March 14th, 2014 | by ALEX TOMCHAK SCOTT News | Posted In: Sports

Timbers Preview: Portland vs. Chicago Fire

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The reigning MVP of Major League Soccer will be in Portland this weekend as the Portland Timbers host the Chicago Fire March 16 at Providence Park, but spectators probably won't see Mike Magee on the field.

Signed in midseason last year, Magee nearly dragged the Fire into the playoffs, scoring 15 goals in 22 games trying to rescue his floundering team.

This year, Magee didn't play in preseason amid rumors he was holding out for more money. Chicago coach Frank Yallop denies the money rumors, but he told reporters that Magee won't be starting against Portland for fitness reasons.

Portland's defense will be relieved by Magee's absence. With Magee watching from the bench, the Fire lost 3-2 to ownerless Chivas USA in their season opener on March 4. Magee's goalscoring skills are important to the Fire. He can sneak into dangerous positions behind defenders' backs, or sweep home unstoppable shots from range. Even more important, though, is his on-field personality. His ebullience can galvanize a team that is down and out.

The Timbers found that out to their dismay in their only meeting with the Fire in 2013. Portland had a 2-0 lead on the hour mark, then Magee came to life. First he snuck between Andrew Jean-Baptiste and Milos Kocic to tap the ball home, then he won the free kick, allowing Daniel Paladini to equalize for Chicago.

None of Yallop's options for replacing Magee are too fearsome. Ecuadorean Juan Luis Ananongo has only scored twice for Chicago. Neither Quincy Amarikwa nor Benji Joya has ever started for the Fire, although both scored against Chivas USA.

For Portland, fans will still be watching the growing on-field relationship between Diego Valeri and Gaston Fernandez. One aspect to watch is Valeri’s passing accuracy. In 2013, he misplaced a quarter of his passes, but the ones he did make were inspired. He created more goals than anyone else in the league.

Maybe, then, upping his accuracy to 80 percent against the Philadelphia Union in the season opener March 8 meant the opponents stifled his creativity, forcing him to go play for safer passes. Yet when Valeri misplaces a pass, it's because he taking risks, trying to find the angle to set up a goal. The rest of the team keeps the ball moving to wear out opposing defenses, and Valeri is the one who goes for the knockout punch.

Fernandez scored the Timbers’ last-minute goal against Philadephia to gain a 1-1 tie. Still, the team overall may need time to get used to his style. He’s a very different player from Rodney Wallace, the man he is replacing in the lineup after Wallace tore his anterior cruciate ligament against Real Salt Lake last season. Where Wallace darted up the left wing, Fernandez drifts inside. While Wallace was dragging defenders away from Valeri, Fernandez draws them closer.

Once the rest of the team gets used to playing with the Valeri-Fernandez combination, it might add whole new angles of attack to the Portland repertoire.

 

 
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