Tuesday saw a new kind of Portland Timbers team, one that stressed passing and technical skill over brute force and long-ball maneuvers. It was quite refreshing to see the ball being passed through the midfield to the forwards even if the team was noticeably uncomfortable while attempting it (they'll get better).
Despite this monumental shift in player development and tactics, there were still a few things that we, the editor's of Stumptown, felt should be changed:
I would like to see a change in formation from the 4-4-2 diamond to the 4-3-3. This will give Caleb Porter a chance to compare the two formations in game situations and help determine which formation fits better with the players. This change would require a midfielder to be subbed out, namely Jack Jewsbury or Eric Alexander for another forward. The forwards I would like to see in the 4-3-3 would be Trencito or Bright Dike. Either of those players deserves a shot at starting in the 4-3-3.
1. A lineup full of strong passers like the one we saw in the first half of Tuesday's match. SKC has MLS' strongest back line, so they will give Caleb Porter's possession-based game a huge test. Whether they pass or fail that test will tell us much about whether the Timbers are in a rebuilding year or if they really could be a significant improvement over their first two years in the league.
2. A second half lineup that features some of the less familiar faces, including Sebastian Rincon, Brent Richards, Mobi Fehr, Steven Evans, etc, as well as the unsigned draftees.
1. More from guys like Darlington Nagbe and Eric Alexander. While the Timbers' new additions came out swinging, looking like they had something to prove, some of our returning players were rather dull. Nagbe showed his usual tendency to take the safe option and he was overshadowed by Ryan Johnson on offense. Alexander seems to be the odd man out in the midfield, but should at least be snapping at the heels of the starters. On Tuesday though, he was pretty anonymous and had several turnovers. It's still early, but these guys have something to prove too, and they should play like it.
2. More and better crossing. It's encouraging to see Timbers attacking through the middle, but it's also good to be versatile. The play on the wings was a little lackluster and the Timbers didn't get very many crosses into the box, particularly in the first half with the likely starters. Moving forward in preseason, I hope to see the Timbers attack through the middle and up the sides.
3. A haircut for Michael Harrington. (This is a joke.)
1. Bright Dike brought into the first team fold. Although Trencito made the bigger splash among the second group of forwards on display Tuesday, Dike showed off some stellar hold up play and an increasingly deft touch. With Diego Valeri's penchant for late runs into the box and both Darlington Nagbe and Ryan Johnson attacking from the outside, the Timbers might actually be able to do somethings with a hard working center forward this year.
2. A switch to the 4-3-3 for the first team. Although the Timbers "won" the first half against the Rapids, they didn't exactly dominate it. The team produced only a handful of chances and you have to imagine that against a stout defense like the one SKC showed last season they will be even more limited. A switch to the 4-3-3 will give the team the opportunity to see how much they can push their attack before they are no longer able to hold up defensively.
3. Staggered substitutions. Porter stated in a post practice interview last week that the Timbers would likely gradually increase the amount of playing time given to players in each game, with players potentially receiving 45 minutes in the first game, 60 in the second, and so on. While this ramping up in minutes makes sense, I would like to see less of s segregation between the first and second groups of players. Give the team some overlap so that we can see Mikael Silvestre and Andrew Jean-Baptiste playing alongside each other, or Mobi Fehr and Diego Chara anchoring the midfield in a 4-3-3. The second team players pushed hard in the first week of training and some of them will break into the starting eleven this year, so I would like to see them, at least briefly, in that context in the preseason.
1. I would like to see a mix and combination of different players from the first half XI and the second half XI. Notably, I would like to see Jose Adolfo Valencia paired up with Diego Valeri and Will Johnson paired up with Bright Dike. I think there are some interesting combinations to be had there.
2. Pair Mobi Fehr up with Mikael Silvestre. I don't know if this would accomplish much in a single game, but we've seen how well a veteran centerback can mentor a young defender to great benefit in this league before. If Mikael is impressing and is likely to stay, I would certainly like to see him paired up with the youth more often. Andrew Jean-Baptiste as well, but he played earlier this week and I would prefer to see Fehr at least once during this pre-season.
What would you like to see change for the Portland Timbers match tomorrow evening?