A month from today the Portland Timbers officially kick off the 2013 season. Congratulations. You have survived the most difficult part of the offseason – the part where the team isn’t on the pitch. Between now and March 3rd, the Timbers will play six exhibition matches, giving Caleb Porter more opportunities to see what he has on his roster and how best to use what he has.
With two exhibitions in the books, we clearly don’t have all the answers but we do have some ideas of where things might be headed.First team vs Second team: If the first two games and the reports from training camp are any indication, there is a fairly clear first unit and a clear second unit in Porter’s mind. The first choice guys have been training together and to this point have seen game time together. The same can be said of the second XI. It will be interesting to see if this holds true the rest of training camp or if we see some of the second unit guys blended in with the apparent first team.
Valeri carries the load: For all the talk of total team play, it has been evident in the first couple of games that Diego Valeri is going to be asked to do a lot this season. Set pieces, corners, and running the attack from box to box are all part of his job description. He appears up to the task, but with a long season ahead it is worth asking what will happen if he misses any extended time due to injury or other reasons.
Unexpected experiments: There was some mention during the dark offseason days that players like Sal Zizzo and Brent Richards would be moved to right back. We haven’t seen any indication of that happening yet, but we have seen a few unexpected moves that are being dictated, in part, by the composition of the roster. Kalif Alhassan is getting a look in the middle of the pitch and he has played the part well thus far. We’ve also seen Danny Mwanga slot into the attacking central midfielder position, a role that is taking some time for him to adjust to. It will be interesting to see if these guys can reinvent their careers under a coach who doesn’t seem as inclined as his predecessor to pigeon hole players into specific positions.
Talent looking for positions: Two games and we’ve seen Darlington Nagbe and Diego Chara play (or at least start at) two different positions. Figuring out the best way to utilize these two is one of Porter’s biggest challenges between now and the start of the season. It could also dictate what type of formation the manager eventually settles upon. Think about the various options in the 4-4-2 and how many of them could include Nagbe or Chara on the bench, for example.
Depth in the Middle: You can see it on the roster and you can see it on the pitch. The team has more depth in the middle of the backline than it does out wide. It would be pretty easy to see a scenario where one of the centerbacks gets traded for an outside player between now and March 3. This would especially seem likely if Mikael Silvestre is signed to a contract.
Sorry, ID is required: Perhaps it is because the manager is new and the club has so many new parts that need time to gel, but it looks like the players toward the bottom of the roster aren’t going to get much of a run this preseason. Mobi Fehr, Sebastian Rincon, Steven Evans, et. al. may be victims of a numbers game that includes reserving minutes for trialists like Mikael Silvestre and Michael Nanchoff.
Absences, Injuries, Opportunities: We’ve seen Jack Jewsbury hobbled by a hamstring and David Horst held out of a match because of a slight injury. Rodney Wallace has yet to arrive from Costa Rica, and Ryan Johnson and Donovan Ricketts are off to play for Jamaica. Will some players step up in the absence and make us forget about their existence?
One more month until we are all together at Jeld-Wen Field. Six more weeks until Seattle away. We can make it, friends.