The Portland Timbers lost to an MLS team for the first time since October 3, 2015, on Wednesday evening as they fell to the Vancouver Whitecaps 2-0 in a game that couldn’t have meant a whole lot less.
In a game in which the Timbers’ rolled out a completely second- and third-choice lineup and the Whitecaps played various combinations of starters and reserves, the Timbers fell to a better team in a not-uncompetitive, but pretty snooze-worthy affair.
Here are three questions from the Timbers’ loss to the Whitecaps:
1. So, uh, what happened?
As noted, the Timbers weren’t run off the field. But when it came to creating and finishing chances, Portland was the second best team on the field by some margin. That, however, is to be expected when one team starts Ben Polk on the wing and the other starts Kekuta Manneh.
The Timbers stayed in the game by virtue of their central-midfield trio of Ben Zemanski (making his return to Providence Park for the first time since last year’s Simple Invitational), Jack Jewsbury, and Ned Grabavoy, which was sufficiently competent to keep the Timbers’ wheels on the wagon. That competence down the spine, however, wasn’t enough to make up for the struggles on the wings -- with Ben Polk having his most difficult outing of the preseason and Neco Brett struggling to consistently find the game -- and up top with Jack McInerney having his worst game of the preseason in a match in which he struggled mightily to find service and rhythm.
Of the midfield three, Jewsbury and Zemanski were essentially as expected. More interesting for the Timbers, however, was how Grabavoy would operate in the 10 role; a role he did not frequently fill with either Real Salt Lake or NYCFC. Unfortunately, however, that answer will have to wait, as well, as Grabavoy’s tepid performance at the 10 on Wednesday can just as easily be explained by the lack of effective firepower in front of him as it can his awkward fit in the position.
And so the Timbers were hit a couple times by the gap in talent on the field, but otherwise more or less held their own against a better-manned opponent. More than that, we’ll have to wait and see.
2. Did Neco Brett and/or Ben Polk help or hurt their respective causes?
As noted, Polk probably had his worst performance of the preseason as he struggled mightily to get anything going on the left side of midfield. Polk, however, has had the most consistent preseason of any of the rookies, so one subpar performance probably doesn’t stand to hurt him too badly.
Brett also didn’t have his best night as he floated out of the game for stretches. But, as we have seen with relative frequency throughout preseason, Brett also found a couple opportunities to be useful, including being a cog in a first-half sequence that nearly put the Timbers on the board but for a Jewsbury miss in front of goal, and a second-half chance for Brett that he ripened but ultimately put at the ‘keeper.
Right now if I were to bet, I’d say both Polk and Brett get first-team contracts, even if they spend the lion’s share of the season down at T2. The Timbers have the roster space to accommodate both (yes, even accounting for the famously unknown winger), and both players look like they could contribute in a US Open Cup game against a lower-division opponent or a CONCACAF Champions League matchup against a weaker side. Ultimately, that’s the test for whether either or both earn a first-team contract, and I think they’ve done enough over the course of preseason to pass.
3. Is there anything else to be said about Wednesday’s game?
Nah. Not really.
Saturday’s game should be more compelling.