With the Simple Invitational about to begin, the Timbers’ preseason has shifted into its final phase. From here all preparations are geared directly toward the March 7th opener against Real Salt Lake. Accordingly, on Sunday we’ll see the Timbers first team take the field for the first time this year at Providence Park.
Sunday’s opponent is a familiar one for the Timbers, as Matias Laba, Pedro Morales, and the Vancouver Whitecaps come to Portland for the Simple Invitational opener. We got in touch with Mark Dailey of Eighty-Six Forever to give us an idea of what the Timbers will be facing on Sunday afternoon.
SF: Heading into the second year of the Robinson era there haven't been a ton of changes on the roster from last year. Octavio Rivero and Diego Rodriguez seem likely to be the only new faces in the Whitecaps' starting eleven. How much of this season hinges on those two signings?
MD: The signings of Rivero and Rodriguez this past offseason were crucial for a couple of reasons. One, The Whitecaps' problems scoring last year are well documented, and there are hopes (and expectations) that Rivero will be a big part of the solution.
Robert Earnshaw, who was brought in on trial a couple of weeks ago when the Caps were down in Tucson, remains with the team. There has been no indication that he will sign with Vancouver, but there is "mutual interest" from both sides (translation: they're waiting to see what the new CBA looks like before they try and work out a deal).
Rodriguez is another key offseason signing. The center back position was a position that had quite a bit of depth over the past few seasons, but 2014 saw some key departures: Jay DeMerit (retirement), Andy O'Brien (option declined), and Johnny Leveron (option declined). DeMerit and O'Brien were very valuable players, and were also key leaders in the squad. Pa Modou Kah, who obviously Portland supporters will know very well, was recently signed and not only has Kah blended into the squad nicely, he has also impressed in training as well. There is some thought that Kah might end up as third on the depth list behind Waston and Rodriguez, but Kah has impressed enough to at least make some of us question that perhaps Rodriguez won't be an automatic lock to partner Waston after all.
SF: A little bit of a left-back controversy seems to have broken out in Vancouver over the last couple weeks. Do you think Sam Adekugbe is ready to make a genuine run at Jordan Harvey's position in the lineup?
MD: Adekugbe has been impressive, and will likely see the pitch during the season, but he probably won't be the starting left back to start the season. We spoke to Adekugbe last weekend after the annual UVic Vikes vs. Whitecaps friendly for our podcast, From the Backline (special report featuring interviews with manager Carl Robinson, goalkeeper coach Marius Rovde, and players Marco Bustos and Sam Adekugbe starts at the 30' mark), and Adekugbe clearly thinks that he still is behind Harvey in the selection order, but Sam clearly has the drive, determination and the talent to eventually earn that starting LB role.
SF: After a quiet rookie season, Portland native Erik Hurtado looked poised to break out at times in 2014 while also going through some dry spells. Where does Hurtado stand with Robinson and the 'Caps coming into 2015?
MD: Hurtado received his fair of criticism at times over the past two years (at times I thought the criticism was a little unfair), but we've seen Erik improve, not only in each offseason, but also during the year as well. Last year Hurtado worked hard with the coaching staff on some of the technical sides to his game, and it paid off. This year he came back to Vancouver 10 pounds lighter and he looked very good playing out on the wing last weekend in Victoria. Despite the dry spells in front of goal and some of the difficulties Erik has never, ever complained. He has a great attitude, works hard and does whatever the manager asks of him. Character on and off the pitch is a big thing for Robinson, and Hurtado fits nicely into theis group. Guaranteed he will get his chances this year, and he'll have to make the most of them when the time comes.