With the Timbers preseason opener just hours away, Stumptown Footy got in touch with Thad Bell of our Sporting Kansas City sister site, The Blue Testament, to tell us a little bit about the Wiz.
SF: It's a little hard to imagine from the outside considering a year ago Kansas City was celebrating an MLS Cup victory, but SKC has undergone a major rebuilding project this offseason. What's the general feeling in Kansas City about the direction of the team?
Lot's of uncertainty tempered with dashes of cautious optimism and some pessimism of course. A lot of fans have faith that Peter Vermes will have the ship righted and incorporate all the news faces into a very competitive squad quickly. There are some who will decry every favorite player leaving (and some faves have left) as the end of the team.
SF: Aside from SKC's most prominent signing of the offseason (obviously former-Timber James Marcelin), give us a quick rundown of the major changes that have taken place at Sporting Park.
Collin, Olum, Kronberg, Gruenebaum, Sapong, Saad and a handful of people few know are all gone. It was a Sporting Blue wedding after the season.
Luis Marin from Chile comes in as the number one keeper and Hungarian Kristian Nemeth are biggest newcomers added although Roger Espinoza returning is the biggest name to Kansas City fans. Pickups of Anibaba, Carrasco and Anor from around the league for depth and draft picks round out the new faces. Rumors of players coming (nothing concrete) excite fans but no actual names yet.
SF: After a little more than a week of training camp, what particular things are you looking to see from SKC against Portland and in the Desert Friendlies generally?
Vermes hinted at a formation change before heading to Arizona so that will be interesting to see if it happens. Mostly we just want to see the new faces and where Vermes places them and start to see some pieces coming together to settle nerves.
As always, Stumptown Footy answered a few questions from the Portland perspective, as well.
TB: What new faces can we expect to see?
The Timbers have a few prominent new faces, but they probably won't change the overall look too much in the first-choice team. Nat Borchers enters the team in central defense, but he's certainly no mystery to SKC fans. In goal the Timbers will be debuting Adam Kwarasey. Although a bit more of an unknown at the MLS level, you've probably watched him before even if you didn't take note - he started in goal for Ghana against the U.S. in the World Cup.
There are a couple interesting pieces in the second-choice team that looks set to play in the second half. Dairon Asprilla is a young Colombian winger who the Timbers signed in December. The club is pretty excited about him and after a few adjustment days to open camp he's started to show the pace and power the Timbers signed him for. A bit more of an unknown is Jeanderson - a left back the Timbers found playing in the lower leagues in Brazil.
TB: What are expectation for the Timbers this year and what do yo need to see in preseason to make you feel ready?
Expectations are all over the map among supporters - with some expecting this team to contend in the West and others predicting they'll once again have to fight just to make the playoffs. I think a top-4 finish in the West is a realistic expectation, with the possibility of things going even a bit better if the Timbers can overcome some early injuries.
The biggest thing I have my eye on in preseason is how well the offense is running through Gaston Fernandez in Diego Valeri's stead. Fernandez played in the number-ten spot some for Portland last year, and did fairly well, but we haven't seen him take on the primary playmaking responsibilities for an extended period. If he can be productive there in preseason, I think the Timbers stand a decent chance of avoiding a slow start with Valeri out for the first month or two.
TB: Can we send you some barbecue in exchange for Nick Besler?
No. And that's absolutely no insult to KC barbecue - I'm really looking forward to eating it for three straight days when I come in March. But Besler is very much rising to expectations in camp so far. He looks pretty sharp on the ball and, in what is likely in part a credit to his big brother, a tactical understanding beyond what you normally see in a rookie.
Nick will have a hard time breaking into the lineup this year for Portland, but I expect him to make some 18s before Will Johnson returns and then to be a major piece on the Timbers' USL-Pro affiliate. Based on everything I've seen and heard, I think he projects as a very legitimate MLS holding midfielder. So, while the barbecue isn't without temptation, I think the Timbers are keen to hold onto their Besler for the time being.