This Thursday kicks off the Portland Timbers’ sixth-annual preseason tournament, and 2017 will mark the first time that Real Salt Lake has taken part in it. The tourney runs from Feb. 9 through Feb. 15, featuring Portland, Vancouver, RSL, and MLS newcomers Minnesota United.
Each team will play each other once, playing a total of three matches each. First on the slate for RSL is against the tournament hosts themselves, the Portland Timbers.
Sizing up the competition
The Timbers have made a bunch of moves this offseason — and rightly so, after they missed out on the playoffs last season, just one year after being crowned MLS Cup Champions. It was always safe to assume that some big changes were ahead.
Among the exodus of players this offseason are some familiar names, such as Ned Grabavoy, Jack Jewsbury, and Nat Borchers who all announced their retirement. Other players that left the club include Jermaine Taylor, Lucas Melano (left on loan), Steven Taylor, Nick Besler (thanks guys!), Chris Klute, Taylor Peay, Ben Polk, and a few others. That’s a lot of names, right?
On the flip side, Portland picked up a slew of new players to fill those roster spots, headlined by recently-announced designated player signing Sebastian Blanco, who Portland acquired on a transfer from San Lorenzo in Argentina. Other notable signings include Chance Myers, Lawrence Olum, Roy Miller, Jeremy Ebobisse (SuperDraft), and our good friend Jeff Attinella, who will hopefully end up as their number one starter in between the posts this season.
Even with the mild overhaul of their roster, much of the Timbers core from last season will be back this year and ready to go. Playmaker Diego Valeri and striker Fanendo Adi are two to watch in the upcoming games and have both seen some minutes this preseason. Nat’s old center back partner Liam Ridgewell will also be a lock for a starting spot, as well as Diego Chara in the midfield.
One face that hasn’t seen any playing time for Portland so far in the preseason is Darlington Nagbe, who has been away with the US Men’s National Team, but now that camp is over it’ll be up to coach Caleb Porter whether Nagbe makes an appearance against RSL or not.
Lineups taking shape
RSL — with a record of 1-0-1 against MLS opponents this preseason — will truly be put to the test against Portland, who have the same record (win against Red Bulls, draw against Seattle), in their own home territory.
We will be without youngsters Justen Glad, Danilo Acosta, Brooks Lennon, and Bofo Saucedo due to their recent call-ups to the USMNT U-20 roster for the 2017 World Cup Qualifying training camp. While it would be great to see Lennon get some more time to find his rhythm and place with RSL before the season starts, spending time with coach Tab Ramos in US camp isn’t a bad alternative.
So, it’s likely that we’ll see a healthy mix of the same players we’ve seen thus far in preseason, although the closer we get to opening day, the more minutes Coach Cassar will want to see his regulars get so he can make adjustments and even make some tough decisions regarding starting XI and bench positions. The Real Monarchs report for their own camp on February 11th, so we’ll see some movement after this game regarding who goes and who stays.
What to watch
With Portland working to find its defensive identity following the departures of Nat Borchers and Steven Taylor, it’ll be interesting to see if Plata, Movsisyan, Allen, and Rusnak can take advantage of the weakness in Rose City and knock in multiple goals.
Both Jake Gleeson — who was fantastic at times in 2016 after Adam Kwarasey was sidelined with an injury and ultimately transferred — and Jeff Attinella have split time at the goalkeeper position, so it’s tough to say who will get the start against RSL. As fans, of course we’d like to see Attinella out there on the pitch. Although as much as we love the guy, watching a few goals go past him from claret-and-cobalt feet wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world.
Will we see more promising attacking play from Jordan Allen? He showed very well in the last couple of games and is still vying for that starting spot on the right wing, which Cassar has already confirmed is where he’d like to see the 21-year-old play. We can also hopefully look for some more great combination play between Movsisyan and Albert Rusnak, as he begins to gel with the team and come into his own as our new playmaker.
Kickoff is set for Thursday at 8:30 p.m. MT at Providence Park in Portland, Oregon. RSL will then take on the Vancouver Whitecaps on Feb. 12, and then finish this leg of preseason against Minnesota United FC on Feb. 15.