The Men in Red will face a stiff challenge from Portland, however. The Timbers sit 3rd in the Western Conference, and seem to have put the rocky John Spencer era firmly behind them. Caleb Porter has come in, taken the reins, and turned the club around seemingly.
To dig a little deeper into this new look Portland Timbers side, I talked to Geoff Gibson over at Stumptown Footy. Another 3 points would be a big lift for the Fire, while also demonstrating that this team is really making some big strides. While we are still trying to dig ourselves out of that deep hole, there is finally a bit of light at the top. Enjoy the chat, and we'll see you back here later for the Preview, gamethread, and recap.
Oh, and one last thing. Guest answering for me this week (for the questions we answered at least) is Adam Merges.
Hot Time In Old town Asks Stumptown Footy
1. Caleb Porter is in as Timbers head coach after John Spencer and Gavin Wilkinson weren't able to help the club make the playoffs in their first two seasons. How has "Porterball" changed the way the Timbers play? (via James Coston)
The way the Portland Timbers play this year is hugely different. No longer are they a long balling, counter attacking side that preferred to focus on a single big striker in the middle of the field. Instead, they play a high possession, high passing, high attacking game that's very technical. The defensive backline plays very high in order to facilitate the movement of the ball through the midfield. It's a style other MLS teams have tried in the past with little success. Luckily, Caleb Porter really knows what he's doing in this regard and has brought in players who are well adapted to this style of play.
2. One player who's always had high expectations is the club's first ever draft pick Darlington Nagbe. How has he continued to develop since first joining the club? Do you think he'll ever suit up for the United States Men's National Team? (via James Coston)
Darlington Nagbe has had a huge influence on the club since his inaugural MLS season in 2011. However, under Caleb Porter he has really started to shine. Which should be expected considering Nagbe won the Hermann trophy in college under Caleb Porter at Akron. There's no doubt in my mind that, if he continues this level of play, we could see him leave for Europe in a year or two. Nagbe is currently ineligible to play for the USMNT as he is working on getting full citizenship. He recently married an American but, as of the last report, is probably a few years away of getting everything finalized. He has not been capped by his home country of LIberia.
3. If the Timbers success continues, year in, year out, does that close the door on the Portland sports landscape, or is there room (hypothetically) for an NHL or MLB team? Selfish question: I'm flying to Portland on Sunday. What is the one thing I can't leave without seeing? (via John Jenzah)
I think there's room for an NHL team, but I don't know about an MLB team. The Portland sports landscape is already pretty dense based on the population size. We're also not a traditional sports town. The reason I say the NHL would probably work is two fold:
1. Portland already hosts a WHL team by the name of the Winterhawks that is fairly popular drawing around 10,000 people per game.
2. The facilities are already there in the form of the Rose Garden, where the Trailblazers play.
MLB would probably not be as successful because there's no current stadium in place for them, Portland's former AAA baseball team moved out of the state entirely, and the demographics of the city are trending younger whereas baseball is generally a sport for older people.
As for sightseeing, visit Jeld-Wen obviously, you can go to the Timbers Adidas store inside the stadium and get a good look at the stadium. Aside from that, it depends on where you're staying, but I honestly recommend seeing the city by bike. We're a hugely bikeable city and it's a great way to see everything. Saturday Market on the waterfront is a particularly good time, plus its right near Voodoo Donuts.
4. How was the decision of Will Johnson being named captain initially received within the Portland fanbase and what is the reaction now? (via Adam Merges)
Fairly well, I would say. There was some criticism of Porter for naming Jack Jewsbury as "club captain" as it was confusing, but overall, I think people recognized that Jewsbury was a great captain for the first and second year, but that it was time to move on to somebody who could lead the team to trophies and Will was that guy.
5. Does the majority of the Portland fanbase view Chicago as an ally and have no ill will towards the Fire except when facing each other? (via Adam Merges)
I would say so, at least for most of the older Timbers Army members who remember the alliance they had a few years back. Really, though, the Timbers Army are an incredibly friendly supporters group to all other supporters groups with the exception of Seattle Sounders' for obvious reasons. There's really no ill will towards anybody.
Stumptown Footy Asks Hot Time In Old Town
1. The Chicago Fire are having a rough go at it this season, especially considering their impressive run late last season. What's going on in 2013?
That's a really good question. When the season started everyone had high hopes for this team. With the additions that the Fire made during the offseason, a majority of the supporters were excited to see what 2013 would bring. Unfortunately the Fire did a complete 180 to what they did in the final few months of the 2012 season. The offseason acquisitions(Joel Lindpere, Jeff Larentowicz, and Dily Duka) were underperforming, one of our starting and most influential center backs(Arne Friedrich) started the season injured and still is, we have had a merry go round at right back, and our key offensive pieces(Sherjill Macdonald and Chris Rolfe) have failed to finish their chances. On the field in the first 10 games at times there seemed to be no chemistry between the players. I do have to say that despite a horrible start, the team is playing much better in the past 3 games.
Mike Magee has already scored 2 goals in his first 2 games, which is saying a lot considering this team's goal scoring struggles so far this year. Prior to his arrival the Fire had scored only 7 goals in 11 games, which is just awful for any team, but especially for one with the pre-season expectations we had. Magee brings a winning mentality and leadership that has been missing from this team. The one thing that I noticed from last Saturday's match versus DC is that he is very vocal on the field. During the match he was constantly talking to his teammates in order to be aware of where everyone is on the field. This is a welcomed change/addition and it should only help the Fire as they look to try to get back into playoff talk. Timber fans should take notice of this and how it impacts the game.
3. The Timbers and Fire meet only once per season, as such, the Fire's roster is a bit of a mystery. Who are the impact players for the team? The big names who will cause some damage.
Mike Magee as I discussed in the previous answer is of course one. Another big name is recently re-acquired Bakary Soumare. He brings stability and composure to the backline as evidenced in the last couple of games. Patrick Nyarko is a player I love because of his speed and ability to take defenders one-on-one. He has been quiet so far this season in terms of stats but he has the skill set to be a provider for whoever starts up top for the Fire. I also can't say enough of our young goalkeeper Sean Johnson. Sean has been one of the best young keepers in MLS, and he has shown it by making huge saves in order to keep his team in every single game. For example, just watch the save reel from the match a couple of weeks ago versus Real Salt Lake.
4. In the same vein, who are some players who are perhaps not considered big names, but are still incredibly dangerous at either end of the field?
The first name that comes to mind is Daniel Paladini. Mainly coming in off the bench, Paladini provides that spark and energy that the team needs in the 2nd half. I also think he has been the Fire's most consistent player throughout this young season. Another player that I think will start seeing more playing time is our young Brazilian midfielder Alex. I predict that he will start in the center of the midfield for Frank Klopas versus the Timbers. Alex has shown a promising skill set that can help him develop into a dependable #10, or so Fire fans are hoping.
5. Predicted starting lineup? (First and last names please!)
Sean Johnson (GK), Jalil Anibaba (RB), Austin Berry (CB), Bakary Soumare (CB), Gonzalo Segares (LB), Logan Pause (CDM), Patrick Nyarko (RM), Alex (CM), Dilly Duka (LM), Chris Rolfe (FW), Mike Magee (FW)