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Top-class Timbers host Western rivals
by Ridge Mahoney, February 21st, 2014 6:22PM

TAGS:  mls


[MLS PRESEASON: Rose City Invitational] With a new name on its stadium, Portland hosts a preseason tournament that features Western Conference rivals San Jose and Vancouver as well as a top Jamaican club, Portmore United, from the homeland of several Timbers players and the Quakes’ Atiba Harris.

Portland was the only one of the three teams to make the playoffs last year, and so consistently impressive were the Timbers that they finished first. The teams will play a round-robin schedule at three doubleheaders that conclude a week from Saturday at Providence Park (formerly Jeld-Wen Field).

Sunday schedule:
Game 1: Vancouver vs. Portmore United, 5:30 p.m. ET
Game 2: Portland vs. San Jose, 8 p.m.
(At Providence Park.)

What needs sorting out. Not much was lost from last year’s surprise success, but powerful forward Ryan Johnson has departed. 2013 Coach of the Year Caleb Porter has auditioned offseason signing Gaston Fernandez, who has not only provided some heft up front but also displayed a willingness to pressure defenders as the Porter system demands. Fernandez didn’t score yet notched two assists in the four exhibitions Portland played in Arizona.

The back line is being tweaked. Norberto Paparatto, like Fernandez a native of Argentina, is getting time at centerback. There’s a spot open with the offseason retirement of Mikael Silvestre and though the Gambian Wall of "Futty" Danso and Pa Modou Kah was solid most of the time last year, Porter likes his defenders to play the ball out of the back and he believes Paparatto has that capability. So does is Jorge Villafana, the former Chivas USA left back who got some time in preseason when Michael Harrington was with the U.S. national team.

Beyond those elements, Porter is getting a long look at yet another Argentine, Maximiliano Urruti, who scored one goal in five games after being traded midseason by Toronto FC, which had signed him as a Young Designated Player. The Argentine continent is led by playmaker Diego Valeri, who led the team last year by scoring 10 goals and notching 13 assists.

Preseason results: Sporting KC 1-1, Houston 2-0, Seattle 0-0, Indy Eleven 1-0.

What needs sorting out. A strong finish to the 2013 season didn’t deter head coach Mark Watson from invoking changes, and the effects have shown: the Quakes lost both games in Arizona and also fell to the Galaxy last week in Fresno. Watson is tinkering with elements as disparate as U-18 academy defender Josh Morton, who headed home San Jose’s goal against the Galaxy, former Ajaccio captain Jean-Baptiste Pierazzi and longtime MLS veteran Atiba Harris as he revamps a squad that lost right back Steven Beitashour, left back Justin Morrow, midfielder Rafael Baca and winger Marvin Chavez during the offseason.

Midfielder J.J. Koval, a Stanford product selected last month with the No. 9 overall SuperDraft pick, signed a contract this week. He’s pushing veteran Sam Cronin for a central spot though Watson is also using them together. Andreas Goerlitz is one of several candidates to replace Beitashour, and Watson must also plan for the long absences of centerbacks Victor Bernardez and Clarence Goodson during the World Cup. There’s great opportunity for defender Ty Harden, who sat out the 2012 season for personal reasons and missed most of 2013 because of injury. His performances in Portland will be closely watched.

Preseason results: Seattle 1-2, Houston 1-3, Los Angeles 1-2.

What needs sorting out. Questions dot the roster as head coach Carl Robinson prepares for his first season in charge at any level. The forward line is in flux: oft-injured Omar Salgado scored twice and played on the left side against Indy Eleven, Kekuta Manneh returned to full training a week ago after battling through nagging injuries, Erik Hurtado played as a lone forward during three games in Arizona, Kenny Miller’s contract expires in June and he’d like a new one, Darren Mattocks is still trying to justify his selection as No. 2 pick in the 2012 SuperDraft.

The back line is also under renovation. First-round draft pick Christian Dean is dueling for a spot in the middle with veterans Andy O’Brien, presuming that captain Jay DeMerit will get the call most of the time even at age 34. Carlyle Mitchell replaced Dean at halftime of a preseason game against Seattle and scored Vancouver’s only goal, set up by another newcomer, Nicholas Mezquida, in a 2-1 defeat. Ex-Quake Beitashour allows Robinson to keep Nigel Reo-Coker in his regular midfield spot, but what role will be filled by Gershon Koffie is under review.

Preseason results: Indy Eleven 3-2, Seattle 1-2, Seattle 1-2, University of Victoria 1-0.

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