The Timbers return from a productive, if uneventful training camp in Tucson, AZ to begin the three game Simple Invitational at Providence Park on Sunday, starting with a Cascadia preview. That’s right: there’s a Timbers game this week! And it’s against Vancouver!

Each of the three matches—Sunday, Wednesday, and Saturday—bring their own unique intrigue to the table. We’ll get to Wednesday (vs. Chicago Fire) and Saturday (vs. legendary American coach Bob Bradley’s Norwegian club, Stabæk) as they come.

But first up, it’s Sunday and the Vancouver Whitecaps. Vancouver is also expected to start their first-choice XI, including two new signings from Uruguay, 6’3 centerback Diego Rodriguez and young DP forward, Octavio Rivero. It should be a solid test, with a regular-season feel. Caleb Porter has already indicated that he intends to start the “expected” first team, and barring routine substitutions, give players 90 minutes. This will, of course, be our first chance to see the Timbers cope with the absence of Diego Valeri and Will Johnson.

It is no secret that Caleb and the Timbers brass expect Gaston Fernandez to slip into Valeri’s “number 10” spot, and Ben Zemanski, probably the fittest player on the roster, will deputize for Cap’n Will. Fitness, as a whole, will be one of the Timbers strengths in 2015, and Ben is a prime example. We’ll delve deeper into that topic and more in our upcoming season preview.

For my money though, the thing to watch on Sunday—and for the year as a whole—is the revamped back line. Liam Ridgewell is back in the Rose City from a successful loan stint at English Championship (2nd Division) side Wigan Athletic. While the “Latics” didn’t win a game with Ridgy in the lineup, this was not a quest for points or goals, but a mission to get minutes, to keep up fitness, and to come home in one piece. On those fronts, it’s mission accomplished. Ridgewell will get his first chance to play alongside Nat Borchers, his new partner in the center of defense, and in front of new keeper Adam Larsen Kawarsay, and expectations among staff and supporters are high.

These three matches are the revving of engines before the checkered flag, and March 7th is closer than you think. We sincerely hope you enjoyed your off-season.

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