Scouting Toronto FC’s Next Opponent: Portland Timbers

Toronto FC’s long road trip will finally come to an end, but they will play the Portland Timbers: home to the league’s most hostile environment.

After a modest start to the season, Toronto FC have now taken the league by storm. Two straight clean sheet victories over DC United and the Montreal Impact were enough to give TFC the top spot in MLS’ Power Rankings. Power Rankings are usually very skewed towards recent results and are hardly an accurate measure of who the best team in the league is, but that’s still an impressive feat and one the Reds have never accomplished before.

Needless to say, confidence is very high heading into Toronto’s last road date against the Portland Timbers. They may be the defending MLS Cup Champions and have the most hostile atmosphere, but they’ve fallen on hard times. Their record through eight games is an abysmal 2-3-3, and a lot of that has been due to injuries.

Darlington Nagbe, whom Steven Gerrard tabbed as the “league’s best player” along with Giovinco, suffered a nasty tackle from Nigel de Jong which forced him to miss two weeks. He finally returned to the lineup last game, but they had to deal with Diego Valeri’s absence due to suspension.

They clearly missed Nagbe as he assisted on a goal in his first game back. The Timbers were minutes away from improving their record with three points – which would’ve put them level on points with us – but an own goal by Jermaine Taylor saw the two teams share the spoils in a 1-1 draw.

All of this clearly means that momentum is in our favour heading into this upcoming game. However, coach Greg Vanney is insistent that the Reds must not overlook their opposition and must build upon the team’s last two wins. When talking to Kurtis Larson, he says “We want to finish this road trip strong and come home on a three-game winning streak to be in front of our fans and open the stadium on a nice roll.”

And even though Toronto FC are enjoying a full weeks’ rest, while Portland played on Wednesday, that doesn’t necessarily give Toronto an advantage. Controlling the tempo of the game, Vanney states, will be key.

We’ve seen teams play on Wednesday and because of that be in a rhythm on Sunday and they’re still in that rhythm and they play well.

We have to go out and make the game difficult (so that) over 90 minutes they start to wear down.

If they come out and dictate the game right away and control the tempo then it means nothing. If we do all the right things then they could start to feel (that midweek game).

Apr 16, 2016; Washington, DC, USA; Toronto FC forward Will Johnson (7) shares words with head referee Mathieu Broudeau during the first half against the D.C. United at Robert F. Kennedy Memorial. Toronto FC defeated D.C. United 1-0. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Another key factor for this upcoming fixture will be Toronto’s midfield depth. With Jonathan Osorio and Benoit Cheyrou out of the lineup, the players in the middle of the park will be put to the test. One person who will be up to it is Will Johnson, who will be the player to watch this week as he makes his long-awaited return to Providence Park.

The Timbers were a side that Johnson captained for three years, and he knew that he was going to leave them during their MLS Cup run last year. However, he kept his composure and played a role in their Cup triumph, and when talking to OregonLive, he stated that he doesn’t regret any of the time he spent there.

My commitment to the group never wavered even as I was going home talking about where I was going to play next year. I did everything I could to leave a positive impression on the group and my teammates, and as soon as it was over I packed up my bags.

[Portland] is a club that meant a lot to me. It’s a club that I put a lot of hard work into, a lot of energy, a lot of passion. I’m excited to see all the familiar faces, all the supporters. Whatever reception I get, I’ll always respect the club and the people in Portland.

When he had to spend a lot of his last season in Portland nursing an injury, he knew that his time was coming to an end. And when he came back, it didn’t take long for him to realize that Caleb Porter wasn’t saving a spot for him in the lineup. Both teams have moved on since then, and Johnson has taken to his new role in Toronto very well. He has started every game this season and has three assists on the year, which leads the team.

And when Bradley, Altidore, and Giovinco go off for international duty during the summer, Will Johnson will be one of the men who will be counted upon to step up in their absence. He’s likely had this date circled on his calendar for quite some time, so expect him to play a big role and prove his worth to Vanney.

A win in Portland would be a first for Toronto, and would surely give them all the confidence in the world when they will finally get to play in front of their raucous fans on May 7. But with a chance to get their season back on track, in front of their own fans and a national audience on ESPN, expect Portland to be up to the task as well. Here’s hoping Toronto FC can build upon their positive results and get a big win to close out their road trip!