The Portland Timbers are just one day away from kicking off their season with a home match against the Philadelphia Union. After a short offseason the Timbers are looking to continue the form from 2013 that carried them to a conference final berth in their first playoff appearance.
Timbers Preseason Review
Timbers Preseason Review
The Timbers' offseason has been mostly without surprises as the team worked to refine the core of players that got them to the top of the Western Conference in 2013, rather than going through a complete rebuild as we saw after the 2012 season. When the Timbers take the field tomorrow there will only be two players in the starting eleven who were not regular starters for the team in 2013: Gaston Fernandez and Norberto Paparatto.
Fernandez will line up as a part of the Timbers' free-floating attacking foursome, along with Darlington Nagbe, Maximiliano Urruti, and Diego Valeri. This front four have only played 90' together over the course of two games thanks to Valeri's gradual recovery from offseason surgery. Of some concern to Timbers fans will be the team's lack of scoring during those 90', but the finishing ability is there and only needs to be properly applied.
The addition of Fernandez has seen an evolution in the Timbers' attack from last year. In 2013 the attack was fluid, but still confined to channels with Wallace on the left, Nagbe on the right, and Urruti or Ryan Johnson up top. In the preseason this year any of the Timbers attackers could pop up at any point on the pitch, disrupting defensive marks and creating space where needed.
At the back, Paparatto has been a solid part of a Timbers defense that did not give up a goal in the run of play during the preseason, only allowing four goals in six games while the Timbers' first team was on the pitch. There is some evidence that Paparatto is still adjusting to his teammates in the form of the occasional errant pass down the pitch, but his most important partnership, his pairing with Pa Modou Kah in the center of the defense, seems to be coming along well.
The Brotherly Game
The Brotherly Game
Despite making a number of improvements to the roster under second-year coach John Hackworth, the Union have the look of a team that is ripe for the plucking. The Union are coming off a preseason in which they scored only three goals in five games, while giving up five goals in the same period. A preseason record of 0-3-2 does not necessarily mean that the Union have not yet come together as a team, but given the Timbers' goal scoring troubles of their own a team struggling to get on the board will certainly help the Timbers to get off to a quick start.
If any of Philadelphia's new additions can be expected to pull the Union together, however, it is new Designated Player Maurice Edu, A regular on the United States Men's National Team under Bob Bradley, Edu has struggled to find playing time since his departure from Glasgow Rangers in 2012, first making one appearance for England's Stoke, then eleven while on loan at Bursaspor in Turkey. Despite that, Edu's versatility on the pitch and ability to act as a dominating force in the center of the pitch will make him ideal for helping to clog up the middle against the Timbers alongside the consistent Brian Carroll.
Jack MacInerny, the Union's primary threat up top with Conor Casey out thanks to a calf strain, does not need to bring the team together. He just needs to be in the right place in the right time. A opportunistic finisher, Kah and Paparatto will need to keep a constant eye on MacInerny. If the Timbers defense gives him room in which to operate, MacInerny is more than capable of making teams pay.
Timbers' Keys to the Match
- Contain MacInerny. In Philadelphia's first seven games in 2013 he scored six goals.
- Get the offense to gel. 35 of the Timbers' 54 goals last season were scored by players who will be in the 18 tomorrow.
- Get one big save from Donovan Ricketts. The Timbers' keeper won the save of the week ten times in 2013.
The first match of the season is always a question mark and Philly is undoubtedly improved from last year, but the Timbers should be able to win this one and do so in style. If the Timbers can get on top then there is a good chance they will be able to dominate this Union side.
Watch it on: ROOT Sports
Kick off: 7:30 pm at Providence Park
Portland Timbers: 0-0-0, finished 1st in the Western Conference in 2013
Philadelphia Union: 0-0-0, finished 7th in the Eastern Conference in 2013