Game Preview: The Last Home Stretch
The sun’s been shining on Portland lately. The Timbers (9-7-7, 34pts) are riding a 2-game road win streak, further strengthening their 4th place position in the overall league standings, and are now facing a 3 game home stand, starting with the Austin Aztex on Thursday. Things are starting to get rosy in the Rose City and with 7 games remaining in the regular season the timing couldn’t be better. Portland is unbeaten in their last 3 matches and their defense has recorded back-to-back shutouts for only the 2nd time this year. Could the Timbers possibly string together their first 3 game win streak of the season?
The Aztex (13-3-5, 44pts) will be a nice gauge of just how hot things are getting in Portland. Austin has had quite a successful sophomore year as a franchise. Currently 3rd place in the overall standings, the Aztex have been one of the better teams in the league this season and had sat atop of the points table for most of the year before being overtaken by Rochester earlier this month. Regardless, Austin and Rochester were the first two teams to clinch playoff berths after wins this past weekend and the Aztex have a record of 2-0-1 in August.
The iron may be heating up, but there are still plenty of kinks to be ironed out before the playoffs begin. Coach Gavin Wilkinson hasn’t hesitated to tinker with the rotation in recent weeks, an effort to zero-in on the line-up that gives the team the best chance to win in the postseason. For instance, Portland has had 5 different starting line-ups in their last 5 matches. Not only has the rotation seen many different combinations of players, but players such as Taka Suzuki moved from position to position, seeing action upfront and in the midfield. Along with the irregular rotation, Coach Wilkinson has even experimented with formation changes in short periods, at times using a 5-4-1 formation or switching to a 4-5-1. Incorporating new signees Ibad Muhamadu and Kalif Alhassan could potentially present chemistry challenges, especially with playoffs fast approaching. All of this amounts to an atmosphere of instability. The Timbers are starting to move forward, but just how sturdy are those stilts they’re standing on?
That’s one way to look at it. On the other hand, the Timber’s changing rotation shows the quality of depth this team possesses on its roster, and the formation shifts are just an example of the team’s diversity out on the field. The signing of new blood is a boost to the club just when they need it and the team’s play is starting to come together at the right time as well. A rosier perspective, perhaps. Where do you feel the state of the team is right now? Do you feel things are “coming together” or moving in the right direction at least?
Either way, it’s hard to argue that the Timbers will need offensive production on Thursday night, another aspect that’s been lacking in consistency this year. Earlier in the season, Portland and Austin played to a 0-0 draw in Texas, so if the backline can play tight and error free soccer again, then the pressure will fall on offense to find the back of the net. Portland has scored 23 goals this year and given up 19, while Austin has 40 goals for and 24 against. Ryan Pore leads the USSF D2 League in scoring with 13 goals on the season, however, five of those scores have come from penalty kicks. Forward Bright Dike has scored 4 goals this year and has been on a tear as of late, scoring 3 times in his last 5 games. So where will the Timbers find offense? Who’s gonna step up?
Players to Watch or Who’s scoring all these goals for Austin?
Maxwell Griffin #11 – A prolific scorer in college, the UCLA grad has tallied 7 goals this season, including a hat trick in Miami. One of only 18 players to ever record a hat trick for the Bruins as well.
Eddie Johnson #8 – A product of Manchester United’s youth development system and in his second year with the team, the English striker has 15 goals in 45 appearances. Johnson last played for Chester City before signing with Austin.
Jamie Watson #77 – The young Texas native has been all over the US soccer pyramid, playing in the PDL, USL2, D-2, to the MLS and back again. The forward is finding success this year in Austin where he’s tallied 19 total points and scored 6 goals.
Posted by Kevin