Over the Portland Timbers' offseason, there were several big questions that needed to be answered. Some remain up in the air, but others we can now feel confident about.
How would Gaston Fernandez fit into the starting lineup?
Among those following the Timbers, Caleb Porter has earned a reputation as a pragmatic coach, despite the perception that he is a system-centric guy. How he has incorporated Gaston Fernandez into the Timbers' lineup in the absence of Diego Valeri is a perfect example of that pragmatism.
In 2013 and 2014 the Timbers almost exclusively played variations on the 4-5-1, with the occasional foray into other formations, most notably the not-as-disastrous-as-it-is-remembered attempt at the 3-4-3. In 2015, however, Porter has moved the team to a 4-4-2 formation, with Fernandez playing as a second striker behind Fanendo Adi.
The responsibilities of a second striker fit Fernandez much more than the deeper play at which Valeri excels. Where Valeri can create something with the ball at his feet from anywhere on the pitch, Fernandez requires that he be given the latitude to get into open spaces and use his movement to create issues for the defense and opportunities for his teammates. In the 4-4-2, he is given fewer defensive responsibilities and a greater freedom to roam the pitch.
Would Jeanderson be a diamond in the rough or the second coming of Ian Hogg?
So far Jeanderson is looking like a good find with strong potential for the Timbers. However, playing behind Jorge Villafana, a defensively solid outside back with the ability to get forward well and an excellent rapport with Rodney Wallace, is going to make it difficult for the Brazilian to crack the starting lineup.
In his limited appearances for the Timbers so far, Jeanderson has shown an excellent physicality and a nose for the attack, getting forward regularly and effectively.
The defensive aspects of Jeanderson's game are still in need of examination, but so far the Timbers have a player with a similarly bullish style to Wallace in the attack and the potential to grow into the system on defense.
The specter of Ian Hogg may still haunt Timbers fans; a young international player brought in on loan who never competed for a spot in the XI despite an abysmal season, the second half of which saw Gavin Wilkinson at the helm of the team with plenty of opportunity for experimentation. Jeanderson, however, does not quite fit the same mold. He has been signed to the Timbers outright, rather than arriving on loan, and he is being talked about by Porter as more than just another warm body, but rather as a player who could eventually compete for minutes with Villafana, a level that Hogg never quite achieved.
How would Dairon Asprilla fit into the squad?
At this point it is looking like Asprilla is firmly on the outside of the starting XI and looking in.
Rodney Wallace and Darlington Nagbe look firmly entrenched on the wings for the starting lineup and, given their production over the last few years, they deserve to be.
Yesterday's 11v11 scrimmages did see Asprilla join the nominal first choice attacking group alongside Nagbe, Wallace, and Adi, but he stayed with them for just one of day's three personnel combinations. Although the scrimmage did not put Asprilla over the top, it did show that he can come into a match and combine well with the group, interchanging comfortably with Nagbe and Wallace in the team's attacking midfield slots.
Still, the Timbers' recent switch to a 4-4-2 requires a strong two-way game from the outside midfielders and significant chemistry between them and the fullbacks. These are both areas where Asprilla is unproven and will need time to develop with the team before he can overtake anyone in the starting XI.