We exchange three questions with Geoff Gibson of Stumptown Footy in order to get some insider perspective on the Portland Timbers as the Chicago Fire head to JELD-WEN Field this Thursday. Geoff's answer to my first question is below and the other five questions in the exchange are after the break.
Hot Time In Old Town asks Stumptown Footy
1. JELD-WEN opens for the first time this Thursday. What are some of the best features fans have to look forward to? Is there anything about the whole process that you have enjoyed the most?
Honestly, I think fans are just happy to be watching a game at home. The guys (Timbers) have been playing on the road now for almost a month and while its certainly exhausting to them, there's something to be said for the fans as well. Going that long without being able to actually see your team play is almost a different sort of exhaustion. As for the stadium itself, not much has really changed. We've got fancy to east side stands which will mostly be used to service wealthy, newer fans not the Timbers Army or casual fans from last season. I'd say the turf is probably the most exciting part about it. While it's not grass, it's miles ahead of what we played on last year, which was a joke. I was actually on the field this morning and can attest to how good the turf feels. Again it's not as good as grass, but it's the best turf I think I've ever seen.
2. How are the Timbers coming together as a team so far? If you had to pick a team MVP to date who would it be? Who do you think will end up being the team MVP when all is said and done?
Each game the team gets better and better. We came out against a heavily favored Colorado Rapids team that pretty much tore us to pieces. We had a lot going against us in the match to be honest and not many expected a win. In Toronto we saw a bit of a rallying that unfortunately fell apart after Javier Martina scored an unstoppable goal off a corner kick counter. We then went up against a surprisingly strong New England side away from home and came away with a 1 - 1 draw. This is all not including our 2 - 0 win over Chivas USA in the U.S. Open Cup play-in round. As for an MVP, as of today I'd say it has to be our captain Jack Jewsbury. He's a strong center midfielder that has scored in two games so far. By the end of the season, however, I'd be surprised if it wasn't Kenny Cooper. The man is a consummate professional who is the first to arrive and the last to leave from training every day. He may only have a single goal so far this season, but he'll break through eventually.
3. The big news is that the Timbers Army will be signing the National Anthem before Thursday Night's game. Are there any other front office/supporters groups collaborations you wanted to highlight? How has the overall transition to the MLS gone from a front office/supporters group standpoint?
I'm not intimately involved in the Timbers Army planning for reasons relating to wanting to remain impartial due to my involvement with SB Nation so I can't answer that exactly. I will say however, that our Front Office has been tremendously inviting and welcoming of the Timbers Army in the ascension from the USL to MLS. This is the first time the TA and FO have worked together in such a fashion and it certainly won't be the last. Merritt Paulson, the Portland Timbers owner, knows where the primary fan base is and who established the team in the city 10-ish years ago.
Stumptown Footy asks Hot Time In Old Town
1. Coming from a loss in Seattle, how important is it for the Chicago Fire to come to Portland and prove they play away from home against an inhospitable, rowdy crowd and win? What will Carlos de los Cobos change about this week's line up or tactics that didn't work against Seattle?
Chicago had a great deal of roster turnover between 2010 and 2011. Over half of the players on the roster were not here last year. In addition, technical director Frank Klopas did not bring in any big names. Expectations were set pretty low by the fan base. In response, the Fire are 1-1-1 in MLS regular season play and came out victorious in the U.S. Open Cup play-in game against the Colorado Rapids. I don't think it is very important for the team to come away with a win. They have already proven they are coming together well.
The other thing to take away from Thursday night's game is Portland is opening their stadium. That is a whole different atmosphere and situation from a regular away game. Frankly I'm getting a little tired of Chicago being scheduled for stadium openers (New York last year, Sporting KC later this year too) because of that dynamic. The fans, players, even the vendors are all on their best shape. As it couldn't get any better, Portland is coming off 12 days of rest while Chicago is on 5 days rest. The schedule is what it is but if Chicago loses, I'm not going to worry about this group's ability to play in front of noisy away crowds.
I think coach Carlos de los Cobos will run out a 4-4-2 just like last time. We'll play the same kind of game. Most Seattle fans felt they were fortunate to come away with 3 points on the back of a very strong performance from Kasey Keller. Seattle could have had a goal or two more themselves but Keller had three huge saves off strikes I thought surely were goals. With a game this Sunday against the Los Angeles Galaxy, some bench players like Marko Maric, Davis Paul, and Daniel Paladini might see some time. I hear Paladini has a little history with the Timbers Army...
2. The Chicago Fire are a largely revamped team from last season with ~16 players coming in. Has the team played better or worse this season than last when, at one point, they were sporting two Designated Players?
I already feel like this year's team is playing better than last year's team at any given point in the season. Last year you had a coach who inherited several veterans. Right or wrong, some of those vets didn't gel with his vision. Some of the older players just went through the motions as the season went on. Nery Castillo and Freddie Ljungberg were brought in with the hope they could get a stalled car starting. Castillo did not help at all. Ljungberg at least gave a new energy to the team. I think that if last year's squad has Ljungberg the whole season the Fire could have done some damage but the Fire were essentially putting out a squad that was still working out kinks in August/September while most other teams were well oiled machines at that point.
This year's team is almost all young guys with something to prove. Even Marco Pappa and Patrick Nyarko who are well known in MLS circles need to prove they belong in the MLS elite. Sean Johnson needs to prove that he belongs in the USMNT discussion. It is refreshing to see a team that is hungry and wants to play together versus last year's team where you had a lot of content veterans. As a fan, it is much more fun to root for anyone giving it their all.
3. Which player, or players, should the Portland Timbers really be on the look out for Thursday night?
I'm sure the ESPN commentators will have a great deal to say about Diego Chaves. It is easy to talk about the guy who has scored 3 goals in 3 games. Chaves deserves the accolades but his fellow Uruguayan Gaston Puerari is more dynamic in my opinion. If Puerari is not one of the fastest players in the MLS, he is certainly one of the sneakiest. He'll be off the ball moving along and actually speed up when he gets the ball on his feet. His tiny 5'7 frame allows him to slip through defenses and the 'increased card consciousness' that seems to have taken over the MLS referee ranks has played in his favor. Puerari drew a red card against FC Dallas and Sporting KC. One of Chaves' goals came off the SKC red card. Chaves might drive in the proverbial nail in the coffin, but Puerari will be the one to put that got the timber together to build it.