Matt "the Armchair Analyst" Doyle breaks down all of Sunday's first legs of the Conference Semifinals of the Audi 2015 MLS Cup Playoffs. Check them all out.
Have you recovered from Portland's compelling, amazing, death-defying PK shootout win over Sporting KC on Thursday night yet? Will you need a couple more days?
I'm sure you do. I still feel like I need a vacation after watching that game. I can't imagine what the players, coaches, and staff are going through.
And how about the fans?
Fanendo Adi (or Maxi Urruti) is going to have his work cut out winning those kinds of balls against the Caps' likely starting central defensive pairing of Kendall Waston and Tim Parker. But right now for Portland, all it takes is one. And with speed on each flank (Lucas Melano, Rodney Wallace, Alvas Powell) and up the middle (Nagbe), there is a lot of tracking required for their opponents.
How to solve it: Win second balls
"Oh, is it that easy? OK then."
Yeah, this is some lame advice, but rewatch Thursday's win and you'll see Sporting doing a really, really good job of winning Adi's knockdowns in the midfield. Your turn, Matias Laba and Gershon Koffie!
What Vancouver Will Do: Punish loose passing in midfield
The 'Caps have dealt with a ton of injuries over the last three months, many of them to their playmakers. Pedro Morales remains a serious doubt for this one, and Mauro Rosales always seems to be carrying one knock or another.
Cristian Techera and Nicolas Mezquida are both back (Techera had an assist against Houston in a 3-0 win last Sunday), but even with them in the fold the 'Caps are still their best punishing sloppy passing with quick break-outs through midfield. And guess what? There's a good chance they'll see some sloppy passing if Diego Chara can't make it back for the Timbers:
Canary in the coalmine for Portland: Chara completed 94% of his passes over the last 3 reg season games. Jewsbury last night? 70%. #PORvVAN— Matthew Doyle (@MLSAnalyst) October 30, 2015
How to solve it: Drop Nagbe deeper
Getting Chara some tiger blood to chug couldn't hurt. If that doesn't work and he can't go, it's probably best to drop Nagbe's starting position a little deeper and make him more available to facilitate play through the middle rather than having him act as more of a pure attacking midfielder.
What's it all mean?
It's hard to see how Portland could have much energy left for this one. They may have to be cagey and slow the tempo down, and be utterly certain not to concede dangerous set pieces. Vancouver have, in Waston, one of the league's premier aerial threats, and the Timbers are vulnerable in the air.
It's worth noting that the Whitecaps have the worst home record of any team in this year's playoffs. So for the Timbers, a 1-0 loss or any sort of draw on Sunday isn't necessarily deadly -- so long as they get 100% fit and confident for the second leg in Vancouver next weekend.