The Portland Timbers are back on their home turf today as they face off against Real Salt Lake on the opening day of this year’s preseason invitational. Coming hot on the heels of Minnesota United vs. the Vancouver Whitecaps, the match will be the Timbers’ chance at earning their first preseason win of the year after drawing in last week’s match against the Seattle Sounders.
This match will also mark the first chance that most Timbers fans have had to see new arrivals like David Guzman, Lawrence Olum, and maybe even Sebastian Blanco in a Timbers kit.
Guzman is a lock for the starting XI, which will likely feature the Timbers’ preferred starters for sixty minutes before making wholesale changes to the. Olum, it appears, could also get a run out with the starters at center back, the position he was playing in training with the Timbers’ first group on Wednesday. That Olum has potentially passed up Rennico Clarke for the No. 2 center back role in the absence of Gbenga Arokoyo and the Timbers’ rumored new center back signing is none too surprising, given Caleb Porter’s penchant for going with experience over youth, when given the choice.
Finally, Blanco’s status is still up in the air coming into tonight’s game. On Tuesday Porter told the press that the Argentine winger would play a role during the preseason and Blanco did train with the first team group yesterday, but it has only been seven days since his transfer was announced so how many minutes — if any — Blanco might play today is difficult to predict.
With one exeption, the rest of the Timbers’ line up is looking fairly predictable. Jake Gleeson will certainly be in goal with Alvas Powell, Liam Ridgewell, and Vytas filling in the back line along with Odom. Diego Chara will pair with Guzman in the midfield, backing up Blanco, Diego Valeri, and the recently returned Darlington Nagbe.
Missing from that XI is the striker, notable because it will not be Fanendo Adi on the night; he has been out of practice since the Timbers returned to Portland, potentially due to his rough treatment at the hands and cleats of the Seattle Sounders last week. Instead it appears that the Timbers will go with Darren Mattocks up top, giving the team speed and a much improved aerial game, although lacking Adi’s trademark hold up play. That Mattocks will likely get the start here seems to lend credence to the reports that the Timbers are shopping around Jack McInerney, formerly the team’s No. 2 choice at striker.
With the defense still reeling from the loss of Arokoyo and Adi missing from the attack, the key things for the Timbers to look for in this one will be in the midfield and on the flanks.
The pairing of Diego Chara and David Guzman bossed an under-strength Sounders side, but RSL should be significantly more match-fit — even if they will be without Kyle Beckerman for tonight’s match — so their ability to control the midfield will be fully on display and a good showing could bode very well for the Timbers’ upcoming season.
Further up the pitch, we will finally get a look at the attacking midfield group that everyone has been salivating over: Nagbe, Valeri, and Blanco interchanging, combining, and hopefully creating chances galore. Valeri, of course, will be at the center of everything, but don’t be surprised if we see plenty of Nagbe controlling the game from the center of the pitch while Valeri pushes wide as well.
Finally, watch the wide play of the Timbers’ full backs. Vytas and Powell will be called upon to get forward as Nagbe and Blanco cut inside, so how they can get forward and provide width while still keeping things under control defensively will be key for the Timbers. Vytas, with Liam Ridgewell backing him up, is a known quantity now, but the pairing of Powell and whoever is playing at right center back, likely Olum tonight, will be tested.
Watch it on: Streaming on Timbers.com
When: Thursday, February 9th at 7:30 p.m. PT
Where: Providence Park in Portland, OR
Portland Timbers: Finished in 7th place in the Western Conference in 2016
Real Salt Lake: Finished in 6th place in the Western Conference in 2016
Don’t forget, this is a double header with Minnesota United vs. the Vancouver Whitecaps starting at 5:00 p.m.