Feb 24, 2013, 4:30 PM EST
Each day from now until the beginning of Major League Soccer’s 18th season, we will preview one Eastern Conference team and one from the West. First kick is March 2.
No. 5 in the West are the Portland Timbers:
Significant additions and subtractions: It starts with the new head coach, former University of Akron boss Caleb Porter. Some know him for building a collegiate powerhouse in Ohio. Others will remember him from the U.S.’s failed attempt to qualify for the 2012 Summer Olympics. Regardless, the 38-year-old has already made over the club. The team’s play is completely transformed from last season.
Part of that makeover is a slew of significant additions, moves that have brought in the likes of Will Johnson, Ryan Johnson, Ryan Miller, Micheal Harrington, and Ben Zemanski. Attacking midfielder Diego Valeri has lured from Argentina to be the focal point of the attack. Former Manchester United and Arsenal defender Mikael Silvestre now tops the Timbers’ center back depth chart. In all likelihood, only three players who started against Philadelphia to open the 2012 campaign will be in Porter’s starting XI on March 3.
Encouragingly for Portland, there aren’t many significant losses. The most newsworthy: Kris Boyd had his seven-figure deal were bought out in January. The rest of the losses (Frank Songo’o, Eric Alexander) were players who’d have trouble making Porter’s bench.
Strengths: Here’s the rub with Portland: When you go position-by-position, it’s difficult to see anywhere on the field where they have significantly above average talent. It’s up to Porter to take fuse talent with style and create a sum that’s greater than its parts.
So Portland’s advantages will have to be philosophical. They’ll have to be tactical, and they’ll have to be ideological. The team has to transcend their talent.
The players are being tasked with mastering an approach their coach believes will win games. If they respond, the team’s strengths will be their passing, the resulting possessing game, and the movement that enables it.
With Ryan Johnson and Darlington Nagbe, that could lead to goals, but until the games count, it’s just a big, entertaining hypothesis.
Pressure points: Portland had one of the worst defenses in the league last season. This year, it could be worse. David Horst and Hayner Mosquera, last year’s starters in central defense, are injured to start the season. Mikael Silvestre is a 35-year-old dice roll, while Donovan Ricketts has fallen off sharply from the form that led the LA Galaxy to an MLS Cup in 2011.
More concerning than the talent is the style. Porter’s approach is leaving his center halves isolated, exposing his team to counterattacks. In their final preseason game, Portland saw Sweden’s AIK have success playing quick and long directly at the Timbers’ defenders, an approach that led to a number of chances.
For Portland, it was a worrying scouting report to give the opposition eight days before their opener.
Difference maker: As owner Merritt Paulson noted, Portland essentially chose Valeri (right) over Mix Diskerud. So far this preseason, you can see why. The former Lanus attacker has the talent to be one of the better creative presences in the league. If that talent shines through in the regular season, Valeri will not only have justified his Designated Player price but vindicated his club’s decision to pass on Diskerud.
Potential breakout player: Again, it’s Darlington Nagbe. He has elite talent, but he’s yet to produce elite numbers. With the acquisition of Valeri, Nagbe’s free to pursue more goals. If Porter’s team clicks, his assist numbers should see a drastic increase, too.
Bottom line: The players they’ve brought in represent a drastic improvement over last year’s squad, and thus far in preseason, Portland’s attack has reflected this. If their defense comes around, the Timbers could challenge the West’s big four. Otherwise, they’ll fight for fifth and could finish as low as seventh. It all comes down to whether Portland’s center halves can keep up.
Jan 27, 2015, 3:00 PM EST
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Jan 27, 2015, 1:40 PM EST
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Jan 27, 2015, 12:57 PM EST
Spaniard set to miss at least six months after rupturing anterior cruciate ligament.
Jan 27, 2015, 12:19 PM EST
Monster trade sees cash, players and allocation order’s dished out as USMNT midfielder could be heading home.
Jan 27, 2015, 11:10 AM EST
Wembley final on the line: Premier League giants clash at the Bridge while Spurs head to third-tier Blades.
Jan 27, 2015, 10:15 AM EST
Are the Citizens heading to the Big Apple?
Jan 27, 2015, 9:20 AM EST
Madrid say they have “responded diligently” to requests from world soccer’s governing body.
Jan 27, 2015, 8:30 AM EST
As Sterling continues to stall on a new deal, will Chelsea tempt the youngster with a move back to London?
Jan 27, 2015, 7:36 AM EST
Casillas declares his intention to play in the USA one day. When will that be?
Jan 26, 2015, 9:45 PM EST
Hope Solo’s punishment for repeated alcohol-related incidents could extend much further than her initial 30-day suspension.
Jan 26, 2015, 8:22 PM EST
3-4 months on the sidelines means a massive hole to fill to start the 2015 season.
Jan 26, 2015, 7:10 PM EST
After two more places in the knockout rounds were booked on Tuesday, half the quarterfinal matchups are set.
Jan 26, 2015, 6:15 PM EST
Half the current USMNT roster was built with the Gold Cup in mind, while the other half is about next year’s Olympics. So, who’s who, then?
Jan 26, 2015, 4:05 PM EST
After eight months without a club, Juan Agudelo is reportedly returning to the place he should have been all along: MLS.
Jan 26, 2015, 2:59 PM EST
As the soccer world will no longer see the maverick skills of the Argentine playmaker, here’s a look at some of his best moments.
Jan 26, 2015, 2:38 PM EST
Here’s the draw for the last 16 of the FA Cup, as PL big boys get more tough tests.
Jan 26, 2015, 1:57 PM EST
Van Praag announces his intentions to run against Blatter, says he has the backing of five federations.
Jan 26, 2015, 1:00 PM EST
Betting on five underdogs away from home in the FA Cup will win you serious cash.
Jan 26, 2015, 12:32 PM EST
Fagundez explains why he couldn’t wait any longer to select his national team.
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