March 3rd is feeling so close now. Tomorrow night, fans will get one last chance to see the Timbers in preseason action and after that, we are a mere week away from seeing this very different Timbers team in league play for the first time. Their opposition tomorrow will be Swedish side AIK.
The Timbers faced AIK in last year's preseason tournament as well. A goal by Kris Boyd in that game gave the Timbers their only win of the tournament.
Caleb Porter has made it clear that his plan for the tournament was to play his first team during the weekend games, with a line-up of reserves and trialists for the midweek game. So after a Wednesday night's rather sloppy performance by the "B" squad, we can expect to see Porter's prospective starting XI vs. AIK.
I predict the line-up will be very much like the one we saw on Sunday, although there will be at least one change as Hanyer Mosquera suffered an injury during that game and was expected to be out the rest of the week. In his place we're likely to see Futty Danso playing alongside Andrew Jean-Baptiste. Alternatively, we could see David Horst making his first appearance in this tournament, if he has recovered from the injury he picked up in Tucson. In spite of a rough showing from Jean-Baptiste on Sunday, I would still expect him to start tomorrow, as he seems to have one of Porter's first choices at center back all through the Tucson friendlies.
The 3-3 draw with the San Jose Earthquakes gave the Timbers lots of positives to build from, as well as highlighting some rough spots they need to work on. The offense, particularly Diego Valeri and Ryan Johnson, was in great shape Sunday, with lots of great passing and, of course, a hat trick from Johnson. However, the Timbers will need to tighten up their set piece defending, and the midfield and forwards will surely be hoping for better distribution from the center backs.
AIK, who finished fourth in the Swedish first division in 2012, is the big unknown in this tournament, relative to our more familiar Western Conference opponents. So far they have played to two scoreless draws in the tournament, one of which was against a San Jose team that was almost entirely reserves. That game also saw AIK's Ibrahim Moro sent off on a straight red card.
AIK got their fair share of chances against FC Dallas but never posed much of a threat on goal against the Earthquakes. They will probably be coming into Saturday night hungry to get at least one goal over the course of the tournament.
If the Timbers play like they did on Sunday, they could very well be the first team to crack AIK's defense this week. Of course, they could also be the first to let AIK on the score sheet. The Timbers will be hoping to keep the goals coming while eliminating the defensive mistakes that cost them in the first two games. This will also be the last really good chance for the players to cement their starting spots or, for some of the players on the bubble, force their way into the match day 18. Hopefully the AIK match will be a victory for the Timbers again this year.
What are you hoping to see tomorrow?