A fairly comfortable preseason finale saw the Timbers put three unanswered goals past Real Salt Lake one week before the start of their 2022 MLS regular season.
The Timbers lined up with the starting XI that we will likely see in their season opener, considering the growing list of injuries the team is currently dealing with. Currently, Larrys Mabiala, Dario Zuparic, Felipe Mora, and Eryk Williamson are all dealing with multi-week injury rehabilitations, and Sebastian Blanco and Tega Ikoba haven’t played a single minute of the Timbers’ preseason.
What does that mean? Expect to see a heavy dose of Zac McGraw and Bill Tuiloma at center back in front of Aljaz Ivacic, and an attacking line of Niezgoda, Yimmi Chara, Santiago Moreno, and Dairon Asprilla for at least the first couple weeks of the MLS season.
Tonight’s Starting XI vs. Real Salt Lake:— Portland Timbers (@TimbersFC) February 20, 2022
Josecarlos Van Rankin#RCTID | @OldTrapper
After a relatively quiet opening 20 minutes, Asprilla had a golden opportunity to score the opening goal of the match after using his speed to get past the RSL defense. But despite an excellent first touch to take the lofted through-ball out of the air, Asprilla couldn’t keep his powerful shot under the crossbar.
The Timbers’ next best chance came in the 42nd minute when Moreno played in Niezgoda after a great driving run, but the latter’s shot from inside the box was pushed onto the post by an outstretched David Ochoa.
All in all, the first half was about what you can expect from a preseason game — fairly disjointed build-up play from both teams, highlighted by a small handful of quality moves and chances on goal.
After the break, the Timbers began to put together chances with a bit more frequency, and in the 50th minute, Cristhian Paredes blazed a half-volley over the bar after Yimmi Chara got to the end line and cut a cross back into the box.
The chance was somewhat of a microcosm for how the Timbers’ forwards played throughout the game — getting into good positions before squandering the work that had been done with rushed finishing. This was again highlighted several minutes later when Niezgoda received the ball in the box but took one too many touches instead of just shooting.
However, the RSL dam eventually broke in the 72nd minute when Paredes finally opened the scoring for the Timbers after a parried Niezgoda shot fell directly into his path before the midfielder smashed the ball into the back of the net.
Then, just moments later, Niezgoda doubled the Timbers’ lead from the penalty spot after being played in behind the RSL defense and getting fould by substitute keeper Zac MacMath.
Bill Tuiloma added the Timbers’ third and final goal in second-half stoppage time, curling a delightful freekick past a helpless MacMath from the edge of the box.
While the Timbers’ attack struggled at times to get on the same page for large segments of the match, I thought there were a lot of promising signs from the new-look backline. In particular, McGraw and Claudio Bravo were especially impressive when stepping up to Salt Lake’s attackers in transition, and neither put a foot wrong when the Timbers had possession.
All things considered the game was a very positive one from Portland’s perspective — no injuries, a clean sheet for a makeshift defense, and some promising attacking play during the last third of the match.
Roll on the regular season.
The Timbers begin their 2022 MLS campaign in one week’s time with a home opener against the New England Revolution at 4:30 PM on Saturday, Feb. 26.