To get everyone ready for Atlanta United’s match against the Portland Timbers on Sunday, we spoke with Stumptown Footy’s Will Conwell to get his take on Portland’s resurgence, their weaknesses, and the main takeaways from the start of their campaign. To find out what they wanted to know about Atlanta United read their story here:
DSS: It's still very early in the season, but what's been the difference between this Portland team that looks like a force to be reckoned with and last years that couldn't qualify for the playoffs?
SF: Since last season the Timbers have made several important upgrades to their midfield that are paying early dividends for the side.
Most visible has been new designated player Sebastian Blanco, joining Darlington Nagbe and Diego Valeri as a part of the Timbers' first choice attacking midfield group. A smart, tenacious, and versatile play, Blanco has yet to light up the scoreboards in a consistent way, but he has done the little things right for the Timbers, making everyone around him better.
The Timbers' other big addition over the offseason was holding midfielder David Guzman. Taking over for Timbers and MLS legend Jack Jewsbury at the No. 6 spot, Guzman is a strong defensive player who can also serve as a deep-lying playmaker, springing attacks out of the back with ease.
What's more, the additions of Guzman and Blanco have brought out the best in the players around them by putting Timbers' cornerstone players like Nagbe and Diego Chara in positions that make use of their strengths. Of course, Nagbe will likely be out for Sunday's match, giving the Timbers one less threat that Atlanta will need to keep an eye on.
DSS: Even though the Timbers are off to a hot start, are there any weaknesses you see in their game?
SF: Somewhat like Atlanta, the Timbers are a team that thrive when they can get on top of their opponents early and exploit the gaps that are created by that. When the Timbers are able to take an early lead -- something that they have managed in seven of their ten matches this season -- they have the quality to exploit every misstep.
This quality is especially evident when the Timbers go on the break, often getting the ball down the pitch quickly and with only a handful of touches before finding the back of the net.
When the Timbers are not able to pull ahead early, however, they can sometimes crumble: a tendency that we saw in their 3-0 capitulation last weekend to the San Jose Earthquakes. So, if Atlanta can strike first against the Timbers, they have every chance of getting a result in the Rose City.
DSS: What are your main takeaways from Portland at the start of the season?
SF: First, the Timbers have the attacking talent to finish the season near the top of the league. Goals are all but assured if Valeri and Fanendo Adi can stay healthy and on the pitch, and if Nagbe, Blanco, and company can continue to chip in from out wide from time to time.
Second, while the attack is well stocked, the defense is not. The Timbers have looked less than convincing on defense all season -- likely a bi-product of losing their expected starter, Gbenga Arokoyo, to an achilles tendon rupture over the offseason. While Liam Ridgewell and converted midfielder Lawrence Olum have mostly gotten the job done, it will be difficult for the Timbers to keep their place high up the table if they keep hemorrhaging goals.