Sources have confirmed that Dutch midfielder John Goossens has agreed to a contract with the club, although it appears that the deal hasn’t been signed yet. That formality is keeping an official announcement from being made.
Goalkeeper Matt Lampson was announced as the team’s 22nd signed player this morning and there will be more on the way. Arturo Alvarez is close to being done and the team is still pursuing help from outside of the league. While we wait for more signings, Martin Tomszak takes a look at the Portland Timbers.
What Are They All About? Portland Timbers
Four-nil to Chicago! Fire fans beamed from ear to ear as the final whistle blew against their future MLS rival Minnesota United in Wednesday’s Simple Invitational match. Questions arose about whether or not Veljko Paunovic has a Mourinho-esque buyout clause in his contract and where Section 8 should start building his statue. All jokes aside, the Fire put together another comprehensive win under their new system and Paunovic has instilled an aura of hope that hasn’t been present in Chicago for almost a decade.
The Fire have one last test before the regular season and they could potentially be lifting a trophy on Saturday evening. The Simple Invitational concludes against the hosts, the Portland Timbers at 7pm Central Time on Chicago-Fire.com. This particular fixture has become a source of camaraderie in the stands between both sets of supporters but will it be the bearded, undercut, American spirit smoking, craft beer drinking, bike lane advocating, anti-fascism fans in green and gold celebrating, or will it be the bearded, undercut, American spirit smoking, craft beer drinking, bike lane advocating, anti-fascism fans in red and white?
Portland Timbers Preseason Form Guide: 3-1-1
Previous Match: A 2-0 loss to Vancouver Whitecaps.
Formation: “The Porter” 4-3-3; Gleeson; Peay, Manning, Valentin, Thoma; Jewsbury, Zemanski, Grabavoy; Brett, McInerney, Polk
Strengths: “Timbers’ 2015 MLS Cup Championship Celebration set for March 6” could be seen on billboards and projectors around the stadium throughout the Simple Invitational and it is perhaps the best place to start our strengths section. We cannot forget that this Portland team lifted the coveted MLS Cup less than three months ago. More importantly, in a league where turnover is inevitable, Portland’s championship winning side has stayed largely intact.
They saw the departure of just nine players, most of which found themselves out of the starting eleven or even on the periphery of the eighteen. Team regular Jorge Villafana was allowed to depart to fulfill his dreams of playing in Liga MX but his transfer fee provided ample Garber Bucks to find a replacement. Six players where brought in including promising youngster Chris Klute who Porter will no doubt attempt to mold into his system as he has done with countless other young players. Other notable acquisitions include reclamation projects, Ned Grabavoy who will be looking to bounce back from a strange season with NYCFC, and Jack McInerny who at the age of 23 is at his fourth club. Again with Porter’s skill as a player manager these two could be surprise packages rather than lost causes and both fit perfectly as depth for pre-existing roles within the Timbers system.
The system itself is one that necessitates a second look. The Timbers and Chicago will both have similar tactics but Portland has utilized them since Porter’s arrival. In fact, it is a system that he has utilized since his days at Akron and arguably got him his current job. The formations may differ slightly, Chicago’s 4-2-3-1 vs. Portland’s 4-3-3, but the style of play is the same. A highly organized defense based on high pressure, working on both sides of the ball, a high line, and impeccable communication is at the core of the system that saw the Timbers finish with the league’s second best goals against average. Everyone took part in both offensive and defensive duties with the wingbacks making overlapping runs and the center backs playing active roles in most set pieces while the forwards are meant to close down in the final third when Portland is not in possession. The necessity to keep possession and continue the flow of the ball permeates the system as well with Diego Chara, Darlington Nagbe, and Diego Valeri taking on most of the creative duties.
All in all it is not only an effective system but fun to watch. Porter had this team ticking like a clock in the post-season and all indicators point to the same being true in 2016. Fanendo Adi seems to have convinced the Timbers Army his name is worth shouting with 16 league goals and if he needs a rest or has a dip in form there are others in tow. With Lucas Melano’s virgin voyage in the past and vital lessons learned he should be chomping at the bit to justify his price tag and prove his worth. If he stumbles, Jack McInerney has proven he can contribute early on in stints with a new team. Ben Polk will also be eager to show his 12 goals in 22 games for Syracuse last season was no fluke. Make no mistake, this is a dangerous Portland side and they will look to set the tone early in their last preseason match before an MLS Cup rematch against the Yellow Team from the third world on March 6th.
Weaknesses: With the credentials listed above it is hard to imagine many shortcomings but a quick glance at the Timbers’ last match will show you their approach to this tournament. Fitness, integration, and evaluation have been the m.o. for this portion of the preseason. The veterans from last season played a large part in the Timbers’ first phase of preseason in Tucson that saw them take the scalps of Cascadian rivals Seattle Sounders, beat RSL and put on an impressive display in the draw against Houston, but have found themselves cheering on from the bench during the Simple Invitational.
The starting lineup against the Whitecaps featured ten players that hadn’t participated in the tournaments opener, seven of which have never made a MLS appearance. New signings and draft picks a plenty, Portland lost the encounter against a veteran VWFC lineup. If Porter continues in this fashion then Chicago will surely face a side much different than the one that will visit Toyota Park on Memorial Day weekend and that plays right into the hands of Paunovic and the Men in Red. It may be a case of going blow for blow offensively with momentum and form swinging towards a Fire victory.
The Anthony Manning/Zarek Valentin pairing in front of Gleeson does not even come close to resembling the Nat Borchers/Liam Ridgwell/Adam Kwarasey partnership that lifted a trophy last year. Miscommunication, mismarking, allowing space and a failure to pick up late runs were part of both goals allowed on Wednesday and will prove costly if repeated against the likes of Gilberto, John Goossens and Atruro Alvarez. The youthful exuberance of the Paunovic era could also prove challenging to the slower veteran presence of Jack Jewsbury and Ned Grabavoy if they feature again and no matter who starts the battle in the midfield will be mouthwatering. Portland’s forwards registered thirteen shots in the match against Vancouver but only three of them were on target and only one really caused Paolo Tornaghi any problems. This lack of sharpness will comfort the Chicago back line and shouldn’t trouble Sean Johnson. His prowess as a shot stopper will carry through on the day no matter what critiques are present about his distribution.
Like any preseason squad Portland has a lot of unanswered questions regarding their newer players but room for error is part and parcel of this portion of the year. The starting lineup will have the biggest bearing on the result.
Prediction: If the Portland starting lineup resembles Wednesday’s, Chicago 3-1 over Portland. If Porter brings the big guns, Chicago 3-3 Portland. Either way Paunovic enters the history books with his first trophy in Chicago. Your Fire goal scores, Goossens, Alvarez, and a Matt Polster rocket from 30 yards out.