The Portland Timbers and Seattle Sounders met in Arizona for a preseason "friendly" on Saturday night, and both sides were able to learn some things about their make-up for the coming MLS season from the 2-1 Sounders' victory over their bitter rivals.
It can be hard to glean much from early tune-up exhibitions, but we did note three main takeaways for each Cascadia side. We'll tackle the two-time defending Western Conference champion Sounders first.
Jordan Morris looks back to his best
Surely aided by an extended US national team camp and the 90-minute friendly outing that capped it, Jordan Morris was the most consistently dangerous player on the field on Saturday night. The speedster's running repeatedly stretched and pulled at the Portland defense, which allowed him the get behind them on several occasions.
He also played an important hold-up part in the opening goal, battled to win restarts, did some pressure valve work and even got back to add in a little defense. If this performance was indicative of the Morris we'll see this season, he should be able to return to 2016 production levels.
Test-driving a new model
Seattle's Nicolas Lodeiro, right, dribbles past Portland's David Guzman / USA Today Sports Images
Prior to the game, Seattle boss Brian Schmetzer spoke of wanting to install an auxiliary formation the team could comfortably operate from when situation or selection dictated shifting out of their usual 4-2-3-1. The coach went with a 4-4-2 diamond on Saturday night, and it looked a rather good fit as the Sounders regulars carried play in the first half.
Playmaker Nicolas Lodeiro often allowed the midfield shuttlers to race past, giving himself added targets to pick out with accurate lead passes. Free to roam forward, both first goal scorer Christian Roldan and Harry Shipp crashed the box with abandon to help the strikers harass Portland's back line. And one glaring lapse aside, the Sounders were also solid defensively during that opening period.
More young talent to come
The Seattle youth system has produced Morris and DeAndre Yedlin this decade, and the second half showed they have much more precocious talent on the horizon. Versatile teen attacker Handwalla Bwana scored Saturday night's winner, and could have easily bagged a second. The Homegrown Player shows great composure in finding area space to fire, and could be an exciting new weapon for a club that often failed to be goal-dangerous from wide channels last season.
There were also a couple of young midfielders that impressed over the final 30 minutes of play. Seventeen-year-old Dylan Teves and Ray Serrano, who is all of 15 (!), each displayed great calm in the build and an ability to play incisive positive passes in the final third.
The midfield needs depth
Recovering box-to-box man Diego Chara will get a late preseason start and, of course, Darlington Nagbe is off with Atlanta now. Portland's first two warm-up games have made it clear they still need to acquire some midfield back-up ready to jump into the line-up if one of the three starters are unavailable.
Portland's Lawrence Olum, right, battles with Seattle's Jordy Delem / USA Today Sports Images
Lawrence Olum has twice gotten the call to fill Chara's boots, and he just doesn't look up to it technically or tactically. Bill Tuiloma is being used in central defense and teen Paraguay prospect Cristhian Paredes looks as though he'll need more time to acclimate. The Timbers could sorely use some reliable extra central park help for a long season that will see skilled tough-tackler David Guzman take extended leave for World Cup duty.
Andy Polo is on his horse
Andy Polo worked only 20 minutes on his Timbers debut, but it was more than enough time to demonstrate that the Peru Winger will bring an new dimension to their attack this season. Every chance he got, Polo galloped down the flank with pace to put Seattle defenders in react mode.
Though the 23-year-old probably won't match the inaugural MLS season production of Sebastian Blanco, he is certainly talented enough around the box to top the three goals scored by Nagbe last season. More importantly, his wheels and willingness to run at defenders should grant extra space to his new attack mates.
Who's the No. 1 in net?
While Giovanni Savarese has now taken the head coaching reins from Caleb Porter, Portland haven't changed their shape much from last season's favored 4-2-3-1, and there are several field starters returning with clear depth chart advantages intact.
Still, new manager means plenty of preseason position battles, and the Timbers should have a good one in goal. Jake Gleeson is battling a groin injury, so Jeff Attinella (who started the last 13 games in 2017) has had the first chance to make his line-up case.
He made a strong one on Saturday night. Attinella made an fine initial kick save on the Seattle break-in sequence that ended in the opening strike, and showed excellent command of his area with a variety of catches, punches and darts off the line.