What did our beloved Claret and Cobalt do the evening of March, 10th? They did what they trained for. They did what they most wanted. They did what they are capable of. They “came to score” (The Aggrolites).
If there was ever a time for us to break our winless streak, it was when it first started. But never mind that, because that's now passed over us, and so we should probably just worry about today. So let's try that again: If there was ever a time for us to break our winless streak, it's tonight against another set of Cascadian visitors in the form of Portland Timbers.
The strange log-cutting ceremony aside, the Timbers side hasn't been overly impressive this season, finding their form a bit in the start-stop category. That won't matter too much, though, as they found some joy on Independence Eve (that's a day, right?) against the Earthquakes with some strong defensive performances and startlingly fast counterattacking play.
Their forward pairing of Danny Mwanga and Kris Boyd (if, indeed, that is the forward pairing we see) will be looking to give us fits and starts with some speed-and-strength combination play, so we'll need to be aware in the center as well as on the flanks. Portland is clearly a bit more dangerous than their standings would suggest, and it took a minor miracle to see us through during the last go around. If we behave rather as we should, we won't need magic to find three points, but the revenge factor (my favorite of the psychological factors, most of which [including this one] are really just not based in fact — or, at the very least, evidence) could play into it. Given the last parenthetical, I'm not sure it will, and I've got no reason to think it will or won't have an effect, but, well, never mind that.
If, indeed, our preferred pairing is available, I will have some real confidence in our ability to handle those two and others, but if one of them remains unavailable, I'll be a little more worried. I suppose I won't be overly worried in either case, given the showing of new boy Watson-Siriboe on Wednesday, but Kris Boyd is, for me, a better and more effective striker than Seattle's Eddie Johnson. Take that as you will. In short: I'd love to see Olave back for this, but if he's not at full strength, let's throw the new boy into the mix again.
Speaking of new boys, I've got a sneaking suspicion that we might see a little more Kenny Mansally, if he's sufficiently recovered from his shoulder separation. What an absolute warrior on the pitch, playing through that. I suspect he won't be risked, but after Wingert's all-action game against Seattle, perhaps a rest for him is in order. I do suspect Tony Beltran will make a triumphant return on the right, where his influence and balanced attacking mentality will be of some help. I'd also suspect he's looking for a goal, given some of his recent ventures into the box, so maybe he can snag another one of those. It's been a bit, hasn't it?
Our midfield will need to continue to contain itself a bit more narrow and letting the full backs really make the most of their positions. It does inevitably put us in a bit more danger on the flanks, so spreading our midfield in defense may be in order — as long as we narrow when we're in possession. I know, I know, it's become a bit of a dead horse for me, but you know, I really do think it's important. I mean, that part's obvious, I guess, isn't it?
Who steps into the midfield will be of equal importance, though. I know Mr. Jonny Steele sometimes gets a bit of guff for his playing style, some of which I think is unjustified and some of which is probably spot on, but I suspect he might be given a run out tonight, perhaps on the right side of midfield. Ned Grabavoy is still working back from injury, and while he'd be my clear preference there, we will of course be taking a meted approach to his play. Precautions and all that.
Will Johnson seems likely to play again, and while his versatility is useful when he's called into the back, I'd rather see him pushed a bit further forward at times. The guy's relentless in his pressing game and can play a neat pass, and I'd like to see that from him more often. It's a hard balance to strike, though, as we will certainly need his tough tackling at times, too.
In the playmaking spot, I'd love to see Javier Morales yet again, but he's still listed on the injury report ("probable", though) and we may just want to hold him back a little to ensure his long-term fitness. He's got an influence that's rather undeniable, though, whether we're talking statistically or leadership or something altogether different.
Up front, we'll certainly see Alvaro Saborio leading the line in his strange hybrid target man-poacher role, and without Fabian Espindola (his absence to yellow card accumulation was predictable, and it may have even come a bit later in the season than we'd have thought) we'll need to see someone else in his role. My money (and the smart money) is on Paulo Jr. getting a start, who, while not having impressed greatly this season, is growing in his influence. I was surprised to learn while trawling through statistics the other day that Paulo is actually the holder of our second-highest key-passes-to-minutes ratio, finding a key pass about every 30 minutes. It's not to the level of Javier Morales (who is quite incredible, really) but it's interesting to see all the same. I'm going to say that half of them are cutbacks — which are effective, mind, even if he doesn't find the goal himself.
Right, so how about a prediction?
Rimando / Beltran, Borlllllllaaaaaaaaveeeeee, Wingert / Beckerman, Johnson, Grabavoy, Gil / Paulo, Saborio
Or, you know, something like that. We'll see, shan't we?
Come on you Claret and Cobalt!