The Clash of the Counters: STL City Visit the Timbers
Hello and welcome back to the Soccer Cave for another edition of my "Keys to the City"! The mostly weekly post where I break down the upcoming City match up into manageable points to give you all a feel for the game. Up this week City makes the somewhat familiar trip to Portland to take on the Timbers. It's familiar because a lot of these guys made the trip with City2 last year (even if they didn't play) which may help minimize the effects of travel. Before we dive in, Portland has been plagued with injuries already with Felipe Mora, Sebastian Blanco, David Ayala, Dairon Asprilla, and Tega Ikoba ALL out with knee injuries and Yimmi Chara out with a Hamstring injury. Meanwhile City officially put Joakim Nilsson on IR to free up his spot and signed preseason trialist Lucas Bartlett. Njabulo Blom is also listed as Questionable for "Health and Safety Protocol" but on the bright side, Isak Jensen looks like he is no longer Questionable, and will likely make the bench for the first time this season.
This will truly be an interesting match up since both squads have similar but very distinct styles. Both like to play on the counter but Timbers aren't a high press like City. In the past Portland have been better at weathering the storm of other teams attacks and making them pay for it on a quick and devastating counter attack down the wings. With some new faces expect a similar approach from Timbers with a little more using the central players like Evander as touch points to move the attack forward.
With that all being said, without further ado here are my "Keys to the City":
Get to Your Game, Be the Pair Beyond Compare, and Catch 'em Flat Footed
Get to Your Game
When it comes to a matchup of similar styles of attack whichever team settles into the match first will be the one dictating the pace of the match and creating the majority of the opportunities, especially when it is a counter v counter matchup. The big difference between the styles appears to be City with the high press will attack the ball and force those mental missteps like in Austin and v Charlotte at home, meanwhile Portland will likely sit a little further back and lie in wait for the prime opportunity to spring the attack. I fully expect there to be a lot of quality chances for both sides and the counter v counter will be a high intensity back and forth game. By getting to your game first you dictate how fast those attacks will happen. If Timbers can slow it down by being stout defensively, they can pick a prime chance and punish a tired City. On the opposite side if City can use the speed and press to force turnovers high up the pitch, City will have the advantage.
Be the Pair Beyond Compare
Comparisons to pizza aside and regardless of who wins Key #1, the CB Pair of Tim Parker and Kyle Hiebert for City will be pivotal. With Portland playing it forward mainly out wide, expect them to either get the ball to Evander just outside the box for him to cut in or for lots of crosses in for Jaroslaw Niezgoda. In either case Hiebert and Parker are going to need to be sharp to stop them and minimize the amount of work for Roman Burki. On the flip side of the ball, Portland have been abysmal on setpieces so far this season (Maybe missing Tuiloma here quite a bit). We already know Tim can be a force in the air and score from a set piece, him doing so again could be the deciding goal. If Timbers sit back more than say Austin did, Hiebert and Parker may need to be the touchpoints of *GASP* an extended possession! If so their distribution will need to be quick and direct to get through the compact Portland defensive shape. Which leads to the last Key.
Catch Them Flat-footed
With Portland not pressing high and aggressively like City will be, there will be moments where City have to play with a little more possession. In these moments Timbers will be trying to find the weak pass or a momentary back turn and pounce on the counter and City will need to be quick in switching the point of attack. Press high and aggressively, hem them in defensively, and wear them out. After fatigue sets in, find the one caught ball watching and make him pay.
Win these three Keys and it should make for a City win. Will it be easy? Not by any stretch of the imagination. Portland play VERY well from behind, but how well will they do that this week missing several key players like Blanco, Chara, and Asprilla? Only time will tell. As for a prediction? This volatile match up could make for a very exciting blowout, high scoring draw, or less likely a disappointing scoreless match. My head says it's a 3-3 draw, my heart says 4-1 for the Boys in Gray. Either way this will be exciting and have A LOT of goals in it. So that is all I have for you this time. So did I miss anything? Did I get it wrong/right? Let me know what you think in the comments. As always thank you for reading, bye for now!
(Photo Credit to Kevin A. Roberts from STL Magazine)