Match Preview: Timbers @ Houston Dynamo

Diego Valeri brings intangibles to the Portland attack that lead to tangible results.

By Mike Schwartz May 13, 2015

Welcome back, Maestro!

On a sticky humid night in Montréal that devolved into a downpour, the Timbers were out shot, out passed and out possessed—and won the game.

Nat Borchers headed in Portland’s opening goal, finding himself in the right place at the right time off of a busted corner.

Six minutes after the Bearded One’s second tally of the season, the moment everyone has been dreaming of became reality: Diego Valeri announced his return to the starting XI by curling in an absolute golazo, the eventual game-winner. The Goal of the Week nominee was six months in the making, and an absolutely vintage Diego Valeri strike.

The win gives Portland thirteen points, four more than they had after ten games a year ago. In the Wild West, that total is only good enough for eighth place, though Portland is a mere three points out of third. Yup, it’s that kind of season, folks.

With those thirteen points, the Timbers are tied with this week’s opponent, the Houston Dynamo. In fact, they are tied in both the wins and draws column, but the Orange have played one more game, which they lost.

They can’t really score or win with consistency, but are among the league leaders in clean sheets. Which team am I talking about?

Truth be told, the Timbers and Dynamo have experienced parallel start-stop seasons. Both teams have shown that they can dominate possession and lose. Three out of four Dynamo losses were matches in which the Orange had more of the ball; Portland has lost two out of three. Other than a 3-0 drubbing of the Impact and an outlying 4-4 draw with Sporting Kansas City, the Dynamo have struggled to score, netting only six times in the other nine matches. 

This is due largely in part to the absence of their big off-season signing, Erick “Cubo” Torres, who remains on loan with former parent club, C.D. Guadalajara. With the 22-year old Mexican national teamer—who scored 22 times in 44 appearances for Chivas USA—trapped on the bench in Liga MX, the scoring load in his absence has fallen to mid/forward Giles Barnes. The former Derby County man has tallied five times, with four coming in his last six games.

New managers are as impactful—if not more so—than new players. Following the offseason departure of longtime boss Dominic Kinnear for San Jose, the Dynamo reached across the Pond for their new boss, Owen Coyle.

After rising to managerial prominence in 2009 with Burnley—securing the “Clarets’” first Premier League season in 33 years—Coyle jumped to Bolton Wanderers, who were relegated under his watch. After a poor start to their second-tier campaign (2012-13), Coyle was sacked, but resurfaced at Wigan Athletic the following June. By December, the “Latics” were sliding down the second division table, and Coyle was let go once again. When players and coaches fall out of favor, MLS is an attractive option for a fresh start.  After two failures in quick succession, the Scot could use one.

Unlike most new managers, Coyle didn’t swoop in and immediately start replacing existing personnel with “his” players. In fact, the Dynamo start largely the same group they did last year. Coyle has yet to settle on a formation, oscillating between a 4-4-2 and 4-2-3-1, with the latter occurring more at home. Granted, Houston went with a defensive 4-4-1-1 at home in the Texas Derby and were smoked 4-1 by FC Dallas. The possession numbers in that game? Houston 65%, Dallas 35%.

Shortly after, star midfielder Brad Davis picked up a hamstring injury. Coyle deputized Will Bruin, reverting to that 4-4-1-1, and they spoiled TFC’s home opener. It makes about as much sense as the Timbers thrashing Dallas then laying an egg against Orlando City.

Do all signs point to a draw? 

Not if the revitalized Timbers have anything to say about it.

Caleb Porter’s group has won two out of their last three road games and are undefeated in 2015 A.D. (Anno Diego). With Rodney Wallace back from a minor knee injury, the Timbers are a healthy Will Johnson away from a full strength starting XI. The Captain is still week-to-week, and is experiencing soreness that comes part-in-parcel with the kind of injury he sustained. The bench, minus Ben Zemanski, is also back to normal with the returns of Dairon Asprilla (wrist injury) and Gata Fernandez (turf toe).

In order to escape BBVA Compass Stadium with three points for the first time, the Timbers need to get their strikers going. Fanendo Adi hasn’t scored in six games (391 minutes of gameplay). Max Urruti hasn’t netted in five (239 minutes). The team behind them is dynamic, yet being in the top-10 in shots (8th) shots on goal (7th) and corners (3rd) has yielded only 9 goals (14th in MLS) and 8 assists (13th).

Houston’s defense has conceded the second most goals in the league. The strikers in Green & Gold should be on high alert.

Statistically, the Timbers didn’t do much more or less against Montréal than they have against anyone else, aside from those stupefying Vancouver games. The difference is: they won.

Diego Valeri brings intangibles to the Portland attack that lead to tangible results.

He is simply a match winner, which is what Timbers have been missing.

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