In MLS’ quest for Orlando City to play a game on every single day of the week before the end of the season, the Lions’ next challenge will come on a Thursday, leaving only Monday and Tuesday left to check off on the hellish and unenviable bingo card.
Tonight will see OCSC having traveled across the country to take on the Portland Timbers, which means that I spoke to Will Conwell of Stumptown Footy to get an idea of how the Timbers have fared this year.
Portland has been on a pretty good run recently, winning six of its last eight in all competitions and advancing to the semifinals of the U.S. Open Cup. Outside of the recent month and a half, how has Portland’s season gone as a whole?
Will Conwell: The first half of the season has been a strange one for the Timbers. Starting with one of the longest road trips in league history, then adding the most expensive signing in club history just before returning to Portland for the first time since the 2018 playoffs will do that.
During that season-opening road trip the Timbers seemed to struggle for long stretches, putting up some disconcertingly poor results to start the year. But, as was the case last year before making their run to the MLS Cup final, the Timbers gradually set themselves straight and by May were looking squarely above average on road form. Now it remains to be seen how the Timbers can capitalize on their long run of home matches — 13 of their remaining 16 games are at Providence Park.
Brian Fernandez arrived from Necaxa in May and has promptly bagged six goals, two of which were game winners, and has done so all in just 502 minutes of play. It seems foolish to even ask, but has he been everything you hoped for?
WC: Fernandez is not just the most expensive signing in Timbers history, but he is one of the most expensive signings in the history of Major League Soccer. He has already shown that he has the skill to live up to that price tag, but what Timbers fans have immediately latched on to is this relentless drive to score.
On the pitch Fernandez is very clearly a player who demands more of those around him and who will make the most of the talents of senior players like Diego Chara, Diego Valeri, and Sebastian Blanco, while also forcing the younger players on the team like Jeremy Ebobisse and Cristhian Paredes to raise their games to match his level.
If you had to pick, who’s been a guy that’s really stepped up to the plate this year; someone who has begun to come into their own as a Timber?
WC: The Timbers have seen significant contributions from throughout their depth already this season, but nowhere has someone stepped in to greater effect than between the sticks.
While Jeff Attinella was the Timbers’ hero in goal for much of 2018, the veteran keeper has struggled at times this season, despite remaining an excellent shot-stopper, making several mistakes that led directly to goals. So, when Attinella was rotated out during the Timbers’ travels to rest an injury, the door was open for Steve Clark, another MLS veteran, to make the starting spot his own.
Since stepping in for Attinella, Clark has shown his ability in commanding the box, distributing out of the back, and in making more than his share of point-preserving saves as the Timbers grind through their current bout of fixture congestion.
Clark, who was previously most well known in Portland for giving up the opening goal of the 2015 MLS Cup final to Valeri while still with the Columbus Crew, came up big for the Timbers over the weekend in their 2-2 draw against the Colorado Rapids. Down a man for more than a third of the match, and run ragged by the speedy wingers of Colorado, the Timbers could not keep the Rapids from peppering Clark with shots, but the keeper stood strong and kept the Timbers in the match.
Are there any injuries, suspensions, or call-ups that will keep players unavailable for selection?
WC: The Timbers are missing a number of players for today’s match as the squad has been hit with a rash of injuries lately.
The only players definitively out against the Lions are Julio Cascante (red card suspension) and Marco Farfan (knee). Questionable, however, are Jeff Attinella (right shoulder), Modou Jadama (right lower leg), Larrys Mabiala (left thigh), Jorge Villafaña (left thigh), and Aljaz Ivacic (neck); plus Sebastian Blanco who played 90 minutes in each of the Timbers’ three games over the last week and a half.
Thank you to Will for answering our questions about the Timbers.