"Know thy self, know thy enemy. A thousand battles, a thousand victories."-Sun Tzu
Ahead of today's preseason match against the Portland Timbers I caught up with Chris Rifer of Stumptown Footy to ask him three questions about the battle ahead for the teams.
1. What have the Timbers been up to this offseason? Have they made the moves they needed to?
The Timbers had sort of a flash flood of offseason activity early in December, but since then have been relatively drama-free. The biggest additions over the offseason have been Ghanaian international goalkeeper Adam Larsen Kwarasey, Nat Borchers at centerback, and Dairon Asprilla as a winger/forward. Just as important, however, the Timbers retained the services of Gaston Fernandez - who, although not exactly the same type of player, is the logical stand-in for Diego Valeri during his injury layoff. Houston fans should remember Fernandez well; he scored a great goal at BBVA Compass Stadium last year in what was an otherwise snooze-inducing draw.
As far as positional needs, then, I think it's fair to say the Timbers filled them in the offseason, as the club got younger in goal, added depth to the central defense, and gave themselves a chance to ride out early-season injuries while keeping continuity in the midfield.
2. What sort of lineup do you expect to see in preseason?
It sounds like the Timbers starters will be playing the first 60 minutes against the Dynamo with reserves playing the final 30 minutes. As far as this starting unit, it's going to look pretty similar to the one that finished 2014 (though quite different from the one that visited Houston last spring). Liam Ridgewell is still in England finishing up his short-term loan with Wigan while Will Johnson and Valeri recover from injuries, but the overall look to the team isn't decidedly different from that which finished last year.
3. Who is the one guy you would have your eye on this game?
I'll give you two. In the first unit, Darlington Nagbe has become increasingly important with Gaston Fernandez playing a bit higher than Diego Valeri otherwise would. With Fernandez pressing higher, Nagbe will bear a bit more of the load through the middle third. If he's effective enough as a pinched right midfielder to ensure the Timbers can operate through the middle to some extent, Rodney Wallace and Jorge Villafana on the left and Alvas Powell pushing forward on the right can make the Timbers pretty potent across the field.
As for the second unit, Asprilla is the guy to watch. He's flexible - playing on both wings or up more centrally as a forward - and brings an element of pace and physicality the Timbers haven't really had in the last year or so. He's still a little bit raw and won't have too many pieces around him to help out on Saturday, but we've already seen a few flashes of his talent in training camp.
Huge thanks to Chris for answering my questions. For my answers to him head on over to Stumptown Footy.