Happy game day everybody. It’s a big day in the sport generally, with Bayern Munich facing off against Borussia Dortmund in the UEFA Champions League Final. Things play out quite nicely for the discerning fan today. The UCL Final kicks off at 2:45 EDT, a good time to get set up on the west coast for a little lunch. Then, after the match (barring extra time and such), you’ll have a nice three hour window to get your affairs in order, maybe restock the cooler, and gather with your favorite fellow Timbers fans to watch our tilt in the nation’s capital.
I have high hopes for the UCL Final. I’ve been watching this game for a long, long time and I can’t remember a very many teams better than this lot from Bayern Munich. They attack with pace and can play from a lot of different angles, while their defense is a good as any in the world. They came out of the traps quickly this year and never looked back. I think they only lost three matches all year (one of which was a home loss to Arsenal). They amassed a barely believable 91 points, winning the league by 25 over their nearest rival (Dortmund).
They’re up against a side from Dortmund that you would almost want to describe as plucky if they hadn’t won the Bundesliga for the last two seasons (until Bayern ran away with it this year). They will be without the services of their young superstar Mario Götze, but they still have a ton of talented players, including Robert Lewandowski, Marco Reus, and Jakub Blaszczykowski. Mats Hummels has announced that the ankle injury that he suffered last week will not keep him out of this match, which is great news both for Dortmund and for neutrals watching this match in hopes of seeing an exciting spectacle.
There’s something eminently likeable about Dortmund. Led by their young (and often slightly disheveled) manager Jürgen Klopp, they have built a strong team the right way. They tend to build through their own system rather than splashing out lots of dough. It’s no secret that they’re losing a couple of their big stars over the summer, with Götze heading to Bayern Munich and Lewandowski heading somewhere (he swears it’s not Bayern but I have my doubts). Still, they are very deep and Klopp, whose name is brought up in connection with practically every major managing opening in Europe, signed a new contract in January that will keep him with the club until 2016.
You could look at this match and say that Bayern should win (Paddy Power has the spread on Bayern winning at 2/5), but this is by no means a lock. Dortmund have played Munich twice so far this season, once in December and again two weeks ago. Both matches ended up in 1-1 draws. Dortmund knows how to play Bayern Munich, for whatever such knowledge might be worth. Don’t be surprised if the lads from the Ruhrpott make a real game of this. [After a couple of cups of coffee I remembered that Bayern did knock Borussia out of the DFB Pokal at the quarterfinal stage. But managing to only be outscored by Bayern Munich 3-2 over 270 minutes is pretty impressive.]
The Timbers match with D.C. presents some interesting prospects, if for rather different reason. We are riding the longest road unbeaten streak in the league just now. This is a real change from the futility of our efforts away from home over the last two seasons, even if five of the six matches in that run have been draws. There’s a story on the MLS website about our road form. In it, Porter makes the following comments about the approach on which it is based:
I’ve said this before, why do the fans and the crowd make it different?…Those are peripheral, external factors that should not relate to anything that happens inside the lines. And I think we assume that it must be that much different and that much harder, and I think from a psychological standpoint as coaches sometimes we approach games assuming that. And by doing that what you’re doing is sending the wrong message to your team by saying that it’s going to be harder. So what I try to say, it’s no different.
I think these comments get at something really important. It should be noted that this approach was not necessarily the one taken in our first two road matches. Both against Seattle and the next week against Colorado, the Timbers came out with Jewsbury playing the role of providing cover over top of our central defenders. Now, you could look at that and say that it was a result of the problems that we were having in defense in the first few weeks of the season, rather than a choice to play a different style or formation simply because we were on the road. However that may be, it was clear in those matches that we came out with a more conservative, defensive mindset. Since then our approach on the road has been much like out approach at home: strangle the opposition in midfield, keep the ball, pass and move, and generally impose our game on whoever we have in front of us.
I’d expect that the match tonight will be no different, even given the fact that we have some challenges in defense with which to cope. There is every indication that, given situation with injuries and suspensions, we will see Pa Modou Kah get his first start for the club. Although this is being done out of necessity, there are some positive aspects to this way of introducing him. Rather than facing the pressure of coming out in front of 20,000 rabid home fans, he gets to find his feet on the road against one of the lesser sides in MLS. The pressure of expectation is not absent, but perhaps it will be a little less intense. He’s got to go into the deep end at some point, but his will give him a chance to develop his positioning and communication with Ricketts and AJB. It’s a little hard to tell from the available footage, but it looks to me as if he prefers to play on the right side. I believe that I read somewhere that AJB actually prefers to play on the left, but maybe someone can correct me if I’m getting this wrong. In any case, given that we have to run Kah out there before we’d prefer to have done, at least we’re doing it under about the most felicitous conditions possible.
Well, I’m off to catch the Aviva Premiership Rugby final; the beginning of a solid sports day on which Mrs. Mags may or may not catch sight of me. I’ll be throwing the usual away day stuff up on Farcebook starting about 90 minutes before kickoff. Up the lads!