Welcome to the Wednesday Q&A series (which got pushed to Thursday this week), where we focus on one particular topic – today's being the adjustments in Portland – and ask you to react, share, and discuss in the comments section. However, feel free to ask about anything game-related (MLS, USL, NASL, USMNT, CanMNT, etc.) over the next several hours.
Injuries are a part of life in sports. Sometimes they come in waves, as is happening in Seattle right now. Other times, teams largely avoid crucial injuries for huge swathes of time, as the Red Bulls mostly managed last year.
And sometimes one crucial guy goes down, and the whole damn thing comes undone. The Portland Timbers are facing that third situation right now with the loss of Liam Ridgewell, and are hoping the early return without their DP defender is a blip rather than the start of a trend.
Jermaine Taylor is a full Jamaican international and an MLS veteran, and he has to do better there. Ridgewell surely would have -- he's arguably the league's best at denying opposing forwards space to make that run, and is exceptional at scrambling in the box. Perhaps that's just where his skillset was meant to be put to use, but I also suspect that a decade of playing for mostly back-foot EPL teams (Aston Villa, Birmingham City and West Brom) added training and repetition to natural proclivity.
This year's EPL race has been delightful, topsy-turvy madness, but since the Bosman ruling that's the exception rather than the rule. For the past two decades, it's been axiomatic that the bottom dozen or so teams in England defend deep and then try to hit in transition. That means defenders for those teams -- defenders like Ridgewell -- have to be super-attuned to the fundamental runs forwards make, and adept at preventing them.
Ridgewell is gone until next month, while Darren Mattocks is just arriving. The 25-year-old is, like Taylor, a full Jamaican international, and has mostly been better for the Reggae Boyz than he has for the 'Caps over the last few years (including a goal against the US in last summer's Gold Cup semifinal, and one against Mexico in the final). He's a former No. 2 overall SuperDraft pick, and he's produced moments of brilliance in his career:
Mattocks has been used as a center forward about 95% of his time in Vancouver, and chances are he won't win that job in Portland over Fanendo Adi. He's not as good holding the ball up and his vision is more linear.
What I'm expecting is that he becomes a depth piece, with a chance to earn more minutes as a hybrid winger. Mattocks is on a career path somewhat similar to Montreal's Dom Oduro. Like Oduro he has pace and certain open-field instincts, but has proved too one-dimensional and unreliable in front of net to win a fulltime job as a forward. It was only after learning to play on the wing that Oduro became an essential piece of a good team's puzzle, and Mattocks should do the same.
He'll quite possibly get his first chance on Saturday night when the Timbers host Real Salt Lake (10:30 pm ET; MLS LIVE).
Ok folks, thanks for keeping me company! See you next Wednesday