goals because he has the technical ability to get that ball aimed at the net. It doesn't always pan out, but, as we saw against AIK in the flash of a second he can have one netted in.
That said, he won't ever drift to the midfield, or the sides. Some have called him lazy for it in the past, but the reality is that he's a 100% pure striker.
I hesitate to use the word poacher because it implies that he's not earning his own goals. The reality is that he does sometimes poach, but he's also just a very active player in the box and doesn't leave it too often.
tBG: What does the Portland defensive and goalkeeping situations look like this season? Last year they weren't the best, to say the least.
SF: Well the goalkeeper is the same: Troy Perkins. He actually did have a great season coming up with some extraordinary saves. Very happy to have him back and, I believe, that he'll be a fixture here for a few years to come barring any disasters.
The defensive backline, however, remains the question on everybody's mind. Last year it was the very noticeable weak spot on the field. No doubt about it. This year, however, the team has added a bit of depth in Colombian Hanyer Mosquera to the center back role which will hopefully alleviate things a bit. That said, he hasn't had a great pre-season so we'll have to wait and see.
tBG: Futty Danso scored the only goal of the Portland-Philadelphia season series in '11. Do you think we'll see more scoring without his presence on the field, be it because of a weaker Timbers defense or better offenses on both sides?
SF: Well first I would hesitate to call the Timbers' defense weaker. I'm certain it's stronger than last year's the question is just how much. As for Futty, it's funny you should mention that because, before becoming a central defender for the Timbers he was actually a striker so he has the edge to him.
I don't think the Timbers' backline is any weaker without him. Right now he's behind Mosquera and Brunner in the pecking order and I think it will remain that way for the foreseeable future.
tBG: Any prediction for the outcome of the game?
SF: I expect a win from the Timbers. They've kept their core group that did well against Philadelphia last year while bringing in an incredible amount of depth. Anything less than three points tomorrow night would be a a big disappointment, doubly so because the stadium is going to be very, very loud and boisterous.
A great, big thanks goes out to Gibson and Stumptown Footy for helping preview the game.