Five goals scored and only one conceded was a fine way to close the home portion of the Portland Timbers’ Reserve League schedule. Bright Dike scored twice while Rodney Wallace, Jorge Perlaza and Brian Umony all added goals of their own to complete the domination of Chivas USA at Jeld-Wen Field. Portland could have scored six, had Freddie Braun‘s wonderful chip not hit the post late in the second half. What was more interesting than the final score, though, was Amos Magee‘s use of Eric Alexander as a left sided midfielder and Omar Jasseh‘s debut.
With Khalif Alhassan due to miss the upcoming Vancouver match, John Spencer has some thinking to do regarding his midfielders. Alhassan’s red card suspension will coincide with Jack Jewsbury‘s absence due to yellow card accumulation, forcing a change at two positions in the middle of the park. James Marcelin seems almost certain to replace Jewsbury as a deep-lying defensive midfielder, and spent the first half of the reserve match in that role. Set just above David Horst and Steve Purdy, Marcelin helped slow play in the middle and fed Peter Lowry going forward. The bigger question is how to replace Alhassan.
Despite starting on the right in Saturday’s loss to Red Bull New York, and having played as central midfielder in several occasions, both in the reserves and first team, Alexander was slotted into the left midfield against the Chivas USA reserves. Due to his 45 minutes in New York, he could only play an equivalent amount in the reserve match, so the experiment lasted only for the first half. In a style rather similar to Alhassan’s play on the left wing, which is to say, not really as a winger, Alexander tucked in toward Lowry with ease and regularity. That movement inward allowed Wallace to push forward and become a very useful part of the Timbers’ attack. His presence in and out of the middle of the field also gave Alexander an opportunity to break up the Chivas attack at the point of inception and create several nice opportunities from those changes in possession.
As Darlington Nagbe seems to have cemented his place alongside Kenny Cooper on the front line, it does not appear that Spencer will move Nagbe back to the left midfield position he played for much of this season. Rather, the reserve match appears to have been a test run to see how well Alexander can acclimatize to that side of the field. I expect to see Alexander starting on the left with Sal Zizzo back in the starting XI on the right, in the game against Vancouver on Sunday.
Elsewhere, it was interesting to note the involvement and freedom given to Wallace at left back. His recent appearances have come in the midfield and his play on Tuesday, ostensibly at left back, mirrored that forward interest. Though I do not necessarily expect to see Wallace starting in place of Mike Chabala on Sunday, particularly with Jewsbury out (meaning Chabala is likely to take free kicks in his absence), Wallace has certainly been performing more comfortably since his initial demotion. Considering he is still just 22 years old, that is a positive sign for the Timbers.
Finally, trialist Jasseh made his Timbers debut, replacing Alexander at half-time. Playing wide on the left, he did not tuck inward, changing the angle of attack for the Timbers and holding Wallace further back throughout the second half. Though he did lack the intensity Alexander brings to the position, Jasseh was a competent inclusion in the side. In fact, his performance might have been the best of the myriad trialists in Portland’s reserve games and friendlies this year. Assisting on Dike’s second and nearly scoring himself, Jasseh was active in the offensive third, sharp on the ball and clearly capable of making precision passes. For a youngster, not even 19 years old, as well as a veteran of eighteen months of MLS life (spent in San Jose before his release during the summer transfer window), the signs were very encouraging. Only his casual approach to tracking back and his shoulder injury in the final moments raised doubts about his ability to contribute to the 2012 Portland Timbers.
In the end, the 5-1 was an emphatic response to the New York loss and a final push toward the Reserve League playoffs. If it was a pointer toward the Timbers’ first team game on the weekend, it will have been that much more of a benefit to the 1118 who attended.