One week into the preseason, the Portland Timbers are already back in action, taking on Sporting Kansas City in the first match of the year. This may not be a meaningful game, but it is Timbers' soccer.
Let's take a look at the teams:
Like we saw last year, the Timbers will likely run out two distinct eleven man line-ups, one in each half, as the team currently lacks the fitness to play a full ninety minutes, something that Caleb Porter confirmed on Tuesday. The Timbers will still be sounding out their starters and, particularly with Michael Harrington still on national team duty (and playing this afternoon at 2:00), they will be taking a long look at a number of different combinations of players. As such, who we see here is far from a lock to start on March 8th.
That being said, the Timbers will likely play the 4-3-3/4-5-1 that we are all used to seeing from last season. The core of Donovan Ricketts, Pa Modou Kah, Will Johnson, Diego Chara, and Darlington Nagbe will all have their roles secured, as will Kalif Alhassan until Steve Zakuani and Diego Valeri get fit to play.
The team's new arrivals, Gaston Fernandez and Norberto Paparatto, have not yet secured top billing at their positions, but they were not brought on board to ride the bench. Paparatto looks like a lock to start alongside Kah, despite Futty Danso's propsensity for making his way back into the starting line-up. Fernandez faces somewhat steeper competition at forward from Frederic Piquionne and Maximiliano Urruti, and will likely see much more rotation than we are used to out of the Timbers.
Sporting Kansas City
In the season following their MLS Cup victory over Real Salt Lake, SKC are remarkably unchanged from last year's side. The biggest change for the league champions is the loss of their stalwart goalkeeper, Jimmy Nielsen. A veteran presence at the back, Nielsen was a big part of SKC's league-best defense, one that only gave up only 30 goals all season.
Replacing Nielsen in the line-up is former Columbus Crew keeper Andy Gruenebaum. A solid back-up in MLS for several years, Gruenebaum was given the chance to compete for a starting spot by the Crew several years ago and he took the opportunity well, finishing just behind Nielsen as a finalist in the 2012 Goalkeeper of the Year voting.
SKC's other addition during the offseason this year will be a familiar one for Timbers' fans. Sal Zizzo was picked up by SKC ahead of the MLS re-entry draft in exchange for allocation money. Zizzo never quite seemed like the right fit for Porter's system in Portland, despite his popularity with the fans, but will likely fit in well with the somewhat more direct style of play employed by SKC.
The biggest moves that SKC made in the offseason, however, were simply to hang on to some of their key players. Chance Myers and Claudio Bieler were secured during the offseason, while Graham Zusi and Matt Besler were resigned earlier in the year, ensuring that the core of SKC's success will remain in MLS for some time.
It will be good to see the Timbers back in action, but don't read too much into anything that happens in the preseason. Seriously. Remember 2012? That preseason went pretty darn well.
Watch it on: Streaming on MLSsoccer.com
Kick off: 5:00 pm in Tucson, AZ
Michael Harrington and the USMNT will take on South Korea in a friendly at 2:00 pm today on ESPN2. Feel free to discuss that match here as well.