Three-game tournament is the point where the pre-season goes from friendly to serious
It's not exactly Camp Cupcake, the players were subjected to the "Tunnel of Love" fitness drill at the end of a two-hour practice yesterday, but so far pre-season 2013 hasn't been boot camp either. Relatively tame practices have been paired with four fairly mundane friendlies against colleges and Mexican reserve teams. That's all about to change in about 72 hours.
FC Dallas kicks off the Portland Pre-Season Tournament (which desperately needs a better name as Stumptown Footy correctly opined) on Sunday against AIK of Sweden before the big MLS matchups against Portland and San Jose. Schellas noted after practice yesterday that this tournament would be huge in evaluating players as you're obviously wanting to judge guys against the caliber of player they'll be facing every week.
This tournament is particularly important for five players:
1 - Raul Fernandez The Peruvian keeper comes to FC Dallas with a fantastic pedigree that suggests he could be the starter here from day one. However, a great pre-season from Chris Seitz coupled with the fact that Fernandez has really only played one pre-season game with the club means that this tournament is huge for him. In my eyes, Seitz is still the leader in the clubhouse as the team is much more familiar with him and Fernandez will need to impress in Portland to win the job. He's definitely one I'll be watching very closely.
2 - Cam Wilder Can the kid from Kentucky make this team? It seemed a huge long shot at the start of pre-season, but with the incredible lack of depth on the wings and Wilder's nice change of pace couple with his great attitude...well the odds become a bit better. If he can come in for the second half of a game and make a huge impact to show Schellas that he can be a second half impact sub in MLS, his odds of making the team will go up big time.
3 - George John I wrote about it yesterday for MLSsoccer.com and while this tournament is important for some to earn either roster spots or playing time, for George John the next week's games are important to build up his match fitness. No one really questions his starting spot, but he missed the last month of the season due to injury and really needs to log some game minutes to get ready for March 2.
4 - Jair Benitez The Colombian left back has competition breathing down his neck for the first time in quite awhile with the Brazilian Michel impressing throughout the pre-season. The left back spot is still Benitez's to lose, but a questionable performance or two couple with the Brazilian proving he can play up to this MLS standard would really throw the position into a full on battle. However, a strong showing would simply solidify Jair's starting spot much to the dismay of some around here.
5 - Bradlee Baladez This one is the selfish pick of the five. It's not that Baladez has a ton to prove at the moment as he's still a prospect, but I'm just extremely intrigued to see what Baladez can do against MLS competition. He's scored a few goals this pre-season and if he can do it against higher level competition, the idea of Baladez making the matchday 18 earlier in the season becomes a serious reality. He's big, strong and has all the tools to succeed, but just needs to learn the nuances of the game that come with experience. He certainly has some good forwards in front of him to learn from.
Who will you be tracking in the Portland tournament in the last chance to impress before it all starts on March 2?