In order to prepare for tonight's game between D.C. United and the Portland Timbers, we talked to William Conwell of Stumptown Footy. You can read his responses to my questions here, and my answers to his questions over at our Portland sister site.
B&RU: How big of a difference will Will Johnson's return make, and is it coming on Wednesday night?
SF: Will Johnson's return is almost certainly coming on Wednesday. The Timbers' captain has put in his shifts with T2, getting back up to speed, and looks good to go.
What sort of impact Johnson's return will have will depend on several factors. First, how is he deployed? For most of this season the Timbers have kept their holding midfielders reined in, a permanent shield in front of the back line. If Johnson and Chara are asked to play this way then the Timbers will not look significantly different than they did with Jewsbury in the lineup. If Johnson and Chara are given the freedom to go forward in turns, however, the Timbers could look like a much more dynamic attacking side than we are used to seeing, particularly without Diego Valeri in the lineup.
Second, what is Johnson's mentality like? Although we saw him go 90 minutes twice with T2, Johnson is still yet to see the pitch in a first team match since getting injured last year. Will Johnson without the aggression, tackling, and general attitude is not the same player and would not bring the same fire to the Timbers' lineup. Johnson seems like a player that will bounce back well, but until we see him in a match there is just no being sure how well he will return.
B&RU: Only Fanendo Adi has been scoring for the Timbers so far this season; can the existing players step up and help him, or does the team need outside help?
SF: Well, Diego Valeri would have been able to just about anything asked of him, had he not rolled his ankle in last weekend's match against Toronto FC. How long The Maestro will be out is still unknown, but the possibility of him play in Wednesday's match is basically nil.
Without Valeri the value of the rest of the Timbers' attack drops off significantly. Rodney Wallace, Darlington Nagbe, Maximiliano Urruti, and Gaston Fernandez are all well short of their potential in the attack this year and it is difficult to say if it is because of the lack of Valeri or some sort of collective funk, but either way they need to turn things around. The talent is there to score goals, it just has not been happening thanks to failures across all levels of the squad.
Of course, Will Johnson has scored fifteen goals in his two seasons with the team, so his reintroduction into the midfield could be part of what turns around the attack.
B&RU: Is Caleb Porter in danger this year if he doesn't make the playoffs?
SF: This is a difficult one, but really any time this question is being asked the answer is probably yes. All indications are that Porter still has very strong relationships with the front office and with his players, so the Timbers will need to truly stink in order to get Porter fired outright. However, the Timbers did become a losing team overall for the first time since 2012, now sitting at a franchise record of 48-49-50 in MLS play.
Merritt Paulson wants a winner. The Timbers Army wants a winner. Portland wants a winner. Caleb Porter still needs to prove he is more than just an occasional winner.
SF: Kwarasey; Villafana, Ridgewell, Borchers, Powell; Johnson, Chara; Wallace, Nagbe, Asprilla; Adi