May 20, 7pm
JELD-WEN Field, Portland
Peter Vermes made a stink last week, embarrassing himself by going off on rookie referee Jose Carlos Rivero’s decision to give Roger Espinoza a straight red card for flying through the air and deciding to land elbow-first on Sebastian Grazzini. Funny thing about that red card, it wasn’t about embellishment or how much Grazzini was or wasn’t hurt, it was about clear intent to harm. Espinoza went up high and was falling when he started to come down but replays show how Espinoza saw full well what was before him and how he decided to toss his elbow out. No one in the history of sport has ever thought, “I will cushion my fall using my elbow.” Complaints about that red card are, at best, disingenuous. Which I guess is the reason why Vermes was suddenly so taciturn this week when mumbling that the team would not to appeal the red card. Three straight loses makes every manager snippy.
For Fire supporters it matters really for only one reason, Grazzini who has been pushed around all season and gotten no calls from referees was finally given a call. Too bad it had to be so blatant. Speaking of blatant, apparently Arne Friedrich and the team really want to play down his hamstring injury. The club page would have us believe that Friedrich will not miss much time, however, a Grade 2 strain means Friedrich will be out for at least a month. If we look at this from an “it could have been worse” POV, then this scenario isn’t so bad. But is it really a good idea to embrace such fatalism so early in the season? No, the answer is “no.”
Cory Gibbs is out and now Friedrich, that was supposed to be the centerback duo for the summer. That is not going to happen. It’s unfortunate that injuries lead to it, but the pairing of Jalil Anibaba and Austin Berry is the long-term future for the Fire. Chicago has been able to maintain a quality of depth in their defensive corps that other MLS teams probably covet. This week against Portland will be an opportunity for the Anibaba/Berry duo to shine. The Timbers can score goals…I mean, they’re not so much lately, in fact not since April 21. So it’s been a month since Portland scored, whatever, you have to take Kris Boyd and Darlington Nagbe seriously, both can produce magic. Honestly, magic might just be what Portland need.
Seba Grazzini has been moved farther up the pitch to a more forward role just behind Dominic Oduro. With Nyarko and Pappa finally being positioned out on the wings, the Chicago attack has woken up and is not significantly more complex that it was in the beginning of the season. Manager Frank Klopas has patiently allowed his regulars to settle in and by doing so he’s now moved the pieces ever so slightly to maximize their impact. Although going into the tight and loud JELD-WEN Field will be a challenge, Chicago has to feel confident earning seven points out of a possible nine so far this month.
The Timbers’ defense has improved of late and goalkeeper Troy Perkins will be challenged once again with the Fire’s attack. But the simple fact is that unlike Chicago, Portland has a thin backline and one that has yet to sort itself out. Because of the lack of fullbacks in MLS, teams in the league make the unsavory decision to move midfielders into right and leftback slots. Such measures may pay off in the short-term but rarely have any use beyond single game match-ups. Hopefully, Chicago can take advantage of this given the fact that the Segares/Berry/Anibaba/Gargan defense is very eager and adept in attack. I expect Chicago to press and go after Portland, looking for a definitive win.
Written by Daniel Casey. You can follow Daniel on Twitter @winslowbobbins.