After a preseason full of changes, the Timbers have finally concluded their warm up matches and we are only one week away from the start of the season. With the recently wrapped up games in mind, who was the best player of the preseason? Was it one of the new guys, eager to make an impression? One of the returning Timbers, seeking to show the new gaffer that they belong? We thought about it and come up with our best performers of the preseason.
Will - Kalif Alhassan
Kalif has started the last two seasons on fire before stagnating during the regular season thanks to injuries, a questionable work ethic, or some combination of the two. This year, however, Caleb Porter, and the style of play that he is looking for, have put Kalif in a position to shine. The loss of Jack Jewsbury to injury at the start of the Timbers' time in Tucson gave Kalif the opportunity to work his way into the starting eleven and he has taken full advantage, particularly in his combination play with new designated player Diego Valeri and center forward Ryan Johnson.
If Kalif can keep up his production and make it through the first month of the season intact, we could be in for a career year out of the young midfielder. Plus, his exciting dribbling and occaional flashes of brilliance only add to the flow of an offense that has shown itself to be potent against San Jose and AIK over the last week. Kalif has stood out enough that Porter singled him out for praise after the Timbers' recent draw against Swedish club AIK in his post game press conference.
Geoff - Diego Valeri
There was quite a bit of "who's that?" going around when Valeri's name first appeared as a rumored incoming player and even more skepticism when it was revealed that he was going to be a designated player. After watching him in a few games, however, I'm shocked that the Timbers were able to bring him on in the form that he is in at the age that he is. His creative talent is very clear and he has brought to life a midfield that was desperately lacking in creativity through 2011-2012. There are plenty of examples of DPs coming in MLS and ultimately leaving a disappointment, but I can't see Valeri's time here in Portland going a similar route. Not if he's able to keep up his form.
Andy - Diego Valeri
Valeri was first introduced to Timbers fans as a Plan B after the Mix Diskerud deal fell through, a perception not improved by his Designated Player status. But after he opened the preseason with a nifty set-piece goal to the far post against Colorado, he did nothing but provide perfectly weighted passes to attackers game in, game out -- highlighted by the two assists he notched against San Jose. He appears to be providing the vision and touch that the Timbers lacked during their first two MLS seasons. Makes me wonder whether Kris Boyd might have been more successful as a Timber if he'd had Valeri as a playmaker behind him.
The main question about him will be whether he can handle the physicality of MLS. So far, he, Nagbe, and Alhassan have all been able to draw fouls when opposing defenses have resorted to hacks to prevent their runs. But I don't trust the USSF's referees to continue to protect him and his teammates from injury.
Ryan - Ryan Johnson
Portland scored 11 goals during their preseason and 9 different players scored those. The only player to score more than 1 goal was Ryan Johnson and he scored all three of his goals against San Jose. While having 1 great does qualify as Man of the Preseason it combined with everything else does.
Ryan Johnson is a great fit for Porter's system because he can be a target striker and he will chase down long balls. While Ryan did not score in every game he did influence the game and because of this he helped Portland score more and keeps their offense from becoming stagnant and easy to defend.
Stacey - Diego Valeri
So much of what Valeri does on the field is downright beautiful, not because he does it with lots of flair and fancy footwork, but because it is very simple and it is so right. He knows how to pick the perfect pass, which earned him a handful of assists, and his set piece delivery should make free kicks a very dangerous part of the Timbers attack again if the guys on the receiving end can do their part. His play in the preseason also revealed exceptional vision, with his assist on Ryan Johnson's third goal being a prime example.
We have, of course, had our hopes dashed by great individual preseason performance before. In preseason last year, Franck Songo'o looked well poised to become one of the better players in the league. Kris Boyd scored in his very first appearance. So for the cynic in me, the most pressing question is whether Valeri can keep it up. His performance so far has convinced me he's worth the money and the DP spot.
Who was your Man of the Preseason? Vote in the poll and let us know why in the comments.