By Will Conwell
GAME 32: Portland Timbers (11W-13L-7T) vs Houston Dynamo (10W-9L-13T)
Friday, October 14, 7:30 p.m. ROOT Sports
Previous match-up(s): 8/14/11 2-1 Away Loss
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Watch on TV: ROOT Sports (Comcast Channel 34)
Watch in PDX: Jeld-Wen Field | Blitz Bar (SE, Pearl, Tigard) | Rialto (Downtown) | East Burn (heated patio & projection screen)
Listen Online/Radio/On your Phone: 750AM The Game
Having grabbed all three points on the road against the Vancouver Whitecaps, the Portland Timbers need to continue their winning ways against fellow playoff hopefuls the Houston Dynamo.
Portland, Houston, D.C. United and the New York Red Bulls are all competing for the final two playoff berths making each of the Timbers final three games crucial. The Timbers are three points behind the Red Bulls and Dynamo with a game in hand and need to make up ground at home tonight before going on the road for their final two regular season matches.
Luckily the Timbers will regain the services of captain Jack Jewsbury and midfielder Kalif Alhassan, both of whom were suspended during the Timbers' trip to Vancouver. Both have been consistent starters for the team and Alhasan's return to the fold will give coach John Spencer the opportunity to move Darlington Nagbe back to the striker's role.
The Timbers will be particularly pumped up for this game given their 2-1 loss at Houston only two months ago. The first leg of this series featured former Timber Adam Moffat scoring a long distance bomb for the Dynamo, while ex-Houston players Mike Chabala and Lovel Palmer looked on. Coach Spencer's time spent as the understudy to Dynamo coach Dominic Kinnear has certainly served to create a healthy rivalry between the two clubs despite the friendship they share.
Houston have been on a good run of form recently, going undefeated in their last four games, and will not be pushovers. However, like the Timbers, the Dynamo have been less than dynamic on the road where they have managed only one win this season. This bodes well for the Timbers who, with the third most home wins in the league, are still a force to be reckoned with at Jeld-Wen Field.
The Dynamo play a physical game both on defense and attack making good use of the stature of their players. This is particularly telling on set pieces where the Dynamo have been effective all season. Brad Davis is one of the league's best set piece men and with big guys like United States national team striker Brian Ching, and defenders Bobby Boswell and Geoff Cameron he does not suffer from a lack of target men. Davis is also potent during the run of play, leading to his tally of fourteen assists this season, only one behind league leader David Beckham. It will imperative that the Timbers shut him down early and not give him space to work with the ball.
Houston's forwards have struggled to score this season, with Brian Ching tied for the lead in scoring on the team at five goals. However, both Ching and mid-season addition Carlo Costly have a wealth of international experience and should not be counted out. It will fall to Timbers defenders Eric Brunner and Futty Danso to shut them down.
Houston's central defenders Boswell and Cameron are both former Major League Soccer Best 11 winners and form the heart of Houston's defence. The Timbers will want to continue to play to their strengths and work the ball to the outside to set up a fast break for the forwards. Breaking down Houston through the middle or in the air will be difficult, but the Timbers recent success has been through patient, counter-attacking football which should serve the Timbers well against the Dynamo.
TOP 5 GOAL SCORERS
1. Tie: Jack Jewsbury/Kenny Cooper – 7
3. Jorge Perlaza – 6
4. Eric Brunner – 3
5. Tie: Rodney Wallace/Mamadu ¬Å“Futty¬Â Danso/Diego Chara/Darlington Nagbe – 2
LAST 2 MATCHES
10/19 @ DC
10/22 @ Salt Lake
The Timbers need a win. Houston needs a win. The playoffs are on the line. Prepare for a hard fought game between two teams with everything to lose.