The Timbers concluded their annual preseason tournament with a 2-1 win over the Vancouver Whitecaps on a rainy night at Providence Park. Two players stood out as shining examples of what the Timbers attack can be in 2017 if all goes right.
Portland Timbers Preseason Report: Vytas and Valeri in Midseason Form
Vytas Andriuškevičius and Diego Valeri both showed that they are already in midseason form and are capable of doing a lot of damage in the impending regular season. Vytas is showing more life on the attack than his timid form showed in the second half of last season and Valeri is simply doing what we have been seeing from him for his entire career in the Rose City.
Vytas’s Crossing Has Improved
Lithuanian left back Vytas was fairly timid on the attack after he arrived in the middle of last summer. In ten starts he did pretty well, but rarely contributed to the attack. Despite being a fairly strong passer, he rarely pushed forward and did not accrue a single assist. He also averaged less than a key pass per game and only managed a cross every other time out.
In this little three game warm-up, he has four assists, including two brilliant crosses in this home finale. His first was a picture perfect swing in from the left that found the diving head of Valeri for the opening goal. The second was another very well placed bomb to the feet of Fanendo Adi. If he can keep that level of attacking desire up for the rest of the season, he can go a long way towards improving Portland’s poor wide play from last season.
His defense was already looking pretty solid, but he wasn’t quite adjusting to MLS in the time he had available to him. An entire preseason to get on the same page as the rest of the defense and to adjust to the pace of MLS can help him out. He may not be Jorge Villafana yet, but he is on his way there.
Valeri Doing it All
We have grown used to the Maestro’s precision free kicks, excellent finishing, and ability to make everyone around him better. We are only at the tail end of preseason, but we are already seeing him play like it’s the middle of the summer. His goal tonight was not jsut a result of Vytas’s suddenly amazing crossing ability. It was also Valeri managing to sneak into space, get his head to the ball, and turn it into the net in the one place the keeper couldn’t reach it.
There are very few ifs when it come’s to trying to project Valeri’s season. Barring some kind of injury, he will be the centerpiece of a much improved Timbers attack. With Sebastian Blanco around to solidify the left wing, Nagbe playing in his most effective spot along the right flank, and a pair of full backs who aren’t afraid to jump ahead into the attack, Portland can be a powerful attacking force.
Defense Still Not Ready
The biggest question for Portland would be their defense. If they can bring it all together at the back, the Timbers could be a lock for a playoff spot. This particular match wasn’t the best example, since the Timbers dominated possession and Vancouver was rarely interested in attacking. However, this preseason hasn’t shown the green and gold defenders are where the fans want them to be.
Last season, the back line was wrecked by injuries and was unable to build any kind of consistency. They went from having one of the stingiest defenses in MLS in 2015 wo having one of the leakiest last year. The rotating cast of center back and full back combinations had plenty to do with this, but the aging Nat Borchers and the inability to find a legitimate replacement for him didn’t help.
To remedy that, Portland has brought in a host of defenders to try and fill the void. The experienced Lawrence Olum comes along as the type of player who can make a few starts at center back and holding midfield. Chance Myers comes along with a shot at a starting role. The expected starter is Nigerian Gbenga Arokoyo, but even his place isn’t certain. If Caleb Porter can find the right combination and it can stick together, this team could end up making another cup run.
That’s a lot of ifs, however. Even with the positive signs on the attack, the defense still eroded a couple times this preseason. It resulted in high scoring draws against Real Salt Lake and MInesota United and only one victory in six games so far. I know the results don’t matter before the season starts, but the back line play hasn’t quite done enough to convince me they are ready to return to that 2015 form.
Portland will get one final preseason tune up next Saturday at the StubHub Center against LA Galaxy. Expect only a token appearance from most of the starters as they will be kept healthy for the season opener six days later at Providence Park against Minnesota United.