Timbers Have Higher Expectations in 2014

Team gets ready to head to Tucson with new faces, more pressure to succeed
by Ray Marcham   |   Friday, January 24, 2014

John Hefti Photography - MLS, Portland Timbers, PTFC

It’s almost time.

On Tuesday, the Instagram feed of the Portland Timbers had a photo of Jack Jewsbury, Ben Zemanski and Gastón Fernández working out on the new turf at JELD-WEN Field, with the winter sun shining on the ol’ yard at 18th and Morrison.

It was a reminder that, well, it’s almost time. The preseason for the Timbers is about to begin.

If there’s a sense that the preseason has snuck up on you, you’re not alone. It’s only been less than 2 months since the loss to Real Salt Lake in the Western Conference Final.

In just over a week, the Timbers will take on Sporting Kansas City in Tucson, Ariz., in their first preseason match of the season. Portland will be holding a 15-day camp in Tucson, playing 4 matches against SKC, Houston, Seattle and one of the NASL’s new clubs, the Indy Eleven. The matches are part of the Desert Friendlies series hosted by FC Tucson.

As the camp draws near, the questions that face the Timbers are much different than in past seasons. Then again, this season will be much different than any Portland has seen in the past, both in its schedule and in expectations.

Never have the Timbers been involved in a continental competition, but come August, they will begin group play in the CONCACAF Champions League. That, on top of the regular MLS schedule and, if things go well, a deep run in the US Open Cup. And don’t forget that the MLS All-Star Game is in Portland this season, as well, with Bayern Munich coming to town as the opposition.

Rarely have the expectations been so high, coming off of finishing first place in the Western Conference in the regular season, making the semis of the US Open Cup and reaching the conference finals of the MLS playoffs. Trophies are on the minds of many who support the Timbers, with Portland among the favorites to make a serious run at the MLS Cup, Supporters’ Shield and the US Open Cup. A return of the Cascadia Cup to the Rose City is also on the minds of many in the Timbers Army.

But with those increased expectations come questions that will be answered as the season progresses. A few can be addressed during the preseason.

One major issue will be whether Andrew Weber or Jake Gleeson will become Donovan Ricketts’ primary backup. Ricketts will turn 37 in July, and while he is coming off of one of his best seasons, he can’t be expected to carry the bulk of the load in net. And while a contract was offered to Milos Kocic, it’s likely that the Serbian-born keeper won’t be back. Whether the backup is Weber, the former Seattle Sounder who spent much of 2013 with Phoenix in USL Pro, or Gleeson, who has fought injuries since he started 4 matches for the Timbers in 2011 (and hasn’t started with the first team since), could be determined as the preseason moves on.

Another issue will be the fitness of 2 of the bigger acquisitions for Portland. Steve Zakuani only made 2 appearances for the Sounders after sports hernia surgery, and Fernández has only played in 1 match since the summer due to a FIFA suspension related to a transfer dispute between his Argentine club, Estudiantes, and his former Mexican club, Tigres. If both can get into shape fairly quickly, then their appearance in the starting XI when the season opener against Philadelphia take place may be all but guaranteed.

Then there’s the defense. With the addition of Norberto Paparatto and the return of Mikael Silvestre from injury, the veteran depth in the back has never been better. Timbers manager Caleb Porter now has plenty of options, and the preseason will be a good chance to experiment and see who can play with whom. It will also be a chance for the young players like Brian Gallego, Alvas Powell and Rauwshan McKenzie to show that they can improve and earn shots for positions in cup competitions and spot starts during the league season.

Those might be the questions that start to get answered in the preseason. More will come along as time goes on and the first matches in Tucson are played. By time the team returns to Portland and begins preparations for the Rose City Invitational preseason tourney at JWF, Porter and his staff will be getting an idea on how things will start to come together.

The March 8 season opener against Philadelphia isn’t that far away. While there’s no way all of the major questions going into the preseason will have been answered by then, there could be a few hints at what the answers might end up being.

But that will be then. The preseason means the ride that will be the 2014 Portland Timbers season is about to begin.

Buckle up. The ride could be fun. And occasionally a bit wild.

NEXT UP: February 1 – Portland Timbers vs. Sporting Kansas City, North Stadium, Kino Sports Complex, Tucson, Ariz. 9:00 p.m. EST, no television.

Ray MARCHAM

Nationality:
USA
College:
Washington State
Club Domestic:
Portland Timbers
Club Foreign:
Arsenal
Cascadia native and a fan for as long as he can remember, Ray was brought up on the old NASL. Learned to love MLS. Wanted to play like Clive Charles. Then like Tony Adams. Only dreams, of course.
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