The Portland Timbers kicked off the 2015 preseason in energetic fashion today with the majority of the team already on hand for the morning's practice. Working at Providence Park, where the team will train until leaving for Arizona next week, the Timbers looked fit and ready to go for the start of practice.
After some jogging and stretching, the Timbers' field players broke into three groups of eight: one group of certain starters, one group of bench players and new signings, and one final group of rookie and sophomore players primarily tagged as targets to be developed with Timbers 2.
Following some further warmups and passing of the ball, two of the three groups began playing a short field game in the south end 18 yard box, while the third group ran a short circuit at the other end of the pitch. All three groups rotated in and took part in both drills.
As a whole the team looked fit but lacked sharpness. The team as a whole clearly needed to re-acclimatize to each other, particularly the group of youngsters and draftees, but the overall speed of play did not look far off the standard of a practice during the regular season.
Injuries and Absences
The pace of Will Johnson's and Diego Valeri's return from their respective injuries has been one of the big questions of the offseason, with generally positive reports giving fans regular, if non-specific, hope.
Today's practice saw the pair training separately from the rest of the team under the guidance of fitness coach Nick Milonas. Johnson and Valeri went through a series of strength training drills on the sidelines of the pitch, before heading indoors to continue their workout.
Caleb Porter refused to speculate on Johnson and Valeri's recoveries, saying that the pair were doing well and were not behind schedule. Rodney Wallace, meanwhile, told the press that the pair were ahead of schedule, but that the most important thing for them now was patience as they get fit, a sentiment echoed by Valeri later.
Liam Ridgewell remains overseas on loan with English Championship side Wigan Athletic. Ridgewell has made 2 ppearance for the Latics since joining them on January 8th. He is expected to rejoin the Timbers before the Simple invitational in late February.
Finally, 2015 fourth round draft pick Seth Casiple was not yet with the team. He will join the Timbers on February 13th, according to Porter.
Trialists and Guest Players
The Timbers had several unsigned players on hand for today's practice.
Goalkeeper Justin Luthy continued his tenure at the Timbers' fourth keeper this season. Luthy trained with the Timbers for most of 2014 and was the Timbers U-23s starting keeper for their 2014 season.
Danny O'Rourke was also on hand at practice today. O'Rourke, a defensive utility man capable of playing all over the field, was with the Timbers for half of the 2014 season, but did not have his option picked up at the end of the year. It now appears that the Timbers are looking at bringing O'Rourke in for a second year with the team.
There was also one unknown player with the team today, a left winger with a penchant for cutting inside in the team's shirt field games. While his identity was not confirmed with the team, I believe it is Fatawu Safiu, a Ghanaian youngster who went on trial with the Timbers for a week last season and was mentioned as a possible signing for T2 by Porter.
Expect more practice notes later this evening. For now, I have to get to work.