The New York Red Bulls welcome defending champs Portland Timbers to Red Bull Arena on Sunday night. Even though RBNY has hit a rough patch the past couple of weeks, they haven't dropped points at home since April 9th. I had a chat with Will Conwell of Stumptown Footy to get his take on the match this weekend.
Once a Metro: The Timbers have had a fairly mediocre season to follow up their 2015 MLS Cup win. They've had strong results the last few weeks, but they are tied for fifth in highest Goals Against. What's the status of the team from the fans' perspective?
Stumptown Footy: The Timbers have had a rough go of it so far in 2016. Disrupting injuries are par for the course in MLS, but the Timbers have been particularly hard hit this season, with a number of first team regulars missing significant minutes. Add to that the team's decision to allow left back Jorge Villafana to leave for greener pastures in Mexico and their subsequent difficulties in replacing him -- the Timbers are rumored to be signing a left back any day now -- and you have a recipe for a slow start to the season.
Of course, there is more to the Timbers' slump than just injuries and absences: the team have not been the same rock solid side that bullied their way through the second half of the 2016 season and went on a run culminating in lifting the MLS Cup. That is to be expected, though, as the Timbers have been a team that come on late in the season, looking to find their best form right as the playoffs begin. While the Timbers did miss out on the playoffs in 2014, even in that season they were one of the league's strongest sides as the year ended, missing out on the playoffs by a single point and ruing their ridiculously slow start to that season.
OaM: Fanendo Adi (9g, 2a) has been a great addition to the team the last three seasons. What is the best way for RBNY to contain him?
SF: The best way to contain Fanendo Adi is to cut him off from the players around him.
Adi is a beast of a player. He will win balls in the air, he will push your center backs around, and he will surprise you with some remarkably deft dribbling for a big man, but all of that only goes so far against teams that are able to gum up the middle of the pitch and keep him isolated from the players around him. If Adi is contesting an aerial challenge against one of the Red Bulls center backs, another player has to be there to immediately take the ball off his foot before he can lay it off.
By himself Adi is dangerous, but just as dangerous to teams are the runs that other Timbers players make off of his shoulder. It was Adi's cutback and shot off Tim Howard's post that got the headlines in the side's 0-0 draw against Colorado on the 4th of July, but that was not the only Timbers' shot that hit the woodwork; Ned Grabavoy also managed to skip a shot off the far post in the first minute of stoppage time. It was a well-hit shot, but the chance was all Adi's as he bodied up a defender and chested down a perfect ball into Grabavoy's path, where the Timbers' midfielder had space for a quick shot on the volley.
OaM: The rest of the team has some strong names on there as well (Diego Valeri, Darlington Nagbe, Nat Borchers). How have they adapted to and embraced "Porterball?"
SF: "Porterball" as a term was roundly rejected by Caleb Porter back in 2013 and now, three years later, it is time to lay it to rest. At its inception, "Porterball" meant a high-possession game plan with the Timbers defending on the ball and grinding teams down with their careful and precise passing before cutting them open with an incisive move, usually originating from "the Maestro" Diego Valeri.
By the end of the season, however, Porter was adapting his tactics. The global obsession with possession and "tiki-taka" football had been solved by strong defensive teams with quick and effective counter-attacks, epitomized at the time by sides like Chelsea and Athletico Madrid. Teams were wise to the Timbers and, just as importantly, they understood how to stop them. So, Porter and company switched things up: going with an occasionally more direct and more pragmatic style of play.
Since this switch over to pragmatism before all else, Porter has taken a number of different approaches to his side's tactics, playing possession, or on the counter, or going direct, or whatever else makes sense in a given game. As such, intelligence and flexibility have shown to be vital traits to Timbers players. Diego Valeri, Darlington Nagbe, and Nat Borchers are all players who can adapt to whatever system they are in, so whatever you are calling the Timbers' style of play these days, they are players that you will want in your side. Unfortunately for the Timbers, Valeri will be out for this match as he continues rehabbing from an injury picked up in the Timbers' unfortunate 1-0 loss to the LA Galaxy in the U.S. Open Cup earlier in the month.
The RBNY-Timbers match will be televised on ESPN2 this Sunday night at 6pm. Or you can go to RBA and take it in yourself.
You can read Once a Metro's answers to Stumptown Footy's questions here. (Will add link when story is available)