Jan 25, 2013, 8:00 AM EDT
(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:
- Chicago Fire
- Chivas USA
- Colorado Rapids
- Columbus Crew
- FC Dallas
- Houston Dynamo
- Los Angeles Galaxy
- Montreal Impact
- New England Revolution
- New York Red Bulls
- Philadelphia Union
Up Next: Real Salt Lake
Mar 9, 2014, 7:02 AM EDT
Will Bruin, Federico Higuaín, and Kenny Miller each scored two goals as a cagey start transformed into fireworks.
Gastón Fernández pays immediate dividends for Portland, but don’t overlook a strong night from Philadelphia
Mar 9, 2014, 6:10 AM EDT
“La Gata’s” late heroics can’t overshadow a strong start for the new-look Union.
Mar 9, 2014, 5:25 AM EDT
MLS’s best forward had a very non-best night on Saturday, with his inability to convert a late penalty kick costing his team in Carson.
Mar 9, 2014, 4:02 AM EDT
The former Canadian international drew a late penalty in the Galaxy’s loss to RSL.
Mar 9, 2014, 12:18 AM EDT
Holding serve was enough in game one under their new coach, with Dallas’s big three threat delivering against the Impact.
Mar 8, 2014, 10:18 PM EDT
They finished last year at opposite ends of the East. On Saturday, D.C. and New York both stumbled in their 2014 openers.
Mar 8, 2014, 9:34 PM EDT
After a downturn in 2013, Houston’s main attacking threat has already bagged two.
Mar 8, 2014, 8:45 PM EDT
The 35-year-old, four-time Best XI midfielder is left looking for his fourth team in three seasons.
Mar 8, 2014, 7:33 PM EDT
CONCACAF Champions League mattered, Seattle will need more time, and Sporting plays to type in MLS opener.
Mar 8, 2014, 6:20 PM EDT
On his fifth team in five years, Barrett delivered Saturday for Seattle.
Mar 8, 2014, 5:33 PM EDT
Late match chaos produced 2014′s first point of drama, with the veteran journeyman giving Seattle a perfect start.
Mar 8, 2014, 4:21 PM EDT
Bayern dominated once again, scoring six against Wolfsburg, while Schalke proved they’re still able to dominate matches by scoring four.
Mar 8, 2014, 3:59 PM EDT
Four decades of soccer in the Pacific Northwest were celebrated at CenturyLink Field.
Mar 8, 2014, 3:06 PM EDT
The Rapids finally confirm the man who guided them through the preseason would replace Óscar Pareja.
Mar 8, 2014, 2:40 PM EDT
Big wins for Man United, Chelsea and Cardiff on a stellar Saturday of PL action:
Mar 8, 2014, 2:35 PM EDT
Sporting’s title defense begins at CenturyLink Field, with MLS’s first game of the 2014 season available on NBCSN and NBC Sports Live Extra.
Mar 8, 2014, 2:27 PM EDT
Goals from Eto’o, Hazard and Ba with two hands Chelsea crucial win, as title race intensifies:
Mar 8, 2014, 1:45 PM EDT
Barca could find themselves in third place by the end of the weekend, after losing 1-0 to Valladolid.
Mar 8, 2014, 1:22 PM EDT
American forward Johannsson does it again, scores beauty to put AZ ahead:
Mar 8, 2014, 1:01 PM EDT
The Fulham manager is convinced that his side can avoid the drop. But is that sort of optimism misplaced?
- MLS roundup: Houston, Vancouver sit on top of their conferences after day one 0
- Rare bad night from Robbie Keane costs LA Galaxy against Real Salt Lake 0
- Atlantic crushed: D.C. United, New York open the season with three-goal losses 2
- Stoppage time goal gives Seattle 1-0 opening day win over Sporting Kansas City (video) 10
- Premier League Roundup: Chelsea clear at the top, Manchester United click, Cardiff bag huge win 0
- Chelsea 4-0 Tottenham Hotspur: Blues blitz Spurs to extend their lead at the top (video) 0
- Dallas Manage 3-2 Win in Season Opener Against Impact
- Dynamo Shut Out the Revs as Bruin Scores a Pair
- Argentine Melodies Illuminate Rainy Night in Portland
- LA Galaxy Gift Real Salt Lake Three Points in Season Opener
- Berhalter Gets First Win as Columbus Downs D.C. United 3-0
- Colorado Rapids - 3 Hopes and One Fear
- NYRB Don't Know What Hits Them in Emphatic 4-1 Whitecaps Win
- John Terry Rules out International Return
- Aberdeen March on in Scottish FA Cup
- 2014 MLS Season: Rebuilding The San Jose Earthquakes