Where will Fernandez prove his worth?
Since Brian Fernandez arrived in Portland a week ago, a popular topic of discussion has been where he will best fit in the Portland Timbers lineup.
Does he replace Jeremy Ebobisse up top?
Does he play on the right wing, where Andres Flores has been a critical glue guy in recent weeks?
Does he start, or — initially — come off the bench?
There's a chance some of those questions might be answered Wednesday at Houston.
It makes sense that the Timbers don't want to rush their most expensive addition onto the field before he's comfortable. Also understandable is the urge to get a first look at what the 5-9, 155-pound Fernandez can do.
"We have to make sure we're smart in the way we bring him in," Timbers coach Giovanni Savarese says. "He has to adapt well. We want to make sure he succeeds."
Fernandez, 24, must understand how to play in whatever system Savarese decides to employ. It also will take time for the Argentine to build chemistry with his new teammates.
"Individuals will be better if collectively we all understand the same thing," says Timbers midfielder Diego Valeris.
My guess? Fernandez debuts up top rather than on the wing. That would be the simplest way to introduce him to MLS.
If he were to start on the right, potentially taking Flores' spot, it would require a shift from the formation that has served Portland well in recent weeks — including in Friday's 1-0 loss at Vancouver.
With the way Jorge Moreira flies forward from his right back position, one of the jobs for Flores is to help provide cover.
"Flores has given us a lot of balance. He's been able to do a very specific role for us that has been very useful. And then when he has the ball he's a smart player," Savarese says.
Flores came to Portland with Savarese last season and has the advantage of playing for Savarese with the North American Soccer League's New York Cosmos.
The Timbers' move to acquire Fernandez was a big deal. His transfer fee — reported in Mexico as at least $10 million, but unconfirmed — is one of the largest in MLS history. His addition means Portland has one of the elite groups of attacking players in the league.
So, whether his debut comes on Wednesday (5:30 p.m. PT kickoff) or on May 25 at Philadelphia, he will have the spotlight on him.
• Wednesday's match figures to be a challenge. Despite suffering their second loss of the season on Saturday at Seattle, the Dynamo are in fourth place and one of four Western teams unbeaten at home so far this season (not counting the Timbers). Houston missed four high-quality chances in the 1-0 defeat at Seattle.
Adding to the challenge for Portland will be the absence of midfielder Diego Chara, who picked up his fifth yellow card of the season late in the Vancouver game and must serve a one-game suspension.
It has been almost four years since the Timbers went without Chara on the field. Portland has 13 losses and seven draws in 20 matches without Chara since a home win over San Jose on July 5, 2015.
• Friday's loss at Vancouver ended a three-game Timbers win streak, but shouldn't be considered a blow to their momentum. The tough part is that the final two stops on their 12-match road string are more daunting. Philadelphia (7-3-2) is a surprise co-leader in the Eastern Conference.
The result at Vancouver was more about how well the Whitecaps defended than it was about any Timbers shortcomings.
• The Portland Thorns, as coach Mark Parsons emphasizes, are focusing on raising their level of play every week. Given the personnel changes necessary because of the Women's World Cup, a big part of that is preparing young players to take on significant roles.
Saturday's 3-1 win at Orlando — both Thorns victories this National Women's Soccer League season have come at Orlando City Stadium — provided an opportunity for several players to step forward.
Gabby Seiler got her first start for the Thorns, playing as part of a back three. Goalkeeper Britt Eckerstron made four saves, including a nice diving stop on a Marta volley.
Marta's teammate on Brazil's national team delivered a wonderful free kick to give Portland the lead — Andressinha's first goal for the Thorns coming on a dipper from just outside the 18-yard box.
The test figures to be tougher this week as the Thorns (2-0-2, eight points; tied for third place) take on the Washington Spirit (2-1-1) — after spending the week training on the East Coast for the second time this season. Fortunately for Parsons, he will have Australians Caitlin Foord, Ellie Carpenter and Hayley Raso for one more game before their World Cup departure.
Foord scored on a nice volley in the second half at Orlando. Raso drew her first action for Portland since a back injury late last season, coming on at halftime and playing with her usual speed and energy.
Even with nine players set to be gone for the World Cup, Parsons remains excited about the challenges in front of him and his team.
"The biggest priority (is) we want to be growing more than any other team in the league," he says. "Here we get into a period where I'm excited. We get to give more opportunities to players who have been working hard, and we've got such belief in the players that can step in and we're excited to see them."
Two players who won't get that chance are Mallory Weber and Ifeoma Onumonu. The forwards were waived last week when the Thorns signed forward Simone Charley, midfielder Emily Ogle and defender Madison Pogarch to their supplemental roster.
Parsons called it "brutal" to have to part ways with Weber and Onumonu.
This season, National Women's Soccer League clubs are allowed to have up to 26 players, 22 on the main roster and four supplemental spots to help cover World Cup absences. With last week's moves, Portland has 26 players rostered.
• The NWSL unbeaten run for the North Carolina Courage ended at 15 games Sunday when Chicago beat North Carolina 3-1.
• It probably flew under your sports radar on Sunday, given what was happening in Denver at the same time, but Timbers 2 (5-2-3, 18 points) stayed on top of the Western Conference of the USL Championship with a 4-1 win over the Defiance at Cheney Stadium in Tacoma, Washington.
Dairon Asprilla had two goals, including a penalty kick, and Brayan Hurtado came off the bench to draw the penalty and score a goal. And, Foster Langsdorf scored his third goal in as many games against the team formerly called Sounders 2
T2 are off until a May 25 home match against El Paso (3-2-4, 9).
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