1. Portland are the one team that can best RSL for the Supporters Shield, with two games in hand over RSL and only three points behind. Is this something Portland Timbers are aiming for, or would it merely be a nice thing on the way to a hunt for a cup?
The Timbers' ownership and management desperately want to play in the CONCACAF Champions League. After the Open Cup loss in Sandy earlier in the month, the next way into the CCL is the Supporters Shield. Caleb Porter has specifically identified 51 points as the team's goal, at least regarding qualification for the playoffs. Clearly 51 is not going to be enough to top the table, but for a club that has not yet reached the postseason, that is probably a more reasonable goal than trying to be the best team in the league during the regular season. That said, if Portland picks up a few wins to close out August and is sitting in the mid-40s with eight games to play, it might not be such an unreasonable possibility.
2. Will your captain, one Will Johnson, be available for selection? How important is his loss? Do you see it as damning?
Will Johnson is not going to be available on Wednesday, though Porter continues to use the ambiguous phrase 'day-to-day' to describe Johnson's status. The Timbers' captain has a scapular contusion, in essence a broken shoulder blade, which depending on the severity of the contusion, could take several weeks to heal. He told the Oregonian's Geoffrey Arnold on Monday that he would not be ready for Wednesday's game. The loss is not a significant as it could be given how well Ben Zemanski has played in Johnson's place over the past few months. Zemanski escaped a suspension based on a good behavior reprieve despite reaching his fifth yellow card of the season in Saturday's win over FC Dallas. Expect the Timbers to play exactly the same formation as usual with Diego Chara and Zemanski patrolling the defensive midfield.
3. With 8 goals, Ryan Johnson has been growing in importance for your side. What does Portland bring out that maybe he wasn't getting elsewhere? Are there other players that have benefitted in similar ways?
Rodney Wallace is the best answer to the second part of this question, though he has cooled off a bit since returning from Costa Rica duty. Ryan Johnson's success has come for two reasons: 1. the quality of the midfielders around him - Will Johnson, Diego Valeri, Darlington Nagbe, Wallace - gives him plenty of opportunities in and around the box. You'll notice he also has four assists this year, so he's mostly a functional part of a larger system. Which brings us to 2. he's in a system that fits his strengths as a forward who can hold the ball up, win headers, use his strength against defenders and drift to either side of the goal. Unlike in Toronto where he was often stuck out wide, or in San Jose where he was not surrounded by the best of teammates, Johnson has tremendous support from the midfield and is allowed to play as hard as he possibly can with both Frederic Piquionne and Jose Valencia as more than adequate substitution options when Johnson is exhausted.
Bonus: Starting XI, yes?
The only question is whether or not Jack Jewsbury is back from an ankle injury. Right now it seems like he won't be so...
GK - Ricketts
LB - Harrington
CB - Jean-Baptiste
CB - Kah
RB - Powell (or maybe Miller)
DM - Chara
DM - Zemanski
LM - Wallace
CM - Valeri
RM - Nagbe
F - R Johnson