On Thursday, the Portland Timbers kick off their sixth-annual preseason tournament at Providence Park as they play host to Western Conference foe Real Salt Lake at 7:30 p.m. PT (TICKETS, Webstream at Timbers.com).
This year's edition of the tournament also features Cascadia-rival Vancouver Whitecaps FC and MLS newcomer Minnesota United FC. The Timbers will play United FC on Sunday, February 12, at 5:00 p.m. PT (TICKETS, Webstream at Timbers.com) and Vancouver on Wednesday, February 15, at 7:30 p.m. PT (TICKETS, Webstream at Timbers.com).
Ahead of these matches, Timbers.com offers a brief look at each of these three teams and what they've been up during the offseason.
Real Salt Lake
The biggest news out of Salt Lake City this offseason was not a signing but a departure, as the team declined the option on longtime midfielder Javier Morales. The 37 year-old Argentine had spent the past 10 seasons in the claret and cobalt and led the team to its sole MLS Cup title in 2009.
Also leaving is longtime Salt Lake defender Jámison Olave. The big Costa Rican spent a total of six seasons with RSL, appearing in the team's two MLS Cup Final appearances in 2009 and 2013.
But Real Salt Lake head coach Jeff Cassar appears to be filling the voids left by Olave and Morales with young talent, both from RSL's highly-touted academy and from clubs abroad.
To this end, RSL brought back young midfielder Sebastian Saucedo from his loan to Veracruz of Liga MX, signed the 22 year-old Slovakian midfielder Albert Rusnák to a young-DP contract, and brought back former RSL Academy prospect Brooks Lennon on loan from Barclays Premier League giant Liverpool FC.
Yet Cassar's starting line-up will also feature many familiar faces. Leading the team's attack are DP strikers Joao Plata and Yuri Movsisyan, while the team's defense continues to revolve around the work of midfield stalwart Kyle Beckerman and goalkeeper Nick Rimando.
Minnesota United FC
Newcomers to Major League Soccer in 2017, former NASL outfit Minnesota United FC hopes to put its stamp on the league this season.
General manager Manny Lagos and head coach Adrian Heath have assembled a team that features a core of players that are likely unfamiliar to many Timbers fans, but one that may also surprise a number of United's opponents this season.
One of the biggest question marks is whether the team's striker Christian Ramirez can bring to MLS the same level of production that made him a star of the NASL. In his three seasons in Minnesota, the 25 year-old attacker scored 51 goals for the Loons, winning the NASL Golden Boot with 20 goals during his breakout 2014 season.
The same question also applies to midfielder Miguel Ibarra, who is reuniting with United this season after transferring to Liga MX's Club León in 2015. Like Ramirez, Ibarra made his breakthrough in 2014, when he won the NASL's Golden Ball Award (MVP) and earned a call-up to the U.S. Men's National Team.
Surrounding Ibarra and Ramirez are a number of MLS veterans – including Johan Venegas, Kevin Molino, and Collen Warner – and an assortment of signings from around the world.
Whether head coach Adrian Heath can bring this diverse assemblage together in time to make the playoffs in a very competitive Western Conference is anybody's guess. But MLSsoccer.com's Matt Doyle has a hunch that this Minnesota team will be more competitive than many fans and pundits have predicted.
“There's uncertainty [with this roster] but also experience and upside, and – this is what impresses me – balance,” Doyle wrote.
But there's a caveat: “[T]his is MLS, after all, so what seems plausible one minute can turn impossible in the next.”
Vancouver Whitecaps FC
Up until very recently, it had been a quiet offseason for the Timbers' Canadian rival.
Despite a disappointing 2016 season in which head coach Carl Robinson's side failed to make the playoffs, Whitecaps FC made few moves this offseason.
Gone, however, are DP midfielder Pedro Morales and forwards Blas Pérez and Masato Kudo.
Wednesday morning, however, the Caps addressed a need at forward by bringing in former Seattle Sounders FC striker Fredy Montero as a new DP signing on a one-year loan from Chinese Super League club Tianjin Teda.
And then there are the constants.
A defense led by Costa Rican international Kendall Waston, Tim Parker and Danish goalkeeper David Ousted should provide continuity along the back line, while in the attack the team still possesses the speedy, skillful Kekuta Manneh.