Why should the Southern US get all the fun this preseason?
While MLS teams do battle in Arizona, Florida and South Carolina, the Timbers are returning to Portland on Monday night to play their first game of the year at JELD-WEN Field. Their opponents, the San Jose Earthquakes, join Chivas USA and Swedish first-division club AIK in a four-team round-robin tournament that will serve as the last opportunity for coaches of the MLS clubs to get a realistic read on how ready their squads are for the upcoming season, and the last chance to find weaknesses that might need addressing before First Kick on March 10.
And perhaps most importantly, after a wild, raucous and entertaining expansion season, MLS in the Rose City is officially back. Let the games begin.
Portland Timbers — Portland came into MLS last year with the stated intention of making the MLS Cup Playoffs. They ended up falling just short, but impressed with their set-piece prowess, their ruggedness in defense and – mostly – their boisterous and passionate fans. Year 2 has already seen two huge additions in forward Kris Boyd, the Scottish Premier League's all-time leading scorer, and Franck Songo'o, a former Barcelona youth product and Cameroon international. They should make it so that the prolonged goal droughts that undid the Timbers in 2011 are consigned to the trash bin of history. Now, with the season just around the bend, it's all about getting everyone on the same page.
Chivas USA — After a year of playing mix and match, Robin Fraser seems finally to have found the personnel he needs to play his preferred 4-3-3 formation. The key to it all is probably Ecuadorian central midfielder Oswaldo Minda, a veteran of CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying and Copa Libertadores battles. Minda, a physical but skilled battler in the Shalrie Joseph mold, will anchor a midfield that also welcomes Miller Bolaños, a pure creator who should take some of the burden from Nick LaBrocca's shoulders. Defensively, the Rojiblancos rebuilt their right side with the additions of James Riley and John Alexander Valencia.
San Jose Earthquakes — For the past two years, it's been the Chris Wondolowski show. This offseason, Frank Yallop and John Doyle were finally able to get their star striker some help. It arrives in the form of Honduran winger Marvin Chávez, who will add pace, service and width on the right; Colombian playmaker Tressor Moreno, who most feel is the first pure "No. 10" in San Jose since the team's rebirth in 2008; and bruising center forward Steven Lenhart, who returns in a fulltime capacity after missing the second half of 2011 for personal reasons. For 2012, it looks like the Quakes could have one of the league's most potent attacks.
|Feb. 27, 8 pm||Chivas USA 0, AIK 2|
|Feb. 27, 10:30 pm||Portland 1, San Jose 1|
|March 1, 8 pm||San Jose Earthquakes vs. AIK|
|March 1, 10:30 pm||Portland Timbers vs. Chivas USA|
|March 4, 5:30 pm||Chivas USA vs. San Jose Earthquakes|
|March 4, 8 pm||Portland Timbers vs. AIK|