The Portland Timbers wrapped up their first week of the preseason today with a hard working, defensively oriented practice at Jeld-Wen Field.
Update: Added quotes from Caleb Porter with some interesting parts in bold.
Today's practice was open start to finish and featured plenty of passing, movement, and defensive pressure as the team prepared to head to Arizona tomorrow for the first friendlies of the preseason. With the first of the Desert Friendlies coming on Tuesday against the Colorado Rapids, the Timbers turned their focus away from the attack, instead focusing primarily on winning the ball back for the first time this year.
The Timbers started off with a prodigious number of cones blanketing the field, a rare sight under John Spencer or Gavin Wilkinson, and went through a standard warm-up followed by several variations of keep away and finally a series of games of short field eight on eight play. A hallmark of Caleb Porter's tenure as head coach of the Timbers at this early date has been the clear delineation of what players are working on in practice, which held true today with drill clearly set up to challenge the defending players to put pressure on the ball.
Porter sounded cautiously enthusiastic about the state of the team heading into their first match up, praising the team's fitness while still adding that the Timbers are not yet ready to play a full ninety minutes. Porter also emphasized the need to evaluate players in game situations and broached the possibility of playing three forty-five minute periods, with the approval of the opposing coaches.
Injuries and Absences
Hanyer Mosquera rejoined the team for warm-ups today for approximately half an hour before breaking off to use an exercise bike on the sidelines for the remainder of practice. Porter stated after practice that he expects Mosco to be back with the team soon. Mosquera took part in the first day of practice before being sidelined with a sore knee for the last three days.
Brent Richards took a knock toward the end of practice, going down during the first game of eight on eight. The trainer tended to Richards, who appeared to have injured his knee, before taking him off the field. Richards walked off the field under his own power. The details of the injury were unavailable.
Rodney Wallace is still away with the Costa Rican national team team at the Copa Centroamericana, where he scored the game winning goal against El Salvador to put his team through to the finals. You can check out video of the goal here.
Trialists and Guest Players
Michael Nanchoff and Mikael Silvestre remain the only trialists in camp with the Timbers.
Draftees Dylan Tucker-Gangnes and David Meves are also both practicing with the club. Neither have signed with MLS.
Practice Notes and Impressions
- Although he continued to show off his calm on the ball and excellent foot skills, Silvestre's lack of speed did betray at several points during the games of eight on eight today. At one point Sal Zizzo cut around Silvestre and as Silvestre tried to slide tackle the ball away he got nothing but Zizzo's ankle in what looked like a yellow card offense to me.
- Diego Valeri has continually impressed me since I missed his first goal and assist during the first practice of the year. Today he showed off excellent vision with the ball while holding possession and the ability to get the ball wherever he wanted it to go.
- During the games of eight on eight, one team was comprised primarily of younger players who have often been grouped together since the beginning of the preseason. The yellow team, or the "Young Guns" as I was referring to them in my notebook, included Kalif Alhassan, Sebastian Rincon, Jose Adolfo Valencia, Dylan Tucker-Gangnes, Ryan Kawulok, Chris Taylor, Mobi Fehr, and Michael Nanchoff. This whole group has been playing like they have something to prove (which they do) since the start of camp and hopefully that energy will infuse the entire team.
- The front line of the Young Guns, Valencia and Rincon, looked very dangerous today, especially when breaking out quickly. Valencia in particular had several chances to show off his physical abilities, tossing around defenders or accelerating away from them.
- Jake Gleeson showed both why he has been regarded as such a promising player and why he has struggled to make good on that promise while in goal today. Gleeson made several excellent saves today, both aerially and hitting the ground to block away a one on one chance, but he also passed a ball which bounced directly to a player on the opposing team who slotted it home with ease.
- Will Johnson is another player who had an up and down day. Although he seemed to be everywhere, and showed off some good skills with the ball in the air, a number of Johnson's passes were just off the mark (or in a few cases, very off the mark).
- Milos Kocic impressed today, staying louder than everyone on the pitch to effectively organize his defenders and midfield, as well as making several solid saves.
- Donovan Ricketts also did well in goal, but had some issues with his distribution. At one point, Ricketts showed off some good ball control, dribbling away from an opponent who was putting him under pressure, only to put the ensuing pass straight out of bounds.
On how much he is anticipating the team's first game
We are looking forward to seeing them in a game, but it is still a preseason game. That doesn't mean that we are not going to approach it in a way where we want to win. Always when you put the uniform on you want to win.
We are going to get guys minutes, to get a good look at some good option, some different systems. We need to use these games to evaluate players, so you will see different groups with different halves. We may even do three forty-five minute halve in each game if we can work it out with the coach.
We want to build what we have been working on into a real game, but we need to evaluate players too, and we need to manage minutes. We are still physically not ready to play ninety minutes. We will progress throughout those three games slowly. Forty-five minutes for guys' first games, sixty for their second, and so forth.
On if he has a feeling of anxiousness going into the first game of the preseason
I am not anxious at all, actually. I am just business-like, like I am with every team I work with. I know that down the road we are building towards March 3rd and that's the first game, but that is just the first game of thirty-four. There needs to be a patient approach and I focus every day on trying to make this team better and building the habits that they need to have to play, hopefully, on March 3rd on the way that we want them to play to win the game.
I am not anxious at all, just excited and business like with the way that we are approaching things.
On if he is happy with the progress that the team has made in the first week
Very happy. They are further along than maybe I thought, physically. Their fitness is tremendous. That's nice because we don't have to do a ton of fitness without the ball. I don't like to do that anyways.
I like to accomplish the soccer and the fitness all at once. With the way that this group came back, that allows us to do that. It also allows us to load slowly and methodically without having to play catch-up. It really allows us to keep on a nice slow and steady trajectory toward March 3rd.
I've also been very pleased with the attitude, the buy in is very pleasing.
We did a defending session today. It was a hard session and they worked their asses off the entire time. Nobody is cutting corners. I like this group, it is an honest group. We hoped it would be that way. That was the basis of a lot of our decisions in the off-season. We wanted a group that was going to work and be honest and embody the spirit of the Timbers Army and the Portland people, but also play good soccer.
It was good to see them roll up their sleeves a bit today and fight and tackle a little bit. We had focused on the attack the first three days and wanted to get to the other side of the ball today and hammer home some things. I was pleased with their work rate today.
On what the players have learned about him in the first week of the season
I think they know now what I want in terms of the style, in term of the system and a few of the options that we are looking at. I used my trainings to imprint a couple of those things, I used meetings to imprint some of those things, and I used different messages in different ways; but it is a consistent message and that is that we want to build a winning team but there is a way that we need to win. Through the way that we are going to play, hopefully it increases our chances of winning.
There is going to be an identity, a clear identity. There will be variation from game to game and we will do what we need to do to win, but there will be a clear identity in this club and every day in training I am trying to transform the club into that identity.
I think they learned a bit, on both sides of the ball, of what we expect. I think they learned how I am, how I organize things, and through some of the drills we do they are starting to learn what I am like, how I treat them, and so on and so forth.
It is good. I'm loving it. I am loving it because having a relationship with the guys and building it every day is what makes me tick.
On if there have been any surprises for him in the first week of preseason
If anything, like I said, I think the overall attitude, buy-in, and fitness, and work-rate is maybe higher than I thought it would be at this point. I think that shows that tthese guys are hungry, that they are good pros, shows that they want to win, shows that they're, the guys that were here that are back here, are dissatisfied with the past and want to make amends for it. I think we are all hungry to build a winner here and I think that is showing in the training this week.
I thought that would be the case, I hoped that would be the case, with the guys we kept and the guys we brought in, but I have been very pleasantly surprised, in some ways, how good it has been in terms of attitude.
On if he accomplished everything that he wanted to in the first week of preseason
We had a tactical kind of periodization that we were going to unfold this week and there were certain sessions and concepts that we wanted to build on. Initially it was the attack, but while we're focused on the attack we were still defending but we weren't emphasizing it as much, then we scrimmaged, and now we went to the other side of the ball a bit.
We were still attacking today, but we were emphasizing a bit more the defending, and so we will build, now, that side of the ball a bit into the first game. Now each week it is a matter of now looking at your team and what you see in the game, and the session will be based on what we need to do better or what we need to continue to do well going into the next game.
Initially, yeah, we wanted to have certain things that we hit, because we weren't necessarily evaluating our team based on the past or a game or the next game. It was more just general style, general principles of play.
On what his objectives are for the team's time in Tuscon
Yeah, we want to have a better picture of where we are at in terms of the system. We are going to play a couple of different ways and we want to figure out which way works better, but we also want to have a couple of options that we can go into depending on the game or what's happening in the game. I think it is good to be adjustable.
I'd like to see which system fits better; I'd like to see who can play where; what combinations fit together as well. In time you start to see partnerships and chemistry develop between groupings of players, so I am interested to see in a game how those groupings and those relationships come together; so that is a benchmark.
I want to see how we look in the attack. What are the things that need addressing? How is that transforming, that side of the ball?
I want to see how we are defending as well. What are some of the things that we need to, perhaps, address, based on the game?
For me the real measurement is the games. You can think that you are in a good spot in training, but in the end the real measuring stick is the games and we want to make sure that we use those games to get better, to build our team, to build a cohesive group, to evaluate and to measure ourselves.
Of course, if we can win, great, but it isn't like the priority is necessarily to win. That is probably secondary beyond the other things. In these preseason games that is secondary, the result.
On Hanyer Mosquera
Hanyer is making progress. He was in the warm-up and the passing today and making good strides. I'm expecting him to be back soon.
On Brent Richards
I know he took a knock, so we will evaluate that.