Skip to content

Questions to answer in MLS preseason camp: Portland Timbers

Jan 25, 2013, 8:00 AM EDT

Caleb Porter

(Through the week we’ll look at three Major League Soccer clubs per day, considering what they need to accomplish and what questions deserve answers during preseason training camps. Opening day in MLS is March 2.)

Portland failed in 2012, and they know it. From the moment owner Merritt Paulson fired coach John Spencer, he set about making it clear to fans: Last season – a year in which he’d asked for a playoff appearance – was not acceptable. While Portland was only four points out of a playoff spot at the time of Spencer’s departure, the Timbers spent the rest of the season near the bottom of the west preparing for the arrival of Caleb Porter.

Change is already evident in Portland. There’s no air of disappointment lingering from last season. Instead, a new coach and an entirely different approach has restored the optimism. They may not be saying it out loud, but for the second year in a row, the Timbers plan to compete for the postseason.

Here are three (of many) questions they’ll need to answer this winter if they’re going to make waves:

  • Can Porter adapt?

On Tuesday, former Zip Darlington Nagbe was asked if he was having flashbacks to college training. Surprisingly, he said no. All of the drills Portland’s done this week are brand new to the somebody who played under Porter at Akron.

So Porter’s already adjusting. Whether that translates to wins is all that matters, something we won’t know until (at least) March, even if early returns are encouraging. The Timbers are training like a team ready to play to the strengths of Ryan Johnson, Darlington Nagbe, Diego Valeri, Will Johnson, and Diego Chara. That fit may ultimately be the magic that justifies Porter’s hype.

  • Is Diego Valeri worth the label?

We’ve seen a lot of Designated Players come and go, most of which haven’t met the expectations that come with the label. We should adjust our views on the high-priced talents, but still, when you hear a team is bringing in a new designated player, you rightfully assume they think very highly of him.

And so we have Portland’s Argentinine import Diego Valeri, a loanee from Lanus brought in to orchestrate the attack. Even on the nights he can’t generate goals, he’s doing to be tasked with managing a possession-based passing game that should take pressure off the defense.

As with Porter, early returns are encouraging, but on an expensive loan deal (and with little pedigree outside of Argentina to recommend him one way or another), fans would be right to reserve judgment. In case you missed it, the last DP didn’t work out so well.

  • Can Darlington Nagbe reach his potential?

We don’t even know where he’ll play, so it’s hard to predict what he’ll do in 2013, but with the acquisition of Valeri, Nagbe looks set to assume a more goal-scoring role. He started in one last season when John Spencer paired him with Kris Boyd up top in a 4-4-2, but when Gavin Wilkinson took over and switched to a 4-3-3, Nagbe had to orchestrate the transition.

While he’s capable of doing that, Nagbe is the Timbers’ best goal scorer. His skill and instincts in the penalty area (along with the acquisition of Valeri) suggest he should be moved back forward. Given the paucity of scoring threats on Portland’s rost, the move’s almost necessary if the Timbers are going to score enough goals.

If the chance produces a much-needed double-digit goal scorer, Portland will have solved their biggest problem.

MORE in ProSoccerTalk’s preseason camp series:

Up Next: Real Salt Lake

Latest Posts
  1. MLS Snapshot: Real Salt Lake 1-1 New York Red Bulls

    Jul 31, 2014, 12:23 AM EDT

    Chicago Fire v New York Red Bulls Getty Images

    Thierry Henry’s second half equalizer takes earns a point at Rio Tinto.

  2. MLS Snapshot: New England Revolution 3-0 Colorado Rapids

    Jul 30, 2014, 10:43 PM EDT

    New York Red Bulls v New England Revolution Getty Images

    The Revs’ eight-game losing streak ends thanks to another strong night from Lee Nguyen.

  3. MLS Snapshot: D.C. United 3-0 Toronto FC

    Jul 30, 2014, 9:20 PM EDT

    D.C. United's Eddie Johnson scored for the first time since being traded to the club this winter. His 84th minute goal left his team's game with Montréal tied, 1-1. (Photo: AP Photos) AP

    The Red fall nine points back of second place United in the Eastern Conference.

  4. Southampton’s replacement for Luke Shaw: Ryan Bertrand, on loan

    Jul 30, 2014, 8:27 PM EDT

    Screen Shot 2014-07-30 at 3.46.35 PM

    24-year-old defender loaned out for the seventh time.

  5. Ugly scenes in Northern Ireland as Mexican U-19 player attempts to kick opponent’s head during Milk Cup brawl

    Jul 30, 2014, 7:29 PM EDT

    Screen Shot 2014-07-30 at 4.26.41 PM

    Game is eventually cut short after a yet unnamed player aimed at the head of a fallen opponent.

  6. Atlético Madrid latest club linked with Javier ‘Chicharito’ Hernández

    Jul 30, 2014, 6:46 PM EDT

    Chicharito Getty Images

    Atlético’s interest could develop into Chicharito’s best option.

  7. Nick De Santis no longer sporting director in Montréal

    Jul 30, 2014, 5:58 PM EDT

    500px-Montreal_Impact_(MLS)_logo

    Nick De Santis will stay with the Impact, albeit in an administrative role.

  8. Romelu Lukaku completes permanent, $47 million move to Everton

    Jul 30, 2014, 5:11 PM EDT

    MartinezLukaku Getty Images

    Everton’s leading scorer returns to Goodison on a permanent basis.

  9. NWSL implements cooling break procedure

    Jul 30, 2014, 4:01 PM EDT

    NWSL logo

    With immediate effect, U.S.’s women’s league will pause mid-half if when it’s too hot.

  10. VIDEO: Liverpool fan from New Jersey cries, loses the plot, after meeting Gerrard

    Jul 30, 2014, 3:12 PM EDT

    Liverpool fan

    Liverpool roll into town and people freak out! Watch this incredible reaction to Stevie G signing autographs.

  11. Report: US to play friendly vs. Colombia in San Antonio

    Jul 30, 2014, 2:46 PM EDT

    Brazil Soccer WCup Belgium US AP

    Reports from Texas state Jurgen Klinsmann’s side are playing Colombia in September.

  12. Philadelphia Union sign Algerian World Cup star Rais Mbolhi

    Jul 30, 2014, 2:10 PM EDT

    Germany v Algeria: Round of 16 - 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Getty Images

    Union grab Algerian goalkeeper Mbolhi, throw MacMath’s future in doubt.

  13. FIFA’s senior vice-president Julio Grondona dies, Argentina mourns

    Jul 30, 2014, 1:42 PM EDT

    FBL-WC2014-QUALIFIERS-ARG-VEN Getty Images

    One of the most influential men in world soccer passed away on Wednesday at the age of 82.

  14. Premier League will use vanishing spray for 2014-15 season

    Jul 30, 2014, 1:07 PM EDT

    Morocco Soccer Club World Cup AP

    After success at the 2014 World Cup, vanishing spray is coming to the PL.

  15. Manchester United’s Luke Shaw agrees he’s not fit enough after Louis van Gaal criticism

    Jul 30, 2014, 12:45 PM EDT

    Luke Shaw Andrea Ranocchia AP

    Shaw: “I didn’t come into United thinking it’s going to be much harder and that’s something I made a mistake on.”

  16. PHOTOS: Scantily clad Cristiano Ronaldo poses for record-breaking magazine cover

    Jul 30, 2014, 12:03 PM EDT

    ronaldo cover final

    Ronaldo flexing the abs as he is set to appear in the largest-ever Men’s Health front cover campaign.

  17. VIDEO: Manchester United dominate Inter, win on penalties in Washington D.C.

    Jul 30, 2014, 11:18 AM EDT

    International Champions Cup 2014 - Inter Milan v Manchester United Getty Images

    United make it three wins from three on their U.S. tour. Watch the highlights from Van Gaal’s men in action.

  18. Manchester United reach “verbal agreement” on $80 million Arturo Vidal deal

    Jul 30, 2014, 10:45 AM EDT

    Arturo Vidal AP

    Will United splash the cash to sign Vidal in central midfield?

  19. Transfer Rumor Roundup: Cuadrado to Manchester United, Lukaku to Everton

    Jul 30, 2014, 9:11 AM EDT

    Colombia v Uruguay: Round of 16 - 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Getty Images

    United to splash the cash? Lukaku on his way out of Chelsea? All the latest gossip, right here.