Portland Timbers Show Potential in Opening Season Loss
In my exuberance for all things Timbers, I had about the same patience for the opening-game kickoff as Diego Valeri. Hurry up and get this thing going! Though the Timbers lost the game, I reflect on a few signs of growth, and a few things I am tiring of.
With so many new talents on this team, I was wondering how Coach Gio would assemble them. Andy Polo out on the wing had some good moments, showing his ability to race past defenders and get down the flanks or in the box, creating a few dangerous situations up front. I will be especially curious to see how the battle for positioning goes with Dairon Asprilla, who will need to step up his game. Asprilla is dreadfully inconsistent, and now the pressure is definitely on.
Cristhian Paredes as a holding midfielder did his job adequately in the absence of Diego Chara. True, we did not hear Paredes’ name often throughout the game, but that is not a bad thing. The reality is, not much of the LA Galaxy’s attack came through the center throughout the whole night. That to me is a sign that Paredes stuck in, blocked the passing lanes inside, and forced the attack to look elsewhere. That was his task, and he performed in a manner that I am happy with. Chara will be the starter in that position and should be, but for the first time in a while, I feel that we have a potential back-up for Chara when he misses games. In the past, I will admit that I was comfortable and confident with Ben Zemansky in this role, mostly because he was a hard worker, smart, efficient, and performed as directed pretty consistently. I am surprised that the Timbers elected not to carry his contract forward.
Samuel Armenteros, the new forward, didn’t see enough minutes for me to make a confident evaluation. Add the fact that he came into the game in a midfield position meant he was not often able to achieve positioning for his deadly finishing touch. Still, he showed glimpses of what I already know he possesses in his arsenal: the ability to think quickly — faster than most defenders — and create opportunities for himself. Armenteros, in my opinion, will show us incredible innovation this year by making things happen even when the pass to him isn’t placed just right, or weighted perfectly. I’ve already started calling him “The Magician” and I expect him to prove me right.
Perhaps the best outlook I took away from this set of new players is that they seem to have adjusted very quickly to this team and to the frenetic MLS style of play. Unlike previously imported talent who had a difficult adjustment (Blanco, Melano, Asprilla, etc.) this new group of guys is already demonstrating quick adaptability, and will likely bring a lot of influence to this team without needing a year or two under their belt.
Gimme a “D”
Honestly, how many seasons will we have to cringe-watch this defense? The single biggest mistake the Timbers made in the last few years is letting go of left back Jorge Villafaña. The next biggest mistake was thinking that the quicksand-slow Roy Miller could play there. Vytas is the only guy on the roster that brings me comfort in the left back position. While I don’t dislike the young Marco Farfan, he showed his inexperience in the opening game, and for me, he cemented the starting spot for Vytas. I hope. Finally.
Alvas Powell has been given almost every benefit of the doubt for years. When he is good, he is strong, energetic, uplifting even. But when he is off his game, he shows a grand lack of composure, weak decision-making skills, and a failure to learn from his mistakes…even in the same match. Powell got thoroughly schooled last weekend, routinely, and often by the same player using the same side-step move. It was infuriating to watch. Thankfully, I have some faith in Zarek Valentin in this right back position. While he has not been given too many opportunities to start, I haven’t seen a rollercoaster display from him. He is usually tactful and efficient, which is a tradeoff because he also isn’t known to blast up the wing nearly as often as Powell. I am comfortable with both players, but for me, Alvas Powell is nowhere near indispensable, and his contributions don’t match the Villafaña impact.
Sadly, I have doubts in the center of defense, too. Ridgewell is the anchor; I get it. We are always more cohesive and organized when Ridgewell is playing. He has the occasional WTF move, but without him now the back line would be similar to the Three Stooges. Here is where I don’t mind seeing Roy Miller. Miller has experience, and his lack of speed is less fatal here. Lawrence Olum and Larrys Mabiala are sufficient in conjunction with Ridgewell, but again it leads me back to cringe-watching because they simply cannot instill my deep confidence in them as solid, necessary starters. The addition of Julio Cascante in this position is something to watch. Clearly, the Timbers have had their eye on this guy and finally pulled the trigger to bring him in, perhaps because they view weakness in the center back line as well. In pre-season though, Cascante, in particular, showed a lack of parity with the rest of the line. Pre-season proved that he would need a lot more time beside Ridgewell before he can truly compete for the permanent spot.
What are your thoughts? I know Timbers fans are as passionate as I am, and I welcome your comments.