This is a new Montreal team with a new coach, yet despite last weekâs upset victory, this Impact squad isn't expected to be one of the leagueâs leaders this year.
But as with the Timbersâ match-up against San Jose Earthquakes in the pre-season, this game is set to be one of the starkest early trials of Timbers coach Caleb Porterâs strategy of involving nearly the entire team in the attack.
This yearâs Montreal is a counter-punching team: Their offense relies heavily on breaking up offensive plays at or near midfield and then pushing an advantage back to the goal. For obvious reasons, counter-attacking teams typically fare well against teams whose offense is over-committed.Long attacking runs from Impact midfielders Davy Arnaudand Felipe, combined with center forward Marco Di Viaoâs proven ability to both finish plays and draw opposing defenders out of position, will prove a steady workout for an oft-rattled Timbers defense.
Defender Mikael Silvestreâwhom Porter has said he expects to be the rock bolstering the Timbers' back lineâremains suspect after a long series of unfortunate events in the first half of the 3-3 season opener against the New York Red Bulls on March 3. Silvestre showed marked improvement in the second half of that game, but all three first-half goals against the Timbers bore Silvestreâs fingerprints, at least in part.
But while Montrealâs defenders are both seasoned and reliableâracking up 20 pass interceptions against Seattle last weekâmidfielder Diego Valeri, along with forwards Darlington Nagbe and Ryan Johnson, have shown themselves to be an fast-moving, dangerous combination down the center of the pitch.
This could be trouble for an aging Montreal defense with a reputation for slow legs, especially in the latter part of the game. With these three players leading the Timbers offense, Portland's shots on goal were in the double digits against both New York and against Swedish team AIK in the preseason. Expect this barrage to continue.
Midfielder Will Johnson, whom WW had predicted to be a more âundercoverâ presence in our season preview, was no such thing against New York. He was a tenacious and vocal player, and was especially pivotal during that gameâs second half in short-circuiting Red Bull attacks before they crossed the midfield line. Johnsonâs play will need to provide similar cover in this game to avoid potential mismatches in the Timbers backfield.
In many ways, this game seems destined to be a battle of goalkeepers: Montrealâs Troy Perkins vs. Portlandâs Donovan Ricketts. It will be a bittersweet fight for Timbers fans still smarting from the Timbersâ one-for-one trade of Perkins for Ricketts in 2012. By the numbers, Ricketts allowed fewer goals per game and had a higher save percentage than Perkins did during that Timbers season. But Ricketts also did not have to withstand the endless high-percentage shelling dished out on Perkins during the early parts of that season.
Expect no changes in the starting line-up since March 3. However, Sal Zizzo will be absent in the reserves after recent knee surgery.
This is a winnable game for Portland, as long as the defense avoids obvious mistakes that leave Ricketts completely exposed.