Timbers seek quicker start against Impact

Falling behind has been early trend under new coach

By Paul Danzer, Columbian community sports reporter

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PORTLAND -- The good news for fans of the Portland Timbers early in Caleb Porter's tenure as coach is that the team has demonstrated an ability to fight back when falling behind.

The not-as-good news: the Timbers have faced early deficits in each of their four performances at Jeld-Wen Field, including three games in the preseason.

Porter said it comes down to settling down.

"Part of it is, early on until the game settles, until we can get into a flow, the game is a bit more back-and-forth and open than I would like," he said. "Part of that is early in the game making sure we get into a little bit quicker rhythm and flow, and not give away silly mistakes in the buildup."

Porter wants his team applying pressure in the attacking third, but the coach prefers that pressure to come more through extended possession than through direct attacks.

Early-game patience might be especially important against a Montreal team that creates much of its offense by quickly attacking off of opponents' turnovers.

That's exactly how the Impact surprised Seattle in their opener, so figure that Montreal won't much alter a formation that essentially had every player except Italian striker Marco Di Vaio cluttering up Seattle's attacking space.

Di Vaio joined Montreal last May. The 36-year-old scored 142 goals in 342 games in Italy's top league. In 2012, he scored five goals in 17 games after joining Montreal at the conclusion of Bologna FC's Serie A schedule.

"We have to be aware of the smart play of Di Vaio and the way he's going to position himself, waiting for us to leave a gap open," Timbers center back Mikael Silvestre said. "Also, their midfield players will push forward and counter-attack."

One place the coaching chess match might show itself is with how aggressive Portland outside backs Michael Harrington and Ryan Miller are going forward.

Porter encourages attacking runs from his wide defenders as one way to outnumber the opponent. But counter-attacking teams sometimes invite such runs, then exploit opportunities to attack with a defender out of position.

"Because our strength is we get in the front half -- we lock teams in with possession and pressure -- it also means our line is high and we've got to do a good job (defending) the counter attacks," Porter said.

Of course, if Portland can get a lead, Montreal would at some point need to change tactics.

A lead would be a welcome change for the Timbers, but Porter doesn't want his players getting ahead of themselves.

"Early in the game it's going to be more back and forth, it's going to be more open," Porter said, describing the natural unfolding of most matches. "We need to do a better job of staying compact, keeping our shape, and then being smarter in the buildup and not getting turned over."

NOTES -- Jack Jewsbury (hamstring) trained this week and could be one of the seven dressed reserves according to Porter. With a knee injury to Sal Zizzo, Jewsbury is a likely choice as a backup outside back. … Center back Hanyer Mosquera (groin strain) has returned to training but according to Porter is not yet fit for competition.

Impact at Timbers

Kickoff: 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Jeld-Wen Field.

TV/radio: KPTV (Ch. 12) / AM 750

Tickets: 503-553-5555, portlandtimbers.com.

For openers: Portland tied 3-3 with New York; Montreal won 1-0 at Seattle.

Head to head: Montreal beat visiting Portland 2-0 last April in the only MLS meeting between the clubs. In that game, Portland goalkeeper Troy Perkins — now with Montreal — took a foot to the face from the Impact’s Sanna Nyassi.

Between 2001 and 2010, the Impact and Timbers met 15 times in second-division leagues, with Portland winning eight, Montreal four and three draws.

Timbers’ tale: Portland hopes to build on the momentum of its dominating second half on Sunday, which produced a 3-3 draw. Focus figures to be on attacking midfielder Diego Valeri, who was the talk of MLS for his play — and MLS Goal of the Week — against New York. Also under the spotlight will be defender Mikael Silvestre, whose two misplays figured into a pair of New York goals. Silvestre said he is more comfortable after a week of training alongside Andrew Jean-Baptiste.

Impact story: New Montreal coach Marco Schallibaum has implemented a defend and counter-attack system that has proven effective through a successful preseason and last Saturday’s 1-0 win at Seattle. Weapons to watch for include 36-year-old Italian striker Marco Di Vaio (No. 9) and 22-year-old Brazilian midfielder Felipe Martins (No. 7), who had four goals and 10 assists last season and made a chip pass that set up Davy Arnaud’s goal at Seattle.

Caleb Porter says: The Timbers coach called Montreal very organized: “They basically get a block of nine guys back (to defend) and Seattle couldn’t score a goal on them, so they’re going to have confidence going into this game.”

Did you know? Since he was traded in August from Portland to Montreal for Donovan Ricketts, goalkeeper Troy Perkins has gone 4-3-3 with five shutouts — including last Saturday’s 1-0 win at Seattle.

— Paul Danzer