New faces were in abundance around Jeld-Wen Field on Monday morning, as the Timbers opened training camp in preparation for the 2013 season. Unlike years past, the team was mostly together on Monday, as Rodney Wallace was the only absent player expected to be in green and white on opening day.
Before the Timbers opened practice to the media, the club announced that Jose Valencia had been signed to a multi-year contract. Trencito’s deal will not make him a young designated player, however, likely leaving the third DP spot open for the Timbers. The Timbers could leave this spot open and rake in the appurtenant financial benefits, or could look to add a player midseason, especially if somebody attractive were to surface through the allocation order process.
Conspicuously absent from training, however, were Kris Boyd and Franck Songo’o. At training, the club reported that it was still in discussions with Boyd, and that an update may be available in approximately one week. The Timbers were also guarded as to Songo’o, saying that discussions were ongoing and more detail was likely a couple weeks away.
The Timbers were split into three relatively casual games of keep away on the south end of Jeld-Wen Field when the media were let into practice, with the goalkeepers practicing in the shadow of the North End. After a brief meeting with new skipper Caleb Porter, the team split into two more vigorous games of keep away, with two centerbacks playing all-time distributor at each end of the box.
Mobi Fehr stood out in the game closest to the media on the west side of the field, consistently displaying good technique on the ball, quick passing, and active movement playing mostly in the center of the box. Both Hanyer Mosquera and David Horst looked a little bit rusty in distribution, although – to be fair – no more than should be expected on the first day of training.
After those games were finished, the team split into three teams for 8 v. 8 short-sided games. Most of the presumptive starters were on the blue team, including Diegos Chara and Valeri, Johnsons Ryan and Will, and newbie left back Michael Harrington. Diego was stranded out wide right in the 3-4-1 diamond midfield formation and – consistent with his history on the right – didn’t make much of an impact there. Ryan Johnson showed nicely, displaying early signs of being a much more technical striker than the Timbers have had in the past. Valeri had a couple nice moments at the point of the diamond, including an early goal and some good link up play with Ryan Johnson. Otherwise, Valeri had a solid, if perhaps a little bit unspectacular, day.
The orange team featured a flatter midfield of Darlington Nagbe, Danny Mwanga, Eric Alexander, and Kalif Alhassan, with Bright Dike up top. Freshly signed Ryan Miller took up a spot on the right flank. This team looked a little bit out of sorts, as Alhassan was often caught with the ball at his foot. Eric Alexander, however, had a couple nice moments in central midfield.
The green team was primarily composed of youngsters, including Jake Gleeson, draft pick Dylan Tucker-Ganges, Brent Richards, Sebastian Rincon, Steven Evans, Fehr, and Valencia. While young, this team showed some pluck, giving the star-studded blue side all it could handle in the final game of the day. Sal Zizzo made a few nice runs from the right back position, including one in which he found space to unleash a shot that sailed just high of the far upper ninety. I was again impressed with Fehr’s work in the middle, often finding Rincon and Valencia in a position to test the defense. Finally, Rincon showed off the runs that made him a starlet on the reserves last season, as well as a very recognizable high-pitched yell.
After practice, Caleb Porter, Will Johnson, Jack Jewbsury, Ryan Miller, and Ryan Johnson addressed the media.
- Gavin Wilkinson and Merritt Paulson took in practice from the sidelines. Neither stuck around to talk to the media afterward, however.
- The Timbers were donning new training outfits featuring white stripes down the sleeves. They’re nicer than the old training get-up.
- While nobody with the club would admit as much today, it is clear that Kris Boyd’s departure is imminent. The bigger revelation from this morning, however, is that it seems unlikely that Franck Songo’o will stay in Portland. I would think Franck would be in camp if it were simply a matter of renegotiating his contract to retain him at a lower number. Rather, I think it is probable that the Timbers are in the process of offloading him, one way or another. Because I think the Timbers are going to use their single free offseason buyout on Boyd, it seems likely that Songo’o will depart via trade or transfer, which would also explain the longer timeline for finalizing his status with the club.
- Unlike his introductory press conference, Caleb Porter refused to comment on the status of either Songo’o or Boyd. Porter didn’t let on much about the captaincy, either, saying only “most likely we’ll have a captain who will be our captain throughout the entire year.” Porter did, however, leave open the possibility of having a club captain and a separate gameday captain.
- Jack Jewsbury, for his part, expressed his desire to retain the armband. “Yeah it’d be huge. Obviously it’s a position that I’ve had the last couple years, and it’s an honor to put that on every single game, not only for the guys in that locker room, but for this organization.”
- While all three of the new players interviewed after training were affable in front of the press gaggle, Will Johnson shone above all others. It is clear that Will is very familiar with the organization and the challenges of the past two years. Relatively unprompted, Johnson spoke to the difficulty of winning on the road. “Every team has good players, every away game is a very tough game, and so we just have to learn that very quickly and bring a new mental toughness to this organization.”
- In the best quote of the day, Johnson further spoke to his approach to the road, saying, “I always used to tell Jason [Kreis], if I had to be rested, I don’t want to be rested at home because those are easier games. I’d like to play all the road games because you really need a strong mentality, you need a road warrior mentality, if you will, because without road results you have to be perfect at home. And the realistic point of view is that no one is going to be perfect at home, so winning on the road needs to be an absolute priority, and something that hasn’t gone right in the first two seasons, and is an extremely difficult challenge, especially when you’re assembling a new team. But it’s something that we have to figure out a way to do, otherwise we’ll be on the outside looking in again, and I don’t see that as an option.” Welcome to Portland, Will Johnson.
- Ryan Miller came out to the media gaggle wearing flip-flops, humbling me, and my freezing shoe-and-sock-ensconced toes. Miller said that if he came back to MLS, he either wanted to play for his hometown Chicago Fire or a “very good situation.” The person Miller credited with convincing him that Portland was such a situation was USL Timber George Josten, with whom Miller played with in Columbus.
- On a final programming note, I’m going to try to make it to training as much as I can. As a practical matter, that means primarily weekends and holidays. When I do, I’ll try to put together at least a short recap and, of course, will live tweet the open portions of practice.
Onward, Rose City!
 Brent Richards played right back in the first game, and switched with Zizzo in the second