Each week we do a Q&A with our friends around the SBNation Soccer world to get thoughts on their team from those who know them best. Know your enemy.
Q.) In last year's MLS campaign the Timbers were a well balanced team and among the best in denying goal scoring opportunities. The club allowed a total of 39 goals in 34 games, tied for second fewest in MLS, en route to their championship. This season, the Timbers have been far less stingy, allowing 20 goals already through 11 games, tied for most in MLS. What do you think has been behind this reversal? Do you think it's the result of a Championship hangover or does it have more to do with tactics and players?
Some variation on this question is asked every week of the Timbers and, unfortunately, so far the answer remains the same: more than anything the Timbers have struggled this year because of the stupid number of injuries and absences that have kept the team from establishing any sort of chemistry along the back line. This week, the injury du jour that will be a real blow to the Timbers' defensive efforts is the loss of holding midfielder Diego Chara to a toe injury, suffered on Wednesday in the Timbers' 2-1 loss to FC Dallas.
Between the loss of designated player and team captain Liam Ridgewell for an extended period at the start of the season, the inclusion of a number of new faces at the left back position for a number of reasons, Alvas Powell's early season struggles and more recent injury issues, and Nat Borchers just kinda getting old, the Timbers need time to get their house in order: something that is in short supply this far into the season.
Q.) On a similar note, the one major change the club made in the off season was replacing LB Jorge Villafana with Chris Klute. How has Klute fared so fare in Villafana's role? Does Klute's inclusion in the XI have anything to do with the defensive issues the team is experiencing?
Chris Klute has had flashes of competence and even brilliance so far this season, as well as his fair share of the opposite as well. However, with the metaphorically large boots of Jorge Villafana to fill at the left back position for the Timbers, he has a ways to go.
Of course, Klute came to the Timbers from the Columbus Crew nursing a torn meniscus that required off season surgery. This should have been no big deal, but at some point there was an issue with Klute's rehab and a series of setbacks kept him out well into the regular season, rather than simply missing the first week of the preseason as the Timbers initially were expecting.
Klute missed the Timbers' first four matches of the season and, rather than having a full off season to adapt to his new defensive cohort, he spent all of that time working on his fitness with the Timbers' medical staff and looking on from the sidelines as the Timbers did their actual practice.
Q.) Many picked Portland to contend at the top of the Western Conference prior to the season starting. Much was made out of the strength of their last two months in the 2015 season and the stability of the roster going into 2016. Sitting second bottom right now (in a crowded West, to be fair), it's safe to say that, so far, the Timbers aren't living up to expectations. What does Portland need to address in order to get their season back on track? What changes might we expect if things don't shape up in the short-term?
With major absences plaguing the team, the Timbers have been unable to put together the sort of defensively strong performances that are necessary to be able to play the sort of buccaneering, counter-attacking football that we saw from the side at the end of the 2015 season. So far in 2016 there have been flashes of the sort of game that the Timbers have wanted to play, most notably the team's recent "futsal" style goals.
However, where the side is falling flat is (like we said above) on the defensive side of things. With the team unable to build on a solid foundation, the Timbers are unable to assert themselves in the center of the pitch and unable to take pressure off of their back line, which defends valiantly, but ultimately is not capable of defending for the extended periods that the Timbers have been facing.
If the Timber are going to change things, other than the enforced changes made necessary by this most recent spate of injuries -- Darron Mattocks is also out for the next four to six weeks with a torn meniscus -- don't expect much of note before the summer transfer window.
Thanks again to Will and Stumptown Footy. Have a prediction for the match? Let us hear it in the comment's section.