After two weeks of conditioning and intrasquad scrimmages, the Portland Timbers will shift their preseason training to Southern California, with games against actual opponents on the horizon.
The Timbers' preseason camp in SoCal opens Monday in Carson, Calif., and will feature four exhibition games throughout the week, the first coming Tuesday morning against defending MLS Cup champions LA Galaxy at the Home Depot Center.
"You can only play so many games against each other before you want to play some games against someone else," Timbers head coach John Spencer said last Friday at JELD-WEN Field before departing for the 10-day camp. "So we're looking forward to getting out of town."
The Timbers will play MLS expansion club Montreal Impact on Friday, MLS Cup runners-up Houston on Sunday and the Chicago Fire on Feb. 15. Spencer said the games will be most useful for getting his players into game shape and added he won't start experimenting with lineups and formations until the club returns home for a three-match preseason tournament starting Feb. 27.
"It's going to be good to go test ourselves and go play against the champions from last year," defender Eric Brunner said. "Obviously, John is going to have ideas of what he wants us to do when we play in those games, and we're going to go out there and get fit first and foremost and try to win those."
While the goal of the club's mainstays will be getting into form for the season opener, the preseason games will mean a lot more for a handful of players gunning for a roster spot. It's likely some of the players who arrived in Los Angeles with the team won't be making the return trip.
"You've got to give everyone the opportunity to get down there, get some more minutes, get into some games," Spencer said. "I must admit, some of the young guys, Miguel [Ibarra, 2012 Supplemental Draft pick] and Brendan [King, 2012 SuperDraft pick], play some nice football. They've done ever so well."
The preseason camp will also be a chance for last year's mainstays to begin gelling with Portland's new roster additions. At some point during the Timbers' stay in Southern California, the team expects Designated Player Kris Boyd and recently signed midfielder Charles Renken to arrive. Boyd is waiting for his green card status to be resolved.
Portland are also integrating two new defenders, Colombian Hanyer Mosquera and first-round SuperDraft pick Andrew Jean-Baptiste.
"We're going to have meals together and it's just bringing that camaraderie together," Brunner said. "That's what preseason is about. We've got some new faces in here and we'll be getting together and understanding each other not just on the field but off the field as well."
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.