It’s not every day that a player with over 200 appearances with Manchester United makes his way into a preseason camp, but that is just what happened this spring as Mikael Silvestre trialed with the Portland Timbers for just over three weeks in Oregon and Tucson.
Not surprisingly, Timbers head coach Caleb Porter liked what he saw. Given the chance to start and play in a number of the preseason Desert Friendlies in Arizona, Silvestre quickly showed his quality.
“Mikael is a guy who brings a presence,” said Porter. “He made a real positive impression on the players, the team, and the coaching staff.”
Following the trial, Portland made a trade with Seattle to acquire Silvestre’s discovery rights and signed him on February 20. After a journey back to Paris to acquire a work visa, Silvestre arrived in Portland on Wednesday with an eye towards being available for the Timbers’ season opener against New York Red Bulls on Sunday (Mar. 3, 4:30pm PT, ESPN2, 750 AM The Game).
Known primarily as a center back throughout his club and country career—he has 40 national team caps with France including matches in the European Championships and World Cup—Silvestre was initially targeted as bringing a greater depth to the position. After preseason injuries sidelined David Horst (20 starts in 2012) and Hanyer Mosquera (25 starts in 2012), the Timbers had been leaning heavily on second-year defender Andrew Jean-Baptiste as well as 2013 MLS SuperDraft second round draft pick Dylan Tucker-Gangnes. Though Porter has been pleased by the play of both young defenders and feels confident in their ability, he acknowledges that Silvestre brings a great deal of knowledge and skill to the backline.
WATCH: Silvestre's preseason goal vs. Seattle
“He’s a cerebral player,” said Porter. “He reads the game very well and he is also good on the ball so he can help us start attacks out of the back.”
Porter also noted the Frenchman’s ability off the ball as well, “I was impressed with just how well he moves. He takes good angles to the ball.”
Given a career that included nine seasons with Manchester United as well as stints with Inter Milan, Arsenal, and Werder Bremen, Silvestre’s deep understanding of the game will certainly be a benefit to Portland’s 2013 MLS campaign. But perhaps most importantly to Porter, Silvestre quickly integrated himself into the team both on and off the pitch. Dipping his toe into the Cascadia Cup rivalry, he scored a preseason goal against the Sounders in Tucson and Porter believes that his sheer presence within the squad is as essential as his ability on the field.
“He’s a good guy, he’s a good person,” said Porter. “In some of the chats with him, the guys liked him, he really meshed with the group. That’s just as important as his ability to help settle our backline is how he’s going to mesh with the group. We felt it was a win-win to add him.”