When the Portland Timbers started off their preseason, the situation at left back seemed settled. With Zarek Valentin as a placeholder, the Timbers would have Chris Klute back soon once he finished his recovery from offseason meniscus repair surgery; a former defender of the year, Klute would then take up the mantle as the Timbers' new starting left back.
Of course, it hasn't quite worked out that way just yet.
After two weeks of training in Portland, the Timbers headed off to sunny Arizona to take part in the Desert Friendlies, with Klute still spending his time on the sidelines working on his recovery. Now, a month into preseason, little has been seen of the Timbers' presumed starter at left back and even less has been seen of him on the pitch as Klute has not appeared in any of the Timbers' four preseason matches so far.
With the team back in Portland and only three weeks left until the start of the season, time is running out for Klute. Frankly, it is looking extremely unlikely that he will be available for the season opener on March 6th.
So, what is Caleb Porter to do in the absence of the player that we all thought would be ready to make the left back spot his own at the start of the season? Let's take a look at some of the options:
The Timbers' other new fullback acquisition, Valentin got off to a rough start during the preseason, looking distinctly like the weak link in the Timbers back line during the team's 1-1 draw against the Houston Dynamo. While Valentine may not have had the advantage of a short break like many of his teammates, it was still jarring to see players able to go at him with pace and take advantage of his lack thereof. Of course, Valentin turned that around just days later in the Timbers' 1-0 win over the Seattle Sounders when he got forward regularly, fined tuned his passing, and had several impressive passes down field to spring Lucas Melano.
We've sung the praises of Thoma -- the Timbers only other natural left back -- elsewhere, but the fact remains that he has crazy speed out on the left flank and he seems to know what to do with it. His marked improvement over the course of the last season even saw Thoma get an appearance in the mixed starting XI that the Timbers' rolled out in the team's 1-0 win against Real Salt Lake last Thursday. Despite all that, the fact remains that Thoma is untested in league play, only having made the bench once for the Timbers and never getting on the field.
Ridgewell is a centenback first and foremost. He has played center back all through his career. Of course, he has also been pressed into emergency duty at left back on several occasions throughout his career, including for the duration of his recent loan to Brighton & Hove Albion -- a stint that saw Brighton go 4-1-0 in league play during Ridgewell's time there. Timbers fans, however, have rarely seen Ridgewell out on the left outside the occasional injury or card necessitated reshuffling of the back line. And by all accounts Ridgewell is a more defense-minded fullback, not bringing the same dynamic attacking mentality as some of the other possible selections (Ridgy Roll or not).
While Taylor has only lined up as a center back for the Timbers so far this preseason, he has plenty of experience at left back as well, spending time out on the flanks for the Dynamo last year. Taylor has the athleticism, aggressive mindset, and surprisingly decent passing to do well out on the wing, but he has never quite made fullback his home, despite playing it regularly throughout his career.
Who do you think will end up at left back on March 6th? Vote in the poll below and let us know why in the comments.