Sneak Peek: Timbers look as good as ever

From MLS champion in 2015 to out of the playoffs in 2016, it was quite a fall for the Portland Timbers. But it did not shake the confidence of Timbers coach Caleb Porter in his group. A few tweaks and a solid preseason have brought new optimism to Portland.

Opening day ...
Projected XI -- Gleeson; Powell, Ridgewell, Olum, Vytas; Guzman, Chara, Valeri; Blanco, Adi, Nagbe.

Porter and his staff quickly identified what it needed to fix:

-- Get help at left back, where Jorge Villafana from the 2015 championship team had been sold to Santos in Mexico (Costa Rican veteran Roy Miller will arrive after Saprissa's Concacaf Champions League campaign but Lithuanian Vytas had a great preseason);
-- Add another central midfielder to link up with the backline (another Tico, Daniel Guzman, will take some of the pressure off Diego Chara); and
-- Bolster the wing play, where Lucas Melano was a big disappointment (fellow Argentine Sebastian Blanco replaces him as a Designated Player).

The upshot of the moves is that Darlington Nagbe has moved into a more attacking role, taking over on the left wing, where the Timbers also struggled with Rodney Wallace(back in MLS after a year in Portugal and Brazil but with NYCFC).

(The only downside: second-year Gbenga Arokoyo, expected to take over for retired Nat Borchers, was lost for the season with a ruptured Achilles tendon.)

The crowning moment of preseason came when the Timbers beat Vancouver, 2-1, on the final day of the annual Portland tournament. The first goal by Diego Valeri followed a string of 15 consecutive passes.

Even some sloppy finishing -- the Timbers outshot the Whitecaps, 16-2 -- could not take away from the excitement of the new-look Timbers. (Only Miller and Blanco, who was moving his family to Portland, were missing.)

"Three-and-a-half weeks in," said Porter, "we look pretty damn good. We look pretty damn good. We look as good as we’ve ever looked. You know, and so that’s exciting."

Who's in ...
GOALKEEPERS: Kendall McIntosh (T2, USL Signing). DEFENDERS: Rennico Clarke (T2, USL Signing), Marco Farfan (Timbers 2, Homegrown), Chance Myers (Sporting KC, MLS Free Agent), Roy Miller (Saprissa/CRC, Transfer). MIDFIELDERS: Victor Arboleda (T2, USL Signing), Dairon Asprilla (Millonarios/COL, Loan Expired), Sebastian Blanco (San Lorenzo/ARG, Transfer), Daniel Guzman (Saprissa/CRC, Transfer), Lawrence Olum (Sporting KC, Trade). FORWARDS: Jeremy Ebobisse (Duke Univ., SuperDraft).

Who's out ...
GOALKEEPERS: none. DEFENDERS: Nat Borchers (Retired), Chris Klute, *Taylor Peay, Jermaine Taylor (Minnesota United, Free Agent), Steven Taylor, Andy Thoma. MIDFIELDERS: Nick Besler (Real Monarchs, Free Agent), Ned Grabavoy (Retired), Jack Jewsbury (Retired). FORWARDS: Neco Brett, Lucas Melano (Belgrano, Loan), Ben Polk (Orlando City B, Free Agent).
*Portland owns MLS rights.

First five games ...
March 3 -- Minnesota United
March 12 -- at LA Galaxy
March 18 -- Houston Dynamo
March 25 -- at Columbus Crew
April 2 -- New England Revolution

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