2016 Simple Invitational Preview
Photo by Craig Mitchelldyer

2016 Simple Invitational Preview | Portland Timbers host three teams at Providence Park Feb. 21-27

On Sunday, the Portland Timbers kick off the 2016 Simple Invitational against the NASL's Minnesota United FC at Providence Park (5pm PT, TICKETS). It will be the first of three preseason games the Timbers will play in the tournament with the two others being Vancouver Whitecaps FC on Feb. 24 (7:30pm PT, TICKETS) and Chicago Fire on Feb. 27 (5pm PT, TICKETS).

The round robin tournament includes double headers each day so along with the Timbers matches, Vancouver will play Chicago on Sunday (2:30pm PT), Minnesota then plays the Fire on Feb. 24 (5pm PT) and the Whitecaps taking on the Loons on Feb. 27 (2:30pm PT).

Providence Park Details
- Gates 1, 2, and 4 will all be open at 30 minutes before the first match of the day.
- Tickets for The Simple Invitational are included in Timbers 2016 annual member packages. 
- All tickets allow entry to both matches each day.

Ahead of Sunday's match, here is a short primer on all of this year's Simple Invitational visiting participants.

Minnesota United FC
Minnesota United FC may have begun its existence under a different name – previous iterations of the team included NSC Minnesota and Minnesota Stars FC – but the Minnesota outfit, currently playing in the second-division NASL, has succeeded both on and off the field each year since its 2010 founding.

In 2011, United FC – then known as NSC Minnesota – won the NASL championship, defeating the Fort Lauderdale Strikers 3-1 on aggregate. That victory, though, came during a tumultuous period for the organization as its owners, the National Sports Center, relinquished operations of the team to the NASL itself.

But in November 2012, hope came in the form of Minnesota billionaire Bill McGuire, who purchased the struggling franchise, renamed the team Minnesota United FC, and dramatically increased the team's budget and staff.

Last March, Major League Soccer awarded the 23rd MLS franchise to a group led by McGuire and including owners of the Minnesota Twins, Timberwolves, and Wild.

The Loons have a few already committed to the team for the next several seasons, including standout fullbacks Justin Davis and Kevin Venegas, striker and 2014 NASL Golden Boot winner Christian Ramirez and 2015 NASL Best XI midfielder Ibson. Recent signings include former Houston, D.C. and Union forward Danny Cruz and Crew SC Homegrown product Ben Speas. Earlier this week, they acquired midfielder Bernardo Añor on a season-long loan from Sporting KC.

Former United FC assistant coach Carl Craig assumed head coaching duties in late 2015 when former head coach Manny Lagos announced his decision to become the team's full-time sporting director.

Vancouver Whitecaps FC
Timbers fans are well acquainted with long-time Cascadia rivals Vancouver Whitecaps FC. But the team traveling to Portland for this year's Simple Invitational will have a few unfamiliar faces.

Gone are defender Steven Beitashour (to Toronto FC) and midfielders Gershon Koffie (New England Revolution) and Mauro Rosales (FC Dallas). Entering the team are midfielder Christian Bolaños and veteran forwards Blas Perez and Masato Kudo. 2015 leading scorer Octavio Rivero and speedster Kekutah Manneh return along with 2015 Allstate MLS Goalkeeper of the Year finalist David Ousted.

The Whitecaps are hoping that Kudo, a Japanese international who scored nearly 100 goals for J-League club Kashiwa Reysol, can add much-needed scoring punch to a forward line whose six rostered forwards combined to score only 22 goals in 2015.

Whitecaps fans will certainly have their eyes trained on Kudo throughout this year's Simple Invitational.

Chicago Fire
2015 was a challenging season for the Chicago Fire. In September, the team fired head coach Frank Yallop and not even the interim coach bump could help the Fire prevent a third straight season without a playoff appearance.

The 2015-2016 offseason has brought with it dramatic turnover in Bridgeview. After Yallop's firing, veteran MLS executive Nelson Rodriguez stepped into a new role as the team's general manager. In November, Rodriguez hired former Serbian U-20 Men's National Team Head Coach Veljko Paunović to take over head coaching duties from interim Brian Bliss.

Upon assuming their new roles within the organization, both Paunović and Rodriguez immediately began putting their own stamp on the Fire's roster. So far this offseason, the pair have added much-needed defensive depth, jettisoned MLS veterans like Mike Magee, Jeff Larentowicz, and Jon Busch, and even traded away fan favorite and Homegrown Player Harrison Shipp to the Montreal Impact.

The team that will take the field at this year's Simple Invitational will be a new look Fire, one no doubt looking towards the 2016 MLS Cup playoffs. Be on the lookout for aggressive tinkering from Paunović  as he figures out which players can help his team out from the bottom of the MLS standings. 

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