The Fire are coming off a 2-0 win versus DC United on Sunday afternoon, and a much needed win it was. Frank and his Men in Red look to keep their winning ways going, even as they were beaten in statistical categories like possession and passes completed against DC. We all know the one that really counts though is the final score. Having DC score a goal for us off a Joel Lindpere free kick in the first half gave the Fire their first, first half lead of the season. That came with a scare when Dwayne De Rosario was given space to move a blasted a shot off the cross bar just before halftime. In the 2nd half the Fire enjoyed most of the quality scoring chances as they gave up the possession battle but were able to be dangerous on counter attacks. After a couple near chances Mike Magee was able to finish off a break in the 85th minute to finish strong home debut in Fire red.
Portland is coming off a bye week from league play but is looking to extend their unbeaten streak to 12 games. So far through 13 games, first year head coach Caleb Porter has amassed a 5-1-7 record which is 3rd best in the Western Conference. In an off-season which saw 15 players from the 2012 roster leave and 13 players come in, Caleb Porter has found the right mix of experience plus youth that has made this team tough to beat at home and on the road. The Timbers should be well rested since their last game was a 3rd round Open Cup game on May 29th in which they easily beat the Wilmington Hammerheads 5-1.
Caleb Porter has varied his formation going from a 4-4-2 to a 4-3-3 week to week. I have a feeling that on Saturday he will go with a 4-3-3 to go against Frank's 4-4-2, especially with having 10 days in between games. Will Johnson will play the holding mid role and sit behind Valeri and Chara. They have Donovan Ricketts, Ryan Johnson, Rodney Wallace, and Futty Danso all missing due to international duty. This is what I think he'll go with:
Coming off one win in the Open Cup and one win in league play Frank seems to have found a formation that is working. The only change that he will probably make is to have Dilly Duka come in for Joel Lindpere, who was called up to international duty by Estonia. Logan Pause may still not be ready to go this week, and if that's the case Captain Big Red will still be in the holding role. This is what I think Frank will go with Saturday night:
- Jeff Larentowicz vs. Diego Valeri- Larentowicz will have his hands full if Valeri starts as the attacking midfielder for Portland. Valeri had shown early in the season that he is a foreign import that can have success in MLS. Lately he has been slowed by defenses but he is not one of those players that should be taken lightly. He is a very talented playmaker that can open up space and use open space when given it. Larentowicz should try to limit him to chances by taking away the open space and also try playing a little physical with the Argentine.
- Alex vs. Will Johnson- One thing that can take the Timbers out of their game plan is Alex. If Alex can give Will Johnson a tough time by being a nuisance in the midfield and preoccupying him, Johnson will not have any time to orchestrate the attack going forward. This is a tall task for the 2nd year midfielder as he has not seen the field as much on a regular basis since joining the Fire. On defense, Alex can help out by tightly covering Will Johnson so he does not have any space to operate.
Portland has done a complete 180 since compared to 2012 and one of the main reasons for this is the acquisition of Will Johnson. Johnson was a regular starter for RSL and was traded to Portland in the off-season amid a lot of puzzled looks from the critics. So far the trade has worked in favor for Portland. Since being named captain he has become the heart of this team and a real leader. Johnson has slotted into that holding role and has been the Timber in the middle of the park disrupting the opponent's attack and guiding everything going forward. Like I said earlier, if Alex keeps him occupied for the majority of the match it will give the Fire the best chance at picking up all 3 points.
For the Fire, the wildcards this week will be Berry and Soumare. If they can continue their control of the opposing forwards then it will limit the amount of shots that Sean Johnson will face. Portland is tied for the 2nd most goals scored in the league so far and if the Fire have any chance at keeping a clean sheet, our center backs have to play like they have the past 3 games. Since Soumare came back to Chicago, he and Berry have looked comfortable with each other and a lot more relaxed than when Berry was paired with Anibaba.
The Timbers have only lost once this season and that came all the way back in week 2. The Fire are riding a nice little 3 game unbeaten streak that includes a win in the Open Cup. With the recent additions to the lineup the Fire will only get better as time goes on and they are playing Portland at the right time. The Timbers will be without 3 key players as they come into Chicago on Saturday and I think the Fire will take advantage of this. It will be a tough game for both sides, but as always whoever can make the most of their chances will come out on top in this one. I have the Fire edging out the Timbers 2-1 with goals from the recent additions Soumare and Magee.