The Timbers closed the preseason with a 1-1 draw against AIK of Sweden Saturday night. They head into the regular season quickly as the first game is Sunday, March 3 against New York. As in the other preseason matches they did some things well but still have some areas to work on.
I felt the midfield and forwards looked very strong Saturday. Caleb Porter wants to play a possession-based style of soccer and the midfielders look like they're up to the task. The passing between themselves was good and they also were effective going forward. Diego Chara did a great job winning the ball, as he needs to do. Diego Valeri looks like a very good signing for Portland, as he kept getting forward to either shoot or pass. He was playing very high up at times, almost right behind the forwards.
As for the forwards I've really been impressed with Darlington Nagbe's play. He seems like a completely different player this season in Porter's system. He played for Porter in college, at Akron, and it looks like Porter knows how best to use him. Nagbe hasn't gone at goal himself as much as he's playing behind the front striker, setting up his teammates. In the game against San Jose he put Ryan Johnson through for one of his three goals and against AIK he did the work of getting deep into the box, drawing a defender to him, then finding left back Michael Harrington who was wide open and scored with a good shot to the far post.
The defense, however, still needs improvement. When AIK was able to win the ball and get forward the Timbers' defense had trouble stopping them. Right now they don't have defenders who are quick enough to get back and cover when the ball goes over to the other team. The more time they spend playing together the better the backline will be, but until things change Portland will be vulnerable to the counterattack. That makes the midfield even more important.
Overall, though, I actually am looking forward to 2013 with cautious optimism. There's a new coach, some new players, and some returning players who look improved. I'm ready for Sunday already.