PORTLAND — If the pregame chatter is to be believed, Saturday's match between the Timbers and the Houston Dynamo at Jeld-Wen Field promises to be, well, dynamic.
"It's going to be a bit of two alpha dogs looking to go toe to toe," Timbers coach Caleb Porter said.
Porter was not suggesting that his 0-1-3 Timbers have become one of the big dogs in Major League Soccer. The coach was speaking about the mindset of the squads, how coach Dominic Kinnear's Dynamo likes to control the ball and assert itself much like the style of soccer Porter is trying to implement in Portland.
Houston has had its share of success. The Dynamo used a possession-oriented style to make a late charge to last season's MLS Cup final, where it lost to the Los Angeles Galaxy for a second consecutive season. This season, the Dynamo have three wins in four games and share the league lead in scoring with an average of two goals per game.
The question is: Can Portland assert itself without falling behind? That has happened in each of the Timbers' first four games as the rebuilt roster learns one another and the way Porter wants the game played.
According to midfielder Will Johnson, that process involves "balancing everybody's individual appetite to get forward and get back. And seeing guys in different roles in different formations."
The puzzle, he said, has "just taken a little bit of time to get it right."
In the first three games of the season, Porter said his team paid for starting the game too focused on attacking. At Colorado last weekend, the Timbers coach said his team did a better job of being aware of positioning, but was too tentative early in the game.
Johnson said it's a matter of time before the Timbers become a more consistent team.
"Instead of seeing a (teammate) do something and having to react, (eventually) we're going to be proactive and be able to anticipate what guys are going to do a little more," Johnson said.
"Those are the kinds of things that we're starting to see blend together a little bit more."
One thing the Timbers haven't yet seen is a lead. Rather than focusing on that fact, Johnson said the team's attention has been on improved defending.
"If we don't give up a goal, at some point we like our chances to score a goal and then we'd be leading," Johnson noted.
Not that Portland wants to be overly cautious.
"We're on our home field," defender David Horst said, "so we've got to dictate the pace of the game and make them change and play the way that we want them to play."