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Taking Stock: Portland Timbers 1, Houston Dynamo 1

MLS: Portland Timbers vs. Seattle Sounders Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

Preseason is all about progression, and by that yardstick Wednesday afternoon’s draw with the Houston Dynamo was a success for the Portland Timbers.

Although the game ended in a draw, the Timbers were comfortably the better team on the field throughout, with the Timbers’ first-choice side largely dominating primarily against a reserve Dynamo side and Gio Savarese’s impressively second team controlling the proceedings against the Dynamo starters.

As for the first team, they had no problem finding space on the wings early on, in particular through Dairon Asprilla, who was the best player on the field on Wednesday by some distance. Once the wings were unlocked, Diego Valeri, Sebastian Blanco, and Fanendo Adi created plenty of danger on the interior of a Dynamo defense that was well broken down. The result was a first half in which the Timbers created — although didn’t finish — chances virtually at will.

So the first team was dominant for 45 minutes against the Dynamo’s reserves — which by nature runs the risk of being fool’s gold. They were also plenty effective (though not quite dominant) for another 20 minutes after halftime against Houston’s starters even though the Timbers were stretching the limits of their match fitness while the Dynamo were on fresh legs. As expected the chances didn’t come as easily, but the Timbers were still comfortably on top of the game.

It wasn’t all positive for the first team, though. Although the Dynamo had little of the ball and the Timbers were very effective in their high- and mid-level press to win the ball back, Portland still had some rickety moments defending their own third — none moreso than when Arturo Alvarez carved up the Timbers left side to put Houston up a goal. And if Arturo Alvarez can do that, the Timbers’ backline isn’t going to enjoy meeting Miguel Almiron. The absence of Diego Chara’s ball-winning prowess remains conspicuous for a Timbers team that didn’t consistently disrupt either Seattle or Houston in their final-third opportunities.

Still, on balance, it was a good-not-great performance from the Timbers’ first team.

But the first team’s work may not have been the most impressive of the day. In just 25 minutes of action on Wednesday, the Timbers’ second unit exerted pretty comprehensive control over a Houston Dynamo team that was largely the same one that advanced to last year’s Western Conference Final. Don’t get me wrong: The second team wasn’t nearly as creative as the first team, which will happen when you have Jack Barmby running the 10 and not somebody like Valeri. But the Timbers were still comfortably in control and asked far more questions of the Dynamo backline than Houston asked of the Timbers.

All of that represented considerable progress from the last time we saw the Timbers in a 2-1 loss to Seattle that was overall fine, but looked decidedly preseason-esque. There are things yet to improve on the backline and in ripening and finishing chances, but that’s not uncommon for this phase of preseason.

Stock Up, Stock Down

Stock Up

Dairon Asprilla — Asprilla’s goal may have been the least impressive thing he did on Wednesday. The Colombian winger was everywhere against the Dynamo. He tortured Dylan Remick on the Dynamo’s left flank, he combined, he crashed the box, and he even provided timely overloads on the left. Asprilla had the most to win or to lose of any player in the starting lineup. He won in very convincing fashion.

Marco Farfan — He wasn’t as spectacular as he was against the Sounders in the Timbers’ first Tucson trip, but the question coming out of that game was whether Farfan could play near that level consistently. Wednesday was a success on that front for Farfan who was effective going forward and combining with Andy Polo, but also aware and honest enough to keep track of and largely shut down Alberth Elis. With Vytas suspended on the weekend against Dallas, Farfan should get a run-out with the starters. Another strong performance will go a long way toward showing that’s where Farfan belongs.

Andres Flores — The 6/8 duo of Flores and Cristhian Paredes operated pretty smoothly on Wednesday, but since Paredes got the credit against Seattle it’s worth praising Flores this time. He was everything you want out of a six — clean on the ball, responsible defensively, and rhythmic in distribution. Don’t be at all surprised if we see a good bit of Flores this year, both as a spot starter as depth in central midfield, but also as a late-game defense-minded substitute for an attacking player.

Alvas Powell — He’s the Timbers’ best one-v-one defender in Diego Chara’s absence and don’t even think about @-ing me. Beyond that, Powell was effective in the spots that he selected to push on, and had a particularly sharp moment when he first-time’d a long Blanco switch into a perfect cross that Asprilla very nearly scored.

Stock Down

Vytas — Alvarez got the better of Vytas in the first 15 minutes or so, but from there the Lithuanian left back was largely fine in defense and the attack. That is until he got sent off for what appeared to be an off-ball incident with Alberth Elis. So it’s not that it was a disastrous performance from Vytas, but he very much opened the door for Farfan — who has arguably been better than Vytas in every phase of the game this preseason — to make his case to start.

David Guzman — It hasn’t been an easy preseason for Guzman paired with Lawrence Olum in central midfield. Olum is a six through-and-through, which means Guzman has to take on the disruption and ball-winning responsibilities in central midfield. He deserves partial credit for how effectively the Timbers pressed Houston on Wednesday, but Guzman still spent a lot of time chasing once the Dynamo broke the Timbers’ initial press. There’s a good chance these issues pretty swiftly disappear once Diego Chara is back in the fold, but it hasn’t been a repeat of the tremendous preseason that Guzman had in 2017.