Portland Timbers Preseason Review: Midfield Shines Against RSL

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COMMERCE CITY, CO. - OCTOBER 01: Bobby Burling (23) of Colorado Rapids fights for possession of the ball against Diego Valeri (8) of Portland Timbers in the second half. The Colorado Rapids hosted the Portland Timbers in a Major League Soccer match on Saturday, October 1, 2016 at Dick's Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City, Colorado. (Photo By Vince Chandler/The Denver Post via Getty Images)

Often times, not much can be taken from MLS preseason matches, but the Portland Timbers midfield showed something to be optimistic about in their home preseason opener against Real Salt Lake.

Portland Timbers Preseason Review: Midfield Shines Against RSL

The game would end up in a 3-3 draw, but we all know the score means nothing in preseason matches. In fact, very little matters in preseason matches, but the Timbers did give fans reasons to be optimistic this year, as well as a couple of nasty reminders of how things can go wrong.

Attacking Midfield Creates Goals

The Timbers scored a pair of open play goals, including one with ten men (more on that in a sec). Both were moments of brilliance from the attacking midfielders. The first was evidence of what Alvas Powell and Darlington Nagbe can do when things go well. Nagbe found the left back in space along the wing before darting into the penalty area where he received the return cross. After having a standard moment of panic near the penalty spot, he almost over-hit a pass to Darren Mattocks, who was a few yards away from him. Mattocks’s shot was stopped, but Diego Valeri was there to tap in the rebound.

The second was Diego Valeri showing has pinpoint passing ability. The Timbers were already down a man (which we will discuss soon) and Valeri spotted Jack Barmby at the top of the area. He launched a picture perfect feed to Barmby, who headed ahead to Mattocks and the forward did the rest. He danced around an RSL two defenders and slotted home past Nick Rimando to make it 3-1 at the time.

The second Timbers goal came from the penalty spot after a scoring chance resulted in a hand ball in the box. Again, it was the attacking midfield creating chances.

Although in a non scoring capacity, there was already evidence of a connection between Valeri and newcomer Sebastian Blanco. While originally positioned along the right wing, Blanco (and the rest of the midfield) was given significant license to roam the pitch. He did well to swing crosses in and play key passes to Valeri and the rest of the attack.

Video Assisted Red Card

Now, on to the red card. Diego Chara was sent off for launching a high elbow to the face of Yura Movsisyan, which is a perfectly acceptable reason for a red card. Also, Diego Chara committing aggressive fouls and getting himself carded is all too familiar. The unique part of it was that it came after a lengthy video review, which is on trial during select MLS preseason matches.

After a seemingly benign shot that went out for a corner, the referee halted play for several minutes to look at replays. He rightfully sent off Chara after a long delay, pulled the corner back for a free kick, which RSL promptly scored on. The delay may have been a little annoying, but the right decision was made after taking a second look. It would not have been had replay not been around.

As long as calls are correct, I feel like we will get used to these delays. They should get shorter as the system is refined, too. The preseason trial is part of a world wide replay test that MLS is taking part in. They hope to continue tests throughout the first half of the season and hope to fully introduce the system into competitive play after the All Star Game.

A Few Ten Man Takeaways

The sending off created a bit of a drab situation for an already drab preseason match. The Timbers were forced to play a man down for more than a half in a game where the result didn’t matter. The point of preseason games is to tune up for the regular season and playing without a full compliment of players on the pitch hurts that cause. Both teams are affected as the Timbers don’t get to play their normal game and Real Salt Lake couldn’t get a full read on their tactics.

Perhaps MLS could introduce a rule (they are good at that) where a substitute could be called in for a sent off player. In this case, Chara could still get ejected and face his suspension, but the purpose of the match as a tune up could still be upheld. The Timbers could have brought on an early and unplanned sub to keep themselves at eleven men and allow both teams to get what they truly needed out of the game.

The manpower disadvantage created a game that couldn’t provide much insight into either team, particularly after both sides made a “shift change” around the hour mark. Both teams threw on a flurry of subs and RSL more or less controlled the play from there on out. They would get a couple of impressive goals to level the score at three goals apiece. Both were low, long range effort from Luke Mulholland and Omar Holness.

While the defense failed to close the door after losing a defensive midfielder, the attack was still pretty bright. Jack Barmby was particularly impressive in a ten man attacking role. He assisted on the third goal and continued to get himself involved throughout the second half. If he can keep up that level of form he can provide some very useful wing depth for Portland.

The Timbers preseason continues on Sunday night when they take on Minnesota United at Providence Park. Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30pm Pacific.

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