Welcome to the 2013 season.
The New York Red Bulls enter their campaign against a club that may just rival them in the offseason turnover category. The Portland Timbers have a new coach, a new cast of characters and a new outlook as they try to bounce back from what was a disappointing 8-16-10 record last season.
New York has other goals to achieve. Finishing off the year with an impressive 16-9-9 record, they were once again trounced from the playoffs, this time at the hands of hated rivals D.C. United. Though they established dominance at home and a steady approach on the road, the team was visibly lackluster through stretches.
Mike Petke hopes to change all of that and Portland will be his opportunity to make an early statement.
Here is your game preview:
PROJECTED LINEUP (4-2-3-1): Robles; Kimura, Olave, Pearce, Miller; Cahill, McCarty; Bover, Juninho, Espindola; Henry
HISTORY: New York holds a 2-0-1 record all time against the Timbers.
LAST ENCOUNTER: New York came from behind to tie the Timbers 3-3 at JELD-WEN.
BATTLE TO WATCH: Portland’s Diego Valeri v. the Red Bull’s defense. Valeri is Portland’s latest DP who comes on loan from Argentina’s Lanus. An attacking midfielder/playmaker (or “enganche”), Valeri will be relied upon heavily by the Portland offense in establishing possession in midfield and opening lanes for Ryan Johnson and Darlington Nagbe up top. A shortened preseason will do New York no favors as they come into the first game without an established centerback duo.
X-FACTOR: Tim Cahill. Few know what to expect from the Australian international this season. Will he play a deeper role as he did last year? How active will he be on the attack? Can he find his place with McCarty and Juninho in the middle? Portland will be the first look at what New York’s DP can do under Petke’s system.
Like so many other MLS matches this weekend, Portland v. New York provides a plethora of aspects that can influence the match on either end.
For Portland, they enjoy perhaps the greatest intangible of the match; home field advantage. JELD-WEN Stadium is a raucous atmosphere even when the Timbers are at their worst. Add to that the extra dimension of artificial turf and the advantage becomes more pronounced. For several of the Red Bull newcomers, including Ruben Bover and Juninho, the combination may be daunting to overcome (in Juninho’s case, it will be his first professional match on turf).
Portland has their fair share of new faces as well, including the aforementioned Valeri. Gone are former Designated Player Kris Boyd, Franck Songo’o and Danny Mwanga replaced by the Argentine playmaker, veteran defender Mikaël Silvestre, Frédéric Piquionne and the team’s new “on-field” captain Will Johnson (Jack Jewsbury continues to play role as “club captain.”
Though young at their core, the team lacks experience and chemistry together. New Coach Caleb Porter, who was outstanding on the touchline for Akron prior to this new endeavour, needs to find a way to bring these players together under his new 4-3-3 system.
With both teams under a great deal of transition, one has to believe the home field conditions will tilt this battle towards Portland.
PREDICTION: 2-1 Timbers (Johnson, Nagbe; Henry)