The Portland Timbers trained this morning at Providence Park ahead of tomorrow's Rose City Invitational match against the Vancouver Whitecaps. Practice. With the final match of the preseason only a day away and a beautifully sunny sky above, practice wrapped up early and had a light feel throughout, even during the more intense drills.
The team warm ups started on a fun note today, with trainer Nick Milonas gradually intensifying the usual agility drills and making the final round into a race. From there the team went into a series of three-team possession games before splitting up into two groups: defenders and everyone else.
While the defenders worked their positioning and passing across the back line, the rest of the team was focused on finishing, a point of emphasis for the whole week according to Caleb Porter, who spoke to the press after practice concluded. The drill focused on making good, heads-up crosses from the wings, picking out passes into the box around defensive midfielders Aaron Long and George Fochive, who were running interference and trying to block off the passing lanes.
After practice, Porter told the press the expectations for this team that he shared with his players.
We should be one of the best teams in the league, plain and simple. We showed that last year. I would say that with the additions that we made we should still be in that caliber and maybe even better.
The Timbers have been trying to get into the right mindset to start the season off strong, with Porter telling the team last week ahead of the team's match against the San Jose Earthquakes that the preseason is over. Porter felt that the team was on its way to being mentally prepared for the season to start.
You saw in the game, we played very well. We were sharp and we were focused, in critical moments in the boxes we weren't good enough, but the overall mentality right now of this group is very good.
Will Johnson spoke to the press about the team's preseason preparations and the importance of getting off to a strong start this season.
One thing we have to do is improve on our start. Last year it just wasn't good enough. It took us too long to get started so this is one of the goals that we have: getting a win early in the season in that very first game.
Three points from a win against the New York Red Bulls in last year's season opener, as Johnson pointed out, could have put the Timbers closer to winning the Supporters' Shield. It is important, however, to keep the team focused on the games in the immediate future, according to Johnson.
[We are] making sure that everybody is focused and bought in and not worrying about games in November. We have to put ourselves in the position to earn the right to get a playoff spot. I think that most of our guys are of the character to know that you can't play the postseason before you play the regular season.
Injuries and Absences
Diego Valeri, who has been working his way back to full fitness for the duration of preseason following his off-season surgery, participated fully in practice today and looked pretty sharp doing so. (Stupidly, I didn't even think to ask if he would be available to start tomorrow, but I think it is a good assumption to say that Valeri will at least play.)
Steve Zakuani participated in the full practice today, his first this year, but, as Porter pointed out after practice, this was a low-impact session. Zakuani also stayed on the pitch after practice wrapped up, working with Sean McAuley on his dribbling, technique, and shooting while building up his fitness.
Caleb Porter on Zakuani's progress:
He gets better every day. Obviously we are moving him along. Our medical staff has done a great job of rehabbing him; protecting him, but gradually moving him further and further in. He is in training, not full out yet; we want to still protect him in some of the activities where he is around goal or small sided work, but I am confident that next week, perhaps the end of the week, or the following week he will be completely released to go through a full training session. Then it is a matter of evaluating how he looks in those full training sessions to determine if he is capable or not of going into a game.
I think he is very close, whether it is a week or two weeks or a few days, I think it depends on how he continues to progress. He is striking balls, he's feeling no pain whatsoever, and I am one hundred percent confident that he is going to be back, ready to go, and playing minutes in a Timbers uniform.
Alvas Powell was not at training today after departing for a call up from the Jamaican National Team. Jamaica will play matches against Barbados on the 2nd and St. Lucia on the 5th.
Steven Evans participated in the team warm ups again today before breaking off to work with a trainer on the sidelines. Evans is recovering from off-season back surgery.
Rodney Wallace has been working on the sidelines for much preseason as he rehabs his ACL, which he tore at the end of last year, but he was not present on the pitch at practice today.
- The finishing drills saw several attempted acrobatic finishes from the likes of Kalif Alhassan and Schillo Tshuma, but the only player to attempt a non-standard shot and actually get it on goal was Diego Chara, whose sliding shot was remarkable but still went directly to the chest of practice keeper Justin Luthy.
- Gaston Fernandez and Frederic Piquionne, the two most experienced of the group working on finishing, had some rough deliveries to deal with early on, but as the crosses through the box became more consistent they were banging home the goals and making them look easy.
- Darlington Nagbe produced what was probably the best cross of the day, chipping a left footed ball over both George Fochive and the fingertips of Donovan Ricketts to Will Johnson at the back post. Unfortunately, Johnson got underneath the ball on his first time volley and sent it skimming off the top of the bar.
- Kalif, after putting a solid header on goal that Ricketts could only parry away, had an open goal in front of him, but managed to chip his quick, follow up shot high of the net.
- After practice was over, Johnson and Pa Modou Kah spent some time passing a ball back and forth at distance. Johnson would stand still, daring Kah to hit him, and Kah would put the ball just wide. Johnson would when send one of his characteristically accurate passes straight to Kah. After a minute of this game, Kah seemed to admit defeat.
- Kah continued passing the ball around the pitch, later pairing up with rookie Taylor Peay. Kah and Peay continued volleying the ball back and forth for some time. Strangely, Kah's volleyed passes seemed more accurate than those he was playing to Johnson with the ball controlled on the ground. Eventually, as Porter walked between the pair to address the press, Kah sent the ball to Peay one final time, putting it right to him before trotting away and loudly declaring himself the winner.