Saturday, February 14, 2015

Portland Timbers 2015 Season Preview: Bringing Back (Most of) The Same Band

Oooh....damn girl, I know it!
What Happened Last Year
Agonizingly simple really: the Portland Timbers coughed up inopportune goals last year like the ladies who dish samples at Costco. Portland fed far too many teams free lunch this way. No game exemplified the failing like the 4-4 epic draw against the Seattle Sounders early in the season; up 4-2 early in the second half, the Timbers eventually fell apart under pressure from one of just two MLS clubs with better offensive numbers last season. The Timbers noted the problem and announced how seriously they took it by signing, Liam Ridgewell, a weird-for-MLS defensive designated player. Ridgewell came and the problems, well, they stayed. Portland's playoff dream all but ended when done in by another defensive collapse, e.g. the late-season 3-2 loss to Toronto FC, which, again, saw Portland throw away a two-goal lead. Oh, and midfielder and team captain, Will Johnson, suffered a broken leg at the start of that one. And Key Man, Diego Valeri, limped through the tail end of the season. Hope was high after 2013, that was the hell of it all.
Final Stats: 12-9-13, 49 points, 5th in the West; 61 gf, 52 ga

What’s Happened Since
Portland head coach Caleb Porter goes into 2015 favoring continuity, choosing to bring in just shy of a handful of players. It's significant that he chose said emphasis knowing the Timbers have two key players on ice going into 2014: Valeri and Johnson. Valeri isn't expected back till May, Johnson, perhaps even later. So, there’s that to overcome. Which will be interesting. The biggest swap comes at goalkeeper with Adam Kwarasey replacing long-serving, sometimes one-man show, Donovan Ricketts. Mobility marks the biggest difference between Kwarasey and Ricketts based on what (one game) I've so far seen; that's good, and his youth is encouraging, too. The eye-catchiest addition is long-time Real Salt Lake defensive anchor, Nat Borchers, who arrived (was it?) early this year. After that, there's a couple draft picks and two new additions in Dairon Asprila (midfield/forward) and Jeanderson (left back, I think). Asprilla seems to catch the eye more readily, according to some early returns. My personal hope is that he pushes either Rodney Wallace or Darlington Nagbe hard enough that he starts now and again.

Expectations for 2015
Less stress, hopefully, less knowing the shoe is going to drop on Timbers' fans foot and that it’s only a matter of when and whether or not it will break one’s goddamn foot. Personally, I’m very high on both defensive signings. Borchers feels like a stop-gap till we can "level up" some of the club’s younger defensive talent, and that's fine, but Kwarasey looks like closer to a long-term plan (man’s only 27...woot-woot!). The offense got lost in the shuffle last season and that's a little unfair: as alluded to above, only Seattle and the Los Angeles Galaxy scored more goals than Portland in 2014; the next club after, Red Bull New York, scored six goals fewer. In other words, Portland's offense was better than eight of the ten clubs who ultimately went to the post-season. Here's the rub: Valeri provided a lot of that offense, which means no question looms larger for Portland than picking up points sans Valeri. There's talk of playing a 4-4-2 with second-year man, Gaston Fernandez, playing at forward off other second-year man, Fanendo Adi. For the record, I like that because Fernandez looks lost when he drops deep, and Adi posts pretty damn well. That only leaves the question of who feeds those two forwards and how. I have no answer. Still, the offense was good last year – and I haven't even got to my personal favorite, Maximiliano Urruti – and I expect that, with so many pieces returning and to more familiar roles, they'll be good again. All eyes are on the defense, then, which is where those eyes belong. Personally, I'm confident. I rate Borchers pretty damn highly on smarts and the book on Kwarasey reads pretty well, too, even if he might not prove the shot-stopper Ricketts was. Hell, mobility could mean he plays crosses better than Ricketts; that's good because, typically, fewer goals follow from fewer attempts. Giving only one goal in preseason helps that little bit, too.

Feeling good about my local club. I…I think I believe in Porter’s continuity thing. Honest.

No comments:

Post a Comment