Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports
Only three games into his tenure as the new head coach of the Portland Timbers, Caleb Porter can already claim a victory over the team's hated rivals, the Seattle Sounders. Timbers' trialist Mikael Silvestre scored the game's only goal as the two sides met in Tuscon, Arizona while taking part in the Desert Friendlies.
The Timbers certainly had circumstances on their side, having already played two games in Tuscon, a win against the Colorado Rapids and a loss against Sporting Kansas City, while the Sounders had yet to play a preseason game. The Sounders were also missing a number of likely first-team players thanks to injuries and international call-ups, including Eddie Johnson and Brad Evans, both of whom are with the United States national team.
The Timbers were missing players for the match as well. Ryan Johnson, Donovan Ricketts, and Rodney Wallace are all away on national team duty; Brent Richards did not travel to Arizona with a knee injury; and Ryan Kawulok, David Horst, and Jack Jewsbury both picked up knocks while training and playing in Arizona.
With those constraints, the Timbers started a line-up similar to what we saw in last Friday's game against Kansas City, a 4-3-3 with the wingers often dropping back or pinching in to the middle of the pitch and creating room for the team's fullbacks to get forward.
The Timbers held on to the ball effectively with their first team of starters on the pitch, controlling possession from the start of play. With Mikael Silvestre in the back line alongside Andrew Jean-Baptiste, the team was also much more effective at recycling the ball back into the defense without being forced into a long boot up field, instead maintaining possession and playing the ball out of danger along the ground. Silvestre's calm and his distribution out of the back were nicely complimented by a hard fought, physical game from AJB who continued to impress with his strength and aerial abilities, despite a few near slip-ups in his passing and decision making.
It was during one of the Timbers' long spells of possession that we saw the first real action of the game, with an early yellow card being issued to Seattle midfielder Servando Carrasco after he chopped Diego Valeri down from behind in what was a clear dangerous play. Although Valeri got up quickly, the continued harsh treatment of him is worrisome in a league as physical as Major League Soccer.
Valeri continued to be in the thick of things as, moments later, Bright Dike knocked the ball away from a Seattle defender and into the path of Valeri who fired a low, hard shot from outside the box, only to see it saved by Marcus Hahnemann. Valeri had a second attempt on goal several minutes later after being taken down thirty yards from goal. On the ensuing free kick, Valeri was able to curl the ball around the wall of Seattle defenders but did not have the power or placement to beat Hahnemann.
Dike also had a chance of his own after the ball fell to him at the top of the box. Dike was able to push the ball around one Seattle defender before firing off a shot, but the attempt was just wide.
On the outside of the pitch, both Michael Harrington and Ryan Miller got regularly involved with the attack from their fullback positions. Harrington showed well throughout the half, with much of the early play coming down his left flank and regularly combing well with Darlington Nagbe.
Toward the end of the half Miller became more involved, sending in several crosses that could not beat the first man, before finally creating a scoring opportunity by getting around his man and sending the ball back toward the top of the box from the end line; Valeri made one of his regular late runs into the box and was able to shoot the ball with his first touch, but his shot was saved by Hahnemann.
The second half saw the Timbers only make one change as Jake Gleeson replaced Milos Kocic to start off the proceedings. Despite the game being changed back to two 45 minute halves, rather than two 40 minute periods and a 30 minute period, thanks to Seattle's late arrival, Caleb Porter stuck with his plan to play his starting eleven for 60 minutes rather than making wholesale changes at the half like we saw in the team's first two games of the preseason.
The Timbers started things off with a chance on goal only three minutes into the half as Valeri chipped a ball over the Seattle defense for Dike to run onto; Dike cut the ball back onto his right foot to shake a defender and got off a hard shot on goal, only to have it blocked by Seattle's second half keeper, Josh Ford.
A few minutes later, Valeri and Dike combined again as Ryan Miller played a ball in to Valeri on the end line; Valeri sent a low cross in to Dike who crashed into Ford and a Seattle defender while trying to get a foot on the ball. Dike immediately waved for the trainer and remained on the ground for several minutes before being helped up and leaving the field under his own power. With Dike leaving the field injured, Danny Mwanga came on in his place.
Mwanga's first touches on the ball were unsure, leading to a turnover and the first Seattle shot of the game, an effort that went well wide. However, after the goal kick the Timbers reasserted control over the game, getting a scoring chance of their own moments later, as Nagbe chested down a high ball to Alhassan at the top of the box, but Alhassan's off-balance shot went wide.
Finally, in the 66', the Timbers got on the board thanks to some pandemonium in the goal box as Ford saved two shots inside the six-yard box and DeAndre Yedlin saved another shot off the line before Mikael Silvestre was finally able to hammer the ball into the back of the net.
With the Timbers up 1-0, Porter finally made his planned substitutes, sending out a younger line-up to take the pitch.
The Timbers secondary line-up looked disjointed in possession at the start of their run-out with regular errant touches and bad passes giving up possession. Hanyer Mosquera in particular looked off his game, sending several bad back passes to Jake Gleeson and making several bad decisions that almost lead to Seattle scoring chances.
In the center of the pitch Michael Nanchoff, Eric Alexander, and Mobi Fehr proved to be a stabilizing force as the half wore on, eventually stringing together some good possession. However, the wide forwards, Sal Zizzo and Trencito, were often where these spells of possession broke down as both are more inclined toward direct attacking play.
Mwanga had the best chance of the Timbers' second group when, in the 69', he volleyed a Nanchoff header on goal, beating the keeper but hitting the cross bar rather than the back of the net.
The Sounders closed out the proceedings with a final chance on goal as a glancing header sent on goal went directly to Jake Gleeson, but the Timbers' Cascadian rivals never looked likely to score.
- The Timbers starters on the back line looked like they had things well under control, but it is hard to imagine things going quite so calmly without Silvestre on the back line as he continued to provide cover and good positioning. Additionally, according to the announcers, Silvestre's shift today was the most vocal he has been with the team in Tuscon.
- Nagbe was very involved today, combining regularly both out on the wing and toward the center of the pitch. Most of the Timbers' most dangerous build up play plowed through him.
- Diego Chara and Will Johnson primarily stayed back and provided cover for the defense against Seattle, rarely venturing forward, but their distribution out of the back was excellent. Johnson in particular showed that he can switch the field accurately, something that the Timbers lacked last year.
- Dylan Tucker-Gangnes had the opportunity to show off some nice foot skills and passing ability during his shift at right back and played in the cross which eventually lead to Mwanga's shot that went off the woodwork.
- The only players now with the team to have not played in these friendlies are Sebastian Rincon, Stevie Evans, and David Meves.