Last week, the Portland Timbers hit the road and had a week of preseason training in Phoenix, Arizona. Settling in at the campus of Grand Canyon University, alma mater of Timbers second-year left back Justin Rasmussen, the Timbers enjoyed some sunshine and warmer temperatures as they ramped up preparations for the 2023 MLS season.
Welcome back to Phoenix, @SirScoresAlot, and great to have the @TimbersFC at our stadium for a training session! ⚽️ #LopesUp pic.twitter.com/bJBvXSIeH0— GCU Men's Soccer (@GCU_MSoccer) January 17, 2023
The trip gave the Timbers the opportunity to bond as a team while on the road, building camaraderie while also building fitness.
And of course, it gave them the opportunity to play some soccer. Specifically, their first preseason friendly against an MLS opponent.
The Timbers faced their season-opening foes Sporting Kansas City in a 60-minute scrimmage on Saturday, January 21. As is to be expected during preseason, the starting lineup featured a mix of presumed starters and second-choice options.
Today's preseason XI #SportingKC:— Portland Timbers (@TimbersFC) January 21, 2023
The game remained scoreless in the first half, and Portland came out with a new XI in the second half.
How we start the 2nd half:— Portland Timbers (@TimbersFC) January 21, 2023
D. Chara (c)
Fifteen minutes into the second period, Nathan Fogaça did his best Yimmi Chara impression and got on the end of a bouncing ball in the box from the seat of his pants, flicking a “mini” bicycle kick past the SKC keeper and into the bottom corner of the net.
Nathan opens the scoring— Portland Timbers (@TimbersFC) January 21, 2023
Timbers lead 1-0 in the 45th ✅ pic.twitter.com/7XzPvAdkI0
The game would end 1-0. And while the result means literally nothing, it’s nice to see Nathan have a good moment after his hot start to last year froze almost instantly.
Yes, none of Sebastian Blanco, Claudio Bravo, Aljaz Ivacic, Larrys Mabiala or star signing Evander featured in the game. Before you freak out: that’s totally fine! These games are purely meant to build fitness and sharpness, so a player appearing or not appearing really doesn’t mean a whole lot. Portland still has a month, and three more preseason games, before things start to count for real, so there will be ample time to get everyone up to speed.
One thing you can takeaway is that Zac McGraw, who came off injured in Portland’s final game in 2022, played a full 30-minute half and seems to be participating fully in training. As not much was shared at all about his injury last year, it is a welcome sight to see him appear to be ready to go for the start of the season.
Despite this being a glorified practice, I think we all wish we could have watched it live. MLS teams by and large do not seem to be streaming preseason, which is a bummer (and an article for another time, perhaps).
Still, the games are happening and the balls are rolling. And apparently, the bicycles are spinning.
One month to go before we kick-off for real.
Other highlights from the week in Phoenix:
- Giovanni Savarese schooling a poor academy player (Ian Shaul, I think?) by hitting him with a dash of nutmeg:
Gio’s still got it #RCTID pic.twitter.com/4r8SNpytPE— Portland Timbers (@TimbersFC) January 16, 2023
- Larrys Mabiala holding up his end of a bet with Sebastian Blanco from the Men’s World Cup final:
Man of his word— Portland Timbers (@TimbersFC) January 19, 2023
After their World Cup Final bet, Larrys made good on his promise to Seba
(via sebablanco10/IG) pic.twitter.com/MBVqHsknrv
- Felipe Mora, who is still rehabbing his surgically repaired knee, exploring a side gig off the field:
Halftime and I’ve got a new intern working for the second half. pic.twitter.com/jXeDVxe0K4— Craig Mitchelldyer (@craigmdyer) January 21, 2023
What’s next for the Timbers?
Three Timbers players are now off on international duty. Eryk Williamson was called into USMNT January camp, where he will be available for a pair of friendlies — one against Serbia on Wednesday (7 p.m. PT, HBO Max) and one against Colombia on Saturday (4:30 p.m. PT, TNT). In the latter of those two friendlies Williamson might be facing some familiar faces: Santiago Moreno and Juan Mosquera. Both players were called into Colombia camp for their lone friendly against the USA.
The rest of the Timbers are back in Portland. They’ll be in town through the next two-and-a-half weeks before they jet down to Indio, California for the Coachella Valley Invitational. While there, the Timbers will play the LA Galaxy, Toronto FC and NYCFC in three scrimmages as they fully ramp up for opening night of the 2023 MLS season on February 25.