We had the chance to ask some questions about the new-look Portland Timbers ahead of the 2013 season opener on Sunday with Geoff Gibson of Stumptown Footy and answered a few about the Red Bulls ourselves.
Once a Metro: Both the Red Bulls and the Timbers brought in new head coaches resulting in a lot of roster turnover during the brief off-season. Talk us through a couple of the new additions that might make an immediate impact.
Stumptown Footy: Just a couple? Tough to say as there are probably about five who will make an immediate contribution, maybe more. The Portland Timbers of today is vastly different than the one of last December. In 3 months the Timbers have completely changed their squad and how they even play the game. Two big names that are sure to attract attention are newly named captain Will Johnson and Argentine designated player Diego Valeri. Both of these players complement each other very well. Will Johnson sits back in a CDM position muscling and hassling the opponents midfield, meanwhile Valeri brings a huge creative element in a CAM position which has already enabled the Portland Timbers to have its first hat trick since joining MLS by way of Ryan Johnson.
This is, of course, to say nothing of Ryan Miller, Michael Harrington, Ryan Johnson, Milos Kocic, or former Manchester United centerback Mikael Silvestre. Aside from Kocic, you can expect each one of them to start barring injuries.
Once a Metro: Darlington Nagbe: How much of the Timbers success in 2013 rests on his shoulders? Is he poised for a breakout year? What do you think his ceiling is?
Stumptown Footy: I've never been as big on Darlington Nagbe as everybody else so you won't get much out of me with regards to praising him. I think it's doubtless that he has the potential to be the next big MLS star, but he always seems to falter when he should be charging forward. It will certainly be an interesting year for him. His former college coach is now his professional coach and he really is in the position where he needs to put up or step out. If he can't pull together a successful season this year, I see him becoming a liability heading into 2014.
Once a Metro: New York and Portland have adorably turned into quite the trade partners, mostly with the Timbers sending players east in return for allocation money and draft picks (Kenny Cooper, Kosuke Kimura, and Eric Alexander). What can you tell us about Kimura and Alexander?Even if they don't see the field on Sunday, what can Red Bull fans expect from them later in the schedule?
Stumptown Footy: Kosuke Kimura is a little tough to say. He was never really a standout right back for the Timbers, but then, he also joined up right at the beginning of a bunch of club turmoil. Nobody was playing well those days. He has a lot of heart though and he'll give his all for the fans that much is true.
Eric Alexander, on the other hand, was a tough trade to see happen. He lead the Portland Timbers in assists in 2012 and was largely seen as a future leader in the midfield for the Timbers. Unfortunately, he still had quite a bit of value attached to his name an thus was needed to make room for another player. Alexander will be great for New York, I have no doubt. With the kind of midfield you guys have, I think it will be a place for him to shine.
Once a Metro: Match Prediction?
Stumptown Footy: We'll just say I'm optimistic about Sunday. The Timbers have never lost a home opener.
Thanks to Geoff for some great insight about the game and season ahead for Portland. On to the Red Bulls...
Stumptown Footy: Before we get into the nitty gritty, let's start with the basics: What's new with the New York Red Bulls? Who's there now that wasn't last year and what kind of impact are they expected to make?
Once a Metro: There are a total of twelve new players on the Red Bulls roster so far for 2013. Three key pieces I'll mention right off the bat are Fabían Espíndola, Jámison Olave, and Juninho.
Espíndola and Olave were acquired in a highway robbery from Real Salt Lake, who was looking to clear serious cap space and traded them to New York for allocation money. These guys may have been expendable because of younger talent coming through the RSL pipeline, but will likely become central pieces to this Red Bulls team for the next few years.
Juninho joins New York for his 20th and possibly final year of professional soccer from Vasco de Gama of the Brazilian first division. He's considered one of the best dead ball specialists in the history of the sport, has won trophies in leagues across the world, and has both World Cup and UEFA Champions League experience. He definitely showed last year that even at thirty-eight years old he can still contribute at a high level. If he stays healthy, Juninho has the potential to be a surprise MLS Best Eleven candidate this year and a major factor in any Red Bull trophy aspirations.
I'd be remiss not to mention new head coach Mike Petke, who is actually younger than the aforementioned Juninho. He has a long history with the team as a player and more recently as an assistant coach under Hans Backe, and is being given the keys to a very expensive and flashy car. With the veteran leadership the team has not just from Thierry Henry, Tim Cahill, and Juninho but also guys like Heath Pearce and Dax McCarty, Petke's job will be to focus on researching opponents, preparing game plans, and implementing them during practice sessions - something so fundamental that was allegedly missing from the team under Hans Backe.
Stumptown Footy: How much of a loss to the NYRB is Kenny Cooper? For scoring the second most goals last season, he was seemingly under criticism quite often from fellow players, fans and coaches, why?
Once a Metro: I never appreciated Kenny Cooper when he played for Dallas, Portland, or briefly for the U.S. National Team, but last year as a Red Bull he completely won me over. I am incredibly disappointed to see him go, but also recognize that for Designated Player level money the Red Bulls would not keep him. I think the criticism came mostly from former head coach Hans Backe and a little more subtly from Thierry Henry. To me, eighteen goals speaks for itself, but some fans picked up on the rhetoric that for being a relatively large guy, he doesn't impose himself physically as well as he could. Beyond his stats last year, Kenny is also just an outstanding person who did an amazing job representing the team both on the field and in the community. Hopefully he's able to thrive back in Dallas.
Stumptown Footy: Thierry Henry is undoubtedly New York's most important player. Can you give us an update on where he is typically playing these days? Does he still drift down into the midfield fairly often? Is he as prolific a goal scorer as he used to be?
Once a Metro: Despite never playing on turf fields and missing a few weeks here and there, Henry has still got it whether he drops back into the midfield or stays up closer to the goal. In years past, he's drifted more when he hasn't gotten the service he wants. That should change drastically with Juninho spreading the ball around. If the Red Bulls midfield lets down for just one minute though, I won't be surprised at all to see Henry emerge to make a strong challenge and try to fire up his teammates. Especially with Kenny Cooper gone, however, his primary job this year is going to be to score goals, hopefully like this one.
Stumptown Footy: For a team that spends so much money, year in year out, is 2013 a make or break year for the club with regards to securing a trophy?
Once a Metro: Money aside, for a team that has never won a meaningful trophy, the idea of make or break has long passed. Specifically in regards to the current "Henry Era" for the club, it sounds as if he has another year or two of playing left after 2013, so the chances of New York doing something special before he calls it quits are a little higher with the added cushion of time. Honestly, I don't see the Red Bulls winning MLS Cup this year, but maybe they make a serious run in the U.S. Open Cup and bring home a trophy that the fans want so desperately.
Stumptown Footy: Predicted starting line up?
Once a Metro: The "pre-game notes" list Digão as a projected starter, and if that is the case then the Red Bulls may be making a more serious play for his brother Kaká than anticipated! Mike Petke has stated he wants the attack to be very free flowing and interchangeable with players taking over different spaces in certain moments. That said, Luis Robles will start in goal, with a likely backline of Roy Miller, Heath Pearce, Jámison Olave, and Kosuke Kimura. The midfield should include Connor Lade, Dax McCarty, Tim Cahill, and Juninho, and Fabían Espíndola will join Thierry Henry up top.