The loudest voice (and arguably most awesome stance) in that little video there is Timbers coach John Spencer, offering his team some, ahem, words of encouragement during a drill on Friday.
And he's right: The Timbers "gotta be ... ready" for perhaps the realest team in the league when Portland hosts Real Salt Lake at 7:30 tonight (ROOT Sports on TV, 95.5 on your FM dial) at the House of Pane for the first of three matches in seven days.
The home pitch has been friendly to Portland (2-3-1), which is undefeated in front of its raucously rambunctious crowd. But RSL (4-0-0) is undoubtedly one of the top clubs in MLS, and the 2009 champs carry an impressive 18-game regular-season unbeaten streak while remaining no less dangerous despite leaving a few starters back in SLC.
After a week of hand-wringing following a rough loss at Los Angeles, there's plenty of intriguing storylines bubbling to the surface of Jeld-Wen Field: How will the Timbers respond after the theme of the week was the team's (lack of) mental toughness, particularly after giving up early goals? Can Real Salt Lake's depth drown out the Portland crowd? Will we see Designated Player Diego Chará in the starting lineup? What about SuperDraft pick Darlington Nagbe? And, seriously, is there no place to get some good Colombian food around here?
Mucho, mucho mas on the match after the jump, including *bilingual audio interview* with Chará, a special pre-game tribute to Timbers Army royalty Gisele Currier and EXTRA TIME links to toughen you up before first kick. Be fookin' ready.
After allowing a pair of goals in the opening eight minutes at Los Angeles last week, Spencer challenged his team's mental approach, and how the Timbers respond will be telling.
I love Spencer's fiery style and blunt honesty, and calling out his team's toughness—even suggesting they're soft—is an intriguing card for him to play at this stage of the season (or any part of the season, for that matter). He's keeping it real, but will it go right? I asked him a bit more about that decision, and it's clear he has no regrets about giving his team a little tough love:
One guy on the squad who probably didn't understand a word of that, but definitely understands playing the game at a high level is Chará. He's the man in the middle in the photo below and could become Timbers main man at midfield based on his ability to maintain possession while the offense develops around him.
I caught up with Chará on Friday, and through the team's ace interpreter asked him about playing with childhood friend (and current roommate) Jorge Perlaza, his expectations of the playing at J-WF in front of Timbers Army ("the stadium is lovely") and the lack of Colombian food in Portland.
And as interesting as this match is shaping up to be, the pre-game festivities are bound to be equally emotional: The Timbers Army, in conjunction with the club itself, will show its love for one of the team's most ardent supporters with a pre-game tribute to Gisele Currier. The "Queen" of the TA, who passed away on Sunday, will be remembered with a video tribute and moment of silence and honored with a memorial of roses around her seat near the top of the Army's quarters.
I'll have a full report on the pre-game ceremony, as well as more puns and occasional soccer observations tonight, when I check back in for some High-Pitched Live-Blog Action. Until then...
EXTRA TIME! Acoplamientos hermosos para un juego hermoso.
• The AP preview says after a "devastating" loss mid-week, "it's back to reality" for RSL, but playing twice at Monterrey has the CONCACAF Champions League finalists ready for Timbers Army.
• Paul Danzer of The Columbian will be keeping an eye on Chará and Capt. Jack Jewsbury's midfield chemistry and how their individual roles develop.
• Goal.com's Jeremy Horton predicts a 2-0 RSL win tonight, while Nick Rosano sees a 1-1 draw in the cards.
• With a quick turnaround for RSL and Timbers Army going out of its mind, "it is not inconceivable to think that Portland has a good chance of prevailing," according to Prost Amerika's Ryan Scally.
• Geoff Gibson of Stumptown Footy speaks to an RSL blogger and says "there's no denying" Real is for real, while Ryan Gates tinkers with the Timbers' lineup in search of a perfect starting XI.
• The Timbers may get a bit of a jolt from the crowd, but Real's "depth and determination" will lead them to a road win, according to this (gasp!) Salt-Lake backer.
• Dropping Timber saws off a solid pun in its headline and notes the player to watch for Salt Lake is Kyle Beckerman.
• Even if the Timbers show "modest gains," it still may not be enough against a shorthanded RSL, according to Doug Binder of MLSSoccer.
• The Timbers' official site also looks at the budding Jewsbury-Chará partnership, sizes up RSL's imposing defense and lets John Strong put the team through some grief counseling.
• Bettor.com has a story that may very well have been written by a robot, along with a prediction: 3-0 RSL. All hail our new sports-writing overlords.