The New York Red Bulls get their 2017 preseason started with a scrimmage in Tucson against Portland Timbers. Our friend William Conwell from Stumptown Footy took a moment to fill us in where the Timbers are at and where they hope to get to by the time MLS '17 kicks off.
1. RBNY has lost a captain and maybe a sporting director so far this off-season. How are things going in Portland so far? Are the Timbers in a hiring or firing mood at the moment?
Portland took their sweet time in making their initial player announcements after the 2016 season, but the side has been evolving at a steady pace since then and now look like they are only a move or two away from being ready for the season to kick off. In that time the Timbers have brought in some new players and moved some players on, all while keeping the spine of the team largely intact.
2016 was a disappointing year for the Timbers as they failed to make the playoffs in the year after winning their first MLS Cup, so it should come as no surprise that there have been significant changes from last year's roster. Veterans Jack Jewsbury and Ned Grabavoy opted for retirement and front office involvement, while others like Nat Borchers, Chris Klute, and 2015 No. 5 SuperDraft pick Nick Besler had their options declined, and Designated Player Lucas Melano was sent out on loan. In all, the Timbers parted ways with half of their 2016 roster.
To fill in the gaps, the Timbers have got decidedly younger, bringing in Costa Rican national team player David Guzman to partner with Diego Chara in the center of the pitch, No. 4 pick Jeremy Ebobisse to compete with Jack McInerney for his spot on the forward depth chart, Jeff Attinella to back up Jake Gleeson in goal, and a host of players from Portland Timbers 2 -- as well as MLS veterans Roy Miller and Chance Myers -- for depth.
Still, the Timbers have yet to secure the centerpiece of their offseason haul: Argentine midfielder Sebastian Blanco. The Timbers have been pursing the 29 year old attacking midfielder for some time and, depending on which Twitter accounts you follow, are either on the verge of getting their man (this is looking very good after the most recent round of reports out of Argentina), have lost out on him entirely, or anything in-between. Of course, the club have made their protestations that they have several targets in mind for Melano's vacated Designated Player spot on the roster, but until that spot has been filled the offseason remains incomplete.
2. Preseason games are more often about your own team than the opponent or the outcome. What is it you think Portland is looking to achieve in preseason, and what should we expect to see from the Timbers in this outing as a result?
It sounds like the Timbers will be playing just about all of the 30 plus players that they have in Tucson for preseason in Friday night's match so whatever we see from the Timbers probably shouldn't be read into too much. Given that we are currently less than a week into the 2017 preseason, players will likely be all over the place in terms of their sharpness, with some -- like Guzman and Ebobisse -- reporting directly from national team call-ups, and others just coming out of hibernation after a long winter.
If we take a longer look at the Timbers' preseason, however, the side's objectives become much more clear: how 2017 turns out for the Timbers will come down to the side's chemistry and the side's mentality. In their astonishing run to the MLS Cup in 2015, the Timbers were a team that would fight for each other in every minute of every game, but in 2016 that was undoubtedly not the case. So, between half the team changing from last season and the cracks that never quite got filled in over the course of 2016, the Timbers need to get their heads right if they want to bounce back this year.
What's more, the Timbers' lineup is rife with broken partnerships. In the spine of the team, Chara and Guzman have never played together, nor have Liam Ridgewell and Gbenga Arokoyo. On the wings, Vytas has little experience playing with Darlington Nagbe in front of him and Alvas Powell has never even met Sebastian Blanco (or whoever). The Timbers need these players on the same page if they are to get back into the playoffs this year.
Caleb Porter has readily acknowledged the Timbers' mental issues -- no team goes winless on the road without some serious problems -- and has said that he will be taking a more active role in building up the chemistry that he desires from his side this season after taking a hands-off approach in previous seasons.
3. Freddy Adu? Really? Freddy Adu? Caleb Porter doesn't seem like the kind of guy who puts together even preseason squads on a flight of fancy. What's the deal with Freddy Adu in Timbers' training camp?
Porter is a precise coach, that is true, but he is also fiercely loyal to his players. And Freddy Adu, for two years with the USYNT, was one of Porter's players. Porter coached Adu with the U23's, so whether he is a real possibility for the Timbers to sign or, like former Timbers forward Ryan Johnson, who is also in camp, he is just training with the Timbers while preparing to look for another team, it is not all that crazy to think that Porter could give Adu a place to train.
Of course, we do not know which of those possibilities it is, but at this point roster spots for attacking players are a rarity with the Timbers, who are looking decidedly well stocked up top. Assuming Blanco does sign with the team, there is still perhaps some room on the team for a left-sided attacking midfielder, but Rodney Wallace has been fighting tooth and nail to get out of his contract in Brazil and return to the Timbers; and if he can do that then the Timbers would almost certainly welcome Wallace back with open arms.
The more interesting trialist currently training with the Timbers is Costa Rican international Jhamir Ordain. Just given his first caps with the Ticos at right back earlier this month, Ordain, 23, has reportedly been dealt to MLS, with multiple teams interested in his services and the Timbers first in line for his contract. Should he sign with the Timbers, Ordain would find himself in a deep battle for minutes at right back, but could also compete for time at center back where he has played for his club side Santos de Guápiles.