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Three Questions with Stumptown Footy: USOC a must-win for Portland Timbers

Michael Orr, Stumptown Footy writer, gives us his take on Portland Timbers and their chances against Real Salt Lake during Wednesday's US Open Cup game. He touches on "Porterball," Will Johnson, and Portland's priorities.


Will Johnson, Timbers captain, has been at the center of a great many good things for your side. How important is he to Timbers supporters already?

It hasn't taken long for Will Johnson to win over Timbers supporters. He's not just a vital component of Caleb Porter's overhaul, and of course the club's captain, but his energetic, uncompromising playing style has engendered a special place for Johnson in Portland. Clearly he's talented, but it's his leadership and assertiveness, not to mention his goal celebrations, that have lifted Johnson to the top of list.

It's the word, portmanteau though it may be, on everybody's lips (for one reason or another): Porterball. What's your take on Portland Timbers playing style? Is it truly something unique as the name might imply? How do you think it might match up against Jason Kreis's tactical approach?

For starters, Caleb Porter hates the term 'Porterball.' That said, there is certainly a distinct plan in place that is his creation and his philosophy for each game. The key is spacing more than positions, so we often hear him denounce specific formation titles. Everyone knows the objective is possession and Porter likes to say his club defends with the ball, limiting opponents' chances by holding possession and forcing a reactive game plan. Is it truly unique? Not really, as it's based on Porter's interpretation of several European clubs' set ups. What's most important for Portland, though, is preparation. Porter demands a high level of proficiency in training, which makes his 'system' second nature in games. He is highly analytical and a tactics nerd, but when it comes down to it, he makes the game very simple for his players.

Regarding Salt Lake, Porter lines up differently but plays a similarly narrow style, weighted to the left with Michael Harrington coming forward from left back and Rodney Wallace occupying wide areas further forward. But overall, the game could be similar to the Timbers' game against Sporting Kansas City back in the spring: two very good, technical teams trying to keep the ball and create chances. Should be very entertaining.

How important is the US Open Cup to your organization? Is Wednesday as much a must-win for you as it is for us? How might Caleb Porter handle the match?

For a club without any major trophies, the US Open Cup is a huge deal for the organization. Entry into the CONCACAF Champions League is Merritt Paulson's aim, both as an indicator of success but also to put his club's brand on display for a wider audience. The Timbers don't have a game this weekend so apart from injuries, the team's best possible XI will be on the field at Rio Tinto on Wednesday. Porter is very unlikely to change his usual tactics, but he will certainly have something up his sleeve. He loves going head-to-head with other bright coaches, so he will relish the challenge of matching wits with Jason Kreis in a very meaningful game.