Feb 24, 2013, 4:30 PM EDT
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.
Apr 25, 2014, 2:36 AM EDT
Our new, weekly look at one of MLS’s awards. It’s too early to vote, but it’s never to early to take note.
Apr 25, 2014, 1:06 AM EDT
Neymar isn’t among the world’s elites. Not that it will matter come June.
Apr 25, 2014, 12:08 AM EDT
The league’s two deepest attacks meet in Salt Lake, while Kinnear, Porter try to end slumps in Houston.
Apr 24, 2014, 9:58 PM EDT
Seattle boss lets it slip that the CONCACAF Champions League reward could go away. Good.
Apr 24, 2014, 8:59 PM EDT
Hernan Bernardello and Kelyn Rowe also among the big potential absences from this weekend’s action.
Apr 24, 2014, 7:34 PM EDT
Michael Bradley’s sidelined for a week with a “nerve issue” in his foot. He and Jermain Defoe are expected to be ready for TFC’s next game on May 3.
Apr 24, 2014, 6:30 PM EDT
Tyreso is Leeds. It’s Anzhi, it’s Málaga. And it has a chance to win a European title before potentially closing its doors.
Apr 24, 2014, 5:45 PM EDT
After praising Neymar, Scolari inadvertently lets some of the names on his final roster slip:
Apr 24, 2014, 5:25 PM EDT
The PST Extra lads break down United’s options, as the Red Devils prepare for life after Moyes:
Apr 24, 2014, 5:12 PM EDT
A late goal from Benfica gave the Portuguese champions a win over Juventus, while Sevilla impressed at home against Valencia.
Apr 24, 2014, 4:32 PM EDT
Valdes on his hatred of being a ‘keeper plus top tips to succeed:
Apr 24, 2014, 3:58 PM EDT
Real Madrid star takes what’s become an obligatory spot for soccer on the list.
Apr 24, 2014, 3:42 PM EDT
With the final few weeks of the season upon us, nothing is settled at the top or the bottom:
Apr 24, 2014, 3:03 PM EDT
This is your Matchweek 35 primer to all the scenarios in the title chase, European qualification and relegation.
Apr 24, 2014, 1:30 PM EDT
Assuming a deal could be worked out, Diskerud’s fluid style of play would fit nicely within the attacking philosophy of Jason Kreis.
Apr 24, 2014, 12:40 PM EDT
Now with Moyes out and Ryan Giggs in as interim manager, the banner has been removed from Old Trafford.
Manchester United have two transfer deals provisionally in place – Cavani, Shaw, Fabregas all on radar
Apr 24, 2014, 11:58 AM EDT
This is all the calm before the storm that will be Manchester United’s summer of 2014.
Apr 24, 2014, 10:52 AM EDT
If van Gaal is appointed United boss, Jose Mourinho will have some competition for best post-match sound in the 2014/15 Premier League.
Apr 24, 2014, 9:59 AM EDT
For Chelsea, the Liverpool match represents, well, a headache, apparently.
Apr 24, 2014, 9:17 AM EDT
So bad you have to see it. That’s the only was to describe Spain’s official World Cup anthem.
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