A very big week is shaping up in Timbers land, with matches on Sunday, Wednesday and Thursday. Since this is a long weekend, I'll put out my match preview today for Sunday.
The Offsides puts together a good preview, while the resurrected Oregon Live Timbers blog provides some updates about this weekend, courtesy of our good friend, Rick. I lamented when this blog went away, but our friend Bob went on to do other great things, and now he's back with Offsides, and the rest of us can provide our voice.
Game Time: There is a footy double header this weekend, with US versus Canada in both matches. The Timbers U-23 team play at 1 pm at PGE Park versus the Vancouver Whitecaps Residency, which is a fancy name for a development team. The senior Timbers take over at PGE Park with an early 5 pm kickoff versus the Montreal Impact.
Broadcast: You can listen to the match at www.portlandtimbers.com, or watch the Timbers Senior match on Fox Sports Northwest (channel 34 in the Portland area) around the northwest.
Special Events: The double header is a unique touch, but there is also a Timbers tailgate after the U-23 match in the parking lot behind the Cheerful Bullpen, and many of the U-23 players will be stopping by. The US Men's National Team also play earlier in the day in the finals of the Confederations Cup versus Brazil, marking the first time in a very long time that the USA is in the finals of a FIFA competition, so you could really be watching a lot of footy all day Sunday.
Overall History: The Timbers have a winning record against the Impact, winning 6 matches, losing 3 and drawing 2. Ironically, 2 of the losses are at home, with the Timbers having a 3 - 2 - 1 record here at PGE versus a 3 - 1 - 1 at Saputo Stadium. Montreal and Portland met on June 4th at PGE Park in a day where Portland was hit with major thunderstorms, and then Keith Savage hit with his own brand of thunder in getting the winning goal late in the match, as the Timbers won 1 to nil.
Timbers Form: Still unbeaten in 11 league matches, a friendly and 2 Open Cup matches since losing their opener in Vancouver. They sit with 23 points at 6 - 1 - 5, and most recently, they beat Minnesota at home 5 to 1 on Friday June 19th. The Timbers have had a bit of a break since their 4 matches in 12 days, and they start another tough stretch with 4 matches next week (Sunday, Wednesday, Thursday at home and Saturday in Minnesota).
Timber Player Updates: Ryan Pore, Tony McManus and Takuro Nishimura are still dealing with injuries, but we would expect them back very soon. McManus and Pore have targeted this week for a return, while Nishimura has been practicing with the team, so I would expect him to be available for Sunday.
Timber Key Players: Mandjou Keita continues his hot streak, as he takes over the goal lead for the team with 4 goals, followed by Pore's 3 goals, and then George Josten and Brian Farber with 2 each. Farber leads the team with 3 assists, followed by David Hayes and Josten with 2 each. The forwards are now finding their shot, and putting shots on goal, which is great to see, but really the midfield is the engine for this team. Brian Farber, Johan Claesson and Keith Savage have extremely well in the middle by keeping thing stable and providing support in the front or back as needed, and Taka Suzuki has really found a home in the middle. The defense is doing well, with 6 goals given up, and really, the one goal they gave up against Minnesota was an odd bounce off a free kick, but one that Steve Cronin saves more than he would miss. We are certainly playing well right now, and after these home matches, we have our longest road stretch of the season in July before having the schedule balance out a bit.
Upcoming Timbers Matches: The Timbers play 7/1 versus FC Puke Green in a US Open Cup match, 7/2 in a friendly against Bayern Munich II and then head to the road to play Minnesota on 7/4, and then they have a bit of a break before heading to Austin to play there on July 11th.
Impact Form: Montreal got off to a very slow start, but have picked up their play rather nicely. They sit at 17 points in 11 games, with 5 wins, 4 losses and 2 draws, 14 goals scored and 10 given up. They played Toronto last Thursday in the Canadian Ultralite Cup, and lost 6 to 1, as the coaching staff played a few reserves and held players out for a league match versus Vancouver later in the week, thus giving Toronto the Cup win and a berth in other tournaments and eliminated Vancouver. There was some bad blood between the squads, but Montreal got the win over Vancovuer 2 to 1 on the 20th, and then beat Miami FC at home on Tuesday 1 to nil.
Impact Player Updates: No major injuries that I could find.
Impact Key Players: Roberto Brown Perea still leads the team with 3 goals, while Rocco Placentino has 5 assists to his credit. The Impact are scoring goals, something they struggled with early in the season, but now they seem to have found a form. Joey Gjertsen and Eduardo Sebrango are key players for the Impact, as Gjertsen is a wily midfield veteran, while Sebrango is usually the key striker for the squad, but he's been rather quiet so far. Matt Jordan returns in goal for the Thunder, although they have Srdjan Djekanovic as the backup, who is a crowd favorite for the Timbers Army.
Key Notes: The Timbers have another long stretch of games coming up, so depth is the key. Montreal probably feels like they let one get away the last time they were in PGE Park, as they played very well against the Timbers and gave up the late goal for the loss, but at points, they controlled the tempo and generated better offense. The only thing that kept the Timbers in the match in the first half was some great defense, Cronin's great work in goal, and a few really badly missed chances.
Prediction: The Timbers want to put this one away early, and I would expect 2 goals from them, while Montreal is held in check, so the Timbers win 2 to nil. While the Impact has been scoring, the Timbers defense has really been playing well, and the only Minnesota goal was off a set piece. Granted, Montreal is usually good with those, so there is slight cause for concern, but we will extend our streak to 12, and get ready for Wednesday.
Trail Blazer Draft Night: Granted, over the past few years, the Trail Blazers have really looked forward to this night because it meant something. From the record 6 trades that netted us Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge to getting Greg Oden, we've made the draft night sort of a coming out party, so going into last night's draft, many fans were expecting something similar. But this is also a Trail Blazer team that is coming off a playoff berth and 4th seed in the West with one of the younger cores of players around, and so right now, you don't need to pull it apart, but rather tinker and compliment certain positions.
We went into the draft picking 24th in the first round, and with 4 second round picks, but a late trade to Dallas allowed us to move up to 22 and give up one of the second round picks. We pick Victor Claver, a young forward from Spain with 22, then got Jeff Pendergraph from Arizona State at 31, Dante Cunningham at 33 from Villanova and Patrick Mills at 55 from St. Mary's College. We did swap second round picks with Sacramento in a trade that sent disgruntled PG Sergio Rodriguez to the Kings, and got us Cunningham for us picking Jon Brockman from Washington.
I'm sad to see Sergio go, but I also know that he struggled to find a place in Portland, even with having his good friend Rudy Fernandez on the roster. Sergio wanted to play more up and down pace with flashy passes, while Nate McMillan prefers a more controlled approach. I wish him well, but in the draft picks, we get a very young forward who will play in Europe for 2 years at least, 2 young forwards who will battle to back up Aldridge, and a PG that really is the fastest guard I've seen that can shoot lights out with a very late pick. Mills is certainly shoot first as a PG, but that's what was asked of him by his college team. I can expect him to take a more disciplined approach in Portland, and if anyone can corrall this guy, it's Nate, plus you get to learn from a very good PG, Steve Blake. Plus, the Trail Blazers will retain the rights to Joel Freeland and Petri Kopponen, who will continue to play in Europe, while I expect that Channing Frye, Michael Ruffin, and Shavlik Randolph to be gone. That leaves you with:
PG - Steve Blake, Jarryd Bayless, Patrick Mills, Brandon Roy.
SG - Roy, Rudy Fernandez, Bayless
SF - Nick Batum, Martell Webster, Travis Outlaw
PF - LaMarcus Aldridge, Jeff Pendergraph, Dante Cunningham, Outlaw
C - Greg Oden, Joel Pryzbilla
The rumours of free agency persist, as we look at help for the PG situation, and I would expect the team to find another experience forward/center type. The Oregon Live team did a good job of recapping the draft, while their columnist, John Canzano, says this was a big move to do very little and keep the long term focus to save some money. And that's really what we saw in this draft, picks that are great value and save the team money from the salary cap, so they can be a player in free agency on July 1st. Granted, it's not flashy like what we have seen in previous drafts from the Trail Blazers, but it was what we needed this year.