There’s one more game to go before things get serious.
The Simple Invitational comes to a close on Saturday, as the Timbers host Norwegian invitees, Stabæk. As journalists across the Rose City patiently await the opportunity to cash in on having “æ” in their recently-used symbols menu, the two teams on the field will be looking post their first win of the tournament.
Bob Bradley’s visitors played out a nil draw with Chicago in the tournament’s opening match, then conceded three to Vancouver on Wednesday, losing the game 3-2. The Timbers are 0-1-1 as well, having lost to the ‘Caps and drawn with Chicago, while essentially using the matches for formation and lineup experiments.
With Saturday’s Stabæk match as the final test before the presumed season opener, there are still many unanswered offensive questions. In five preseason matches, the Timbers have scored a paltry four goals, and only one came from open play, scored by a trialist (Omar Cummings) who is no longer with the team. Michael Nanchoff, who netted two beautiful free kicks this preseason, pulled up lame late on Wednesday with a hip flexor. Gaston Fernandez’s penalty against Sporting KC—way back on January 31st—so far the only tally by a player who will actually suit up in green come opening day. Maybe players have been avoiding the score sheet for their own health.
We should see significant minutes on Saturday from the XI that will line up against Real Salt Lake next week. What that entails is however still up for debate. Coach Porter used Wednesday to toy with another new concept: two strikers. Among the combinations, we saw Fanendo Adi and Gaston Fernandez, Adi and Darlington Nagbe, and Fernandez and Maxi Urruti. Porter alluded to the one we have yet to see at all, including last year: Adi and Urruti. We very well could see that against Stabæk.
Dairon Asprilla is the wild card. The young Colombian has shown tantalizing promise, spitting hot fire from the right wing. In one start and one sub appearance, his electric pace, on-the-ball skill, and ability to take on defenders has to have made Caleb Porter’s lineup decision that much tougher. Asprilla may end up as one of MLS’s best super subs. Or he could start.
Caleb Porter has indicated that Jack Jewsbury will reprise his role as Diego Chara's holding midfield partner in place of the injured Ben Zemanski. Chara will however be rested on Saturday due to a leg contusion, which leaves two plausible options: either experiment with one holding mid, or give George Fochive one more opportunity to earn a spot in the opening day 18.
The Timbers haven’t been scoring with any regularity, but Nagbe looks motivated and ready to end talk of having lost his eye for goal. A lineup with Nagbe, Rodney Wallace, Asprilla, and Alvas Powell potentially gives the Timbers frightening speed.
Offensive depth is a great problem to have, but someone ultimately must step up and get results. A few goals on Saturday will go a long way towards a peaceful and optimistic week.