tBG) It's been roughly a year and a half since the Philadelphia Union and Portland Timbers last faced off against one another. What's changed with the Timbers since the teams drew 1-1 in last season's opener?
StF) What hasn't changed since the start of 2014? That honestly seems like ages ago here in Timbers-land as the team has started slow in both 2014 and 2015, digging themselves a significant hole before surging up the table as the year goes on.
In more measured terms, the Portland Timbers have entirely re-worked their back line since the last time they faced the Philadelphia Union, bringing in experienced centerbacks in Liam Ridgewell and Nat Borchers, giving Norberto Paparatto time to adjust to the league, giving the reigns at right back to the team's youngster Alvas Powell, and getting Jorge Villafana healthy and contributing at left back. The changes that the back line has seen have made the Timbers a very stout defensive team, something that seems to be a perquisite for any sort of sustained success in MLS.
The attacking end has seen some changes as well, with the addition of designated player Fanendo Adi at striker being the big one. Adi has frustrated at times since coming to Portland, but in the Timbers' 19 games played so far this season he is the team's leading scorer with eight goals and his hold up play, which has experienced a sharp uptick in quality recently, has been invaluable in some of their recent wins.
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tBG) Portland is third in the Western Conference and fourth in the Supporters' Shield standings. To what do you attribute the club's success?
StF) Well, the fact that the Timbers have won six of their last seven MLS matches has certainly helped. Starting as soon as Will Johnson made his return to the side -- read into that what you will -- the Timbers suddenly started looking like a very good side in MLS, knocking off both conference leaders, D.C. United and the Seattle Sounders, in the course of this winning run.
Of course, Johnson was not the only player to return to the side and make a huge difference. Diego Valeri, who missed part of the season recovering from a torn ACL then another part of the season recovering from a badly rolled ankle, has been back in the lineup for the Timbers' recently and has been starting to get back into the flow that made him one of the league's best players in 2013 and 2014.
Beyond Johnson and Valeri, the Timbers' have generally stepped up their game all across the pitch, getting contributions from players who were being maligned earlier this year like Adi or Gaston Fernandez. Even the Timbers' salty dog, Jack Jewsbury, has stepped up, delivering the game winning goal in two matches this year thanks to a combination of hustle, positioning, and just refusing to give up until the final whistle is blown.
tBG) Portland's tifo displays are legendary. How much planning and effort goes into creating those massive displays?
The Timbers Army funds, organizes, assembles, and displays the tifo at Providence Park and they don't believe in half-measures. To get all of that to happen, they turn to the 107IST (Independent Supporters Trust) to make things happen. Renting space to put together the massive displays that the TA like to bring out for big occasions, providing the materials, and organizing the thousands of man-hours of work needed to bring it all together takes a lot of effort and thankfully the 107IST has committees dedicated to all of those things.
Although the Timbers Army's tifo displays have been fantastic, they are not the only thing that the nation's biggest and best organized supporters group brings to the table. The Timbers Army also organizes and participates in community service, gives to charities, runs recreational soccer leagues, and has its own book library that members can borrow from.
So, to answer the question: a lot, but many hands make light work.
Predicted lineup: Kwarasey; Villafana, Ridgewell, Paparatto, Peay; Johnson, Chara; Nagbe, Valeri, Asprilla; Adi
Although don't be surprised if the front four gets shaken up, potentially inserting Fernandez for either Nagbe or Dairon Asprilla and Maximiliano Urruti for Adi. Diego Chara, who is coming back from an ankle knock that ruled him out of last week's match, could still not be available for this one and, if that is the case, expect Jewsbury to slot in for him. Finally, expect Taylor Peay to get his first start of his MLS career against the Union, filling in while Powell is away with Jamaica in the Gold Cup.
Predicted score: No thanks.