Timbers strive for comfort in preseason

Familiarity with each other is key to preparing for season

By Paul Danzer, Columbian community sports reporter

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PORTLAND — With the regular-season opener 10 days away, a main focus of the Portland Timbers' final two preseason games will be getting players in the projected starting lineup comfortable with one another.

"Going into the game on Wednesday, and on Saturday, we need to be working towards March 3," assistant coach Sean McAuley said.

While no starting lineup is set in stone, the lineups — or at least combinations of players — Portland uses against F.C. Dallas on Wednesday and against Sweden's AIK on Saturday should give fans an indication of what the starting lineup will look like when New York visits on March 3.

Portland and F.C. Dallas kick off about 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at Jeld-Wen Field, following a 5 p.m. match between San Jose and AIK. Tickets are available, and the game will be streamed live on Portlandtimbers.com.

On Tuesday, Timbers owner Merritt Paulson announced that the team has signed French defender Mikael Silvestre. Silvestre was on trial with Portland during the team's 12-day training camp in Arizona, then stayed in Arizona to train with Seattle. The Sounders held Silvestre's MLS discovery rights, so Portland had to send something to Seattle, though no trade was announced.

Injuries to three experienced center backs might have contributed to Portland's decision to sign Silvestre, who played 10 seasons in the English Premier League but at age 35 was searching for a team.

Coach Caleb Porter said after Sunday's 3-3 draw with San Jose that he liked the fight in his team.

"I was pleased that you could see moments where we showed Portland Timbers football — our identity and what it's going to be," Porter said. "But we also showed that we're adjustable as well, and we'll do what we need to do to win games."

On Sunday, Portland started with four defenders, three midfielders and three forwards. Darlington Nagbe and Kalif Alhassan flanked Ryan Johnson up front. New designated player Diego Valeri played as an attacking midfielder, with Diego Chara and Will Johnson supporting him. Ryan Miller on the right and Michael Harrington on the left appear set at the outside back spots they were signed to fill.

Central defense is the most unsettled position. After Hanyer Mosquera left with an apparent injury at halftime on Sunday, rookie Dylan Tucker-Gangnes played the second half alongside second-year player Andrew Jean-Baptiste.

"I definitely need to work on my positioning on headers. That was an adjustment," Tucker-Gangnes said. "The forwards are a little smarter now. They know how to body you up."

The Timbers' injury list includes midfielder Jack Jewsbury, central defenders David Horst, Futty Danso and Mosquera, and goalkeeper Milos Kocic.

"The ones we've lost to injury, we're hoping they progress and get back as quickly as possible," McAuley said. "But it also gives an opportunity for the others. We're building a stronger squad and that gives them another opportunity to play."