Soccer returns to Stumptown today as the Portland Timbers host the Vancouver Whitecaps in the two teams' first match of the preseason Simple Invitational. With just two weeks remaining before the start of the 2015 regular season, the Timbers will be looking to put together the final pieces of their puzzle in today's match.
According to Caleb Porter, the Timbers will run out one starting XI for the full 90' as the Timbers move toward being fully prepared for March 7th. There should be no real surprises from the Timbers as they are set to roll out the same starting XI that we have seen all preseason both at practice and in matches.
There will be at least one change from the Timbers previous lineups, however, as Liam Ridgewell is back with the team after returning from his month-and-a-half loan to English Championship side Wigan Athletic. Ridgewell should displace Norberto Paparatto in the starting XI, providing our first look at his much-anticipated pairing with Nat Borchers. Lining up alongside Borchers should free up Ridgewell to play a much more aggressive game than we have seen from him alongside Paparatto and will bring a new dimension to the Timbers' back line.
The other players on the fringes of the Timbers' starting XI, namely Maximiliano Urruti and Dairon Asprilla, could see some time on the pitch today as substitutes. It seems unlikely, however, that Porter would make any changes to a starting XI that has remained constant throughout preseason so far. So, while Urruti and Asprilla might be close to breaking in, today does not seem like the day for experimentation from the Timbers, who will instead save that for next weekend's match against Stabaek.
That starting XI may have been consistent so far, but what it has not yet been is prolific. Only scoring one goal in 105' of preseason play so far is hardly convincing when so much of the Timbers' promise for the 2015 season is built on the return of the team's previously dynamite attack. In their final preseason matches the Timbers will want to get their offense up and running, not coming into the season without the dynamic scoring ability that characterized the team last year.
After facing a series of opponents in the middle of rebuilding their sides seemingly from the ground up, the Timbers will take on a Whitecaps team today who have made even fewer changes than they have. Only bringing in five new faces so far, the Whitecaps are largely the same side that the Timbers faced, and beat, last season.
The changes that the Whitecaps have made to their roster, however, are ones which will immediately impact the side. In particular, the Whitecaps' complete revamping of their centerbacks. While late 2014 arrival Kendall Waston remains on the roster, centerback mainstays Jay DeMerit and Andy O'Brien are both off the Vancouver roster, as is Carlyle Mitchell. In their place are new arrivals Diego Rodriguez and former-Timber Pa Modou Kah.
While Rodriguez was expected to come in and take the starting spot alongside Waston, it appears that it is actually Kah who has made the greater impression on head coach Carl Robinson in the preseason and should get the start today. Despite coming into the year with a starting spot following a stellar 2013 campaign, Kah was hampered by injuries with the Timbers in 2014, but if he can stay healthy he could be a big contributor to the Canadian Cascadians.
The Whitecaps also made one major addition to their attack: bringing in designated player forward Octavio Rivero from Chile's O'Higgins FC. A prolific goalscorer in the Chilean first division, Rivero should add some bite to a Vancouver attack that has previously been lead by talented but streaky and raw strikers like Darren Mattocks and Beaverton's own Erik Hurtado.
The Timbers will need to keep a close watch on Rivero, a player who seems to be more than capable of making his own opportunities, but the key to the Vancouver attack will remain the contributions of designated player Pedro Morales.
Vancouver's answer to Diego Valeri is capable of scoring goals and dishing out assists in equal measure, racking up 10 and 12 respectively in 2014, his first year in MLS. Playing in the heart of the Vancouver midfield, Morales will need to be marked into oblivion by the substantial talents of Diego Chara and even then will prove a scary prospect for the Timbers' defense.
Watch it on: Streaming on Timbers.com
Kickoff: 5:00 pm pacific at Providence Park
Portland Timbers: 1-0-2 in preseason, 12-9-13 in 2014
Vancouver Whitecaps: 2-1-1 in preseason, 12-8-14 in 2014