The Major League Soccer regular season schedule dropped…recently. Here it is, and for all teams (link to each and all, etc.). I imagine that people are picking through, circling games to get riled over, organizing his/her drinking schedules, acquiring various cable plans, streaming services, etc. I finally looked at the Portland Timbers' 2017 schedule, but my first review focused exclusively on one thing: the day of week and time of day for each Portland Timbers kick off. And, as tweeted a couple days back, I broadly approve of this year’s schedule.
I’ll hoist an appropriately-timed beverage to honor the schedule as they come, but today, and with the aid of the most-updated-to-date Transfer Tracker, I’m going to pick through the Portland Timbers and see if I can’t outline some sense of expectations for the upcoming 2017 regular season. Actually, the full list of sources for this are as follows: the Timbers’ Schedule, the Transaction Tracker, my memory, and, when I feel like I need them, any given team’s roster. The weak link in there should be easy to pick out, but here goes…one game at a time.
Friday, March 3, 2017, 6:30 p.m.
Portland Timbers v. Minnesota United FC
With Minnesota a work in progress and a Timbers team close to last year’s shape and make-up, basic continuity and home-field advantage should be enough to carry the Timbers to a Week 1 victory. Assuming Minnesota’s huntings abroad were worth the effort, Minnesota should kick off with a competent defense, but that shouldn’t be enough to keep out an attack that fired well enough through 2016.
Sunday, March 12, 2017, 4 p.m.
Los Angeles Galaxy v. Portland Timbers
Expectation: Unknown, leaning LA win
As shown by the LA Galaxy roster, they return a solid core, and all over the field. It’s safe to assume they’ll add a player or two, maybe even another dos Santos, but LA already has enough good on their current roster (whatever it’s made of) to beat the current/near-future incarnation of the Timbers on any given, if not most, days. Especially until Portland works out winning on the road.
Saturday, March 18, 2017, 7:30 p.m.
Portland Timbers v. Houston Dynamo
Expectation: Unknown, leaning Timbers
Losing Will Bruin might matter a bit to the guys who played behind him – and who are still very much there – but the scope of Houston’s reconstruction makes calling this a total crapshoot. I give Portland the edge by way of continuity and home-field (again); Houston will have had preseason to get all those parts pulling together, but that’s not a lot of time. That’s two loosely winnable games early. Food for thought.
Saturday, March 25, 2017, 4:30 p.m.
Columbus Crew SC v. Portland Timbers
Expectation: Unknown. Period
Credit the Crew for knowing their weakness this offseason: take away Niko Hansen, and all their draft picks/acquisitions have been defenders, so they’re spoiled for choices when it comes to replacing Michael Parkhurst (who has, as I see it, fallen off a bit). With most of that attack returning, and with some reinforcements, and with the sturdy Nicolai Naess now settled into his role in front of the defense, the Crew should be better in 2017. Portland should too, but…the road.
Sunday, April 2, 2017, 6:00 p.m.
Portland Timbers v. New England Revolution
Expectation: Unknown, leaning Timbers
I’ve seen the Revs named in a couple intriguing transactions, but that hardly matters because no eye-catching names have landed. They basically culled mediocrity in the off-season and acquired the unknown, so it’s safe to assume, for now, that the Revs from last year will look like this year’s Revs. If Portland can’t beat that team at home…whoof. That’s three easy-ish opponents at home so far, and only one big cat on the road. Soft start so far.
Saturday, April 8, 2017, 4:00 p.m.
Philadelphia Union v. Portland Timbers
Expectation: Timbers win plausible, but most likely a draw
Philly lost more than it gained when Tranquillo Barnetta bounced, and they haven’t made up for that specific situation as yet. They padded the defense on the wings (maybe), but they’re trusting another year’s experience over new defensive personnel so far (i.e., any improvement will come through better games for last year’s young defense), a formula that doesn’t always work. The same applies to their attack, only with the brain (Barnetta) missing. More winnable stuff…
Saturday, April 15, 2017, 12:30 p.m.
Portland Timbers v. Sporting Kansas City
Expectation: Totally unknown.
Sporting KC turned over a lot of its team/attack this year, but kept most of the brains, and all the muscle and grit on hand. So long as gaining Gerso Fernandes and the blessing of Latif Blessing helps more than losing Jacob Peterson and Connor Hallisey hurt (that feels like the plan), they’ll be a better team. KC’s athleticism will continue to make them hard to break down (except when a team uses that enthusiasm to pull them apart), but they only need a little offensive punch to go “Contender” in 2017. Fun question: where’s Portland on that same spectrum?
Saturday, April 22, 2017, TBD
Portland Timbers v. Vancouver Whitecaps
Expectation: Eh, depends on your faith in USL players, but, Portland.
I’m sure Vancouver has more in the works than they’re showing right now…or at least I hope Vancouver has more in the works, because, when they shipped Pedro Morales (and for good reason), they lost some portion of their attacking assumptions. Pieces can fall in place for a team quickly, or not; the question is where the ‘Caps will fit eight games into the season. Also, where will Portland’s home-field record stand at this point?
Saturday April 29, 2017, 5 p.m.
FC Dallas v. Portland Timbers
Expectation: Not great for Portland.
Dallas didn’t have to do much, but they still did a lot (scroll down; worth it), like cleaning the Augean Stables, and with big, brass balls. This club is quietly ambitious as any team in MLS. What’s more, when they gamble, they gamble long term (mostly; see: Morales, Javier). I have my doubts about Morales, but I have lots of faith in Dallas as a team in 2017. They pulled it together in 2016 to win MLS’ hardest trophy (Supporters’ Shield), and this papers out as a home win for Dallas.
Saturday, May 6, 2017, 7:30 p.m.
San Jose Earthquakes v. Portland Timbers
San Jose needs to get better and they’re showing signs that they know it. They need to get younger, too, and in a lot of places. It feels like they’ll get there – even just one real upgrade in the attack could buy them a few points this season – but it’s hard to assess whatever new pieces they get until they get them and they play. Still, a road game for Portland hasn’t boded well for a while and San Jose will remain solid, if crotchety, even if they don’t add more new pieces. I’ll leave this as a pure unknown, though, and, with that, we’re getting to the thrust of this post.
Sunday, May 14, 2017, 1:00 p.m. (I have hated the East Coast less)
Portland Timbers v. Atlanta United FC
Sure, the Timbers have home field, and I’m praying that we won’t have to question the home-field premise this early, but, Atlanta looks pretty damn good on paper. And after two months-plus to sort out some problems (maybe even pick up another player or two), Lord knows how Atlanta will look. That foundation, though, that sense of buy-in, a young DP that everyone seemed to like, etc., Atlanta looks, and will remain, promising until they reveal otherwise.
Saturday, May 20, 2017, TBD
Montreal Impact v. Portland Timbers
Expectation: Depends on Portland, now, doesn’t it?
Assuming Montreal still functions something like the way they did at the end of 2016 – e.g. lightning counters that expose a back four (or three) in the blink of an eye - this game could teach Portland fans a lot about the state of the defense at this point in 2017. That, however, assumes no fresh story-lines, an assumption unlikely to hold 12 games into the season. Next…
Saturday, May 27, 2017, 12 p.m.
Seattle Sounders v. Portland Timbers
Expectation: Timbers loss.
Unless the Timbers’ attack is flying by this point, or some piece of Seattle’s defensive mechanics fall apart, I expect Seattle to be tough to beat all of next year. While I think Seattle has added decent parts (HarryShipp and Will Bruin), they lost a subtle safety blanket or two (Zach Scott) that may have brought stability to their line-up. All the same, I’d expect Seattle to add more pieces (at least one big one) before the season starts. MLS fans should have a sense by this point, of how stoutly Seattle will…y’know, I was about to say “defend the Cup,” but I’m not sure that’s what any team really does the year after winning it. At any rate, this will be a tough game, one I wouldn’t expect Portland to win till they clearly improve – especially on the road.
Friday, June 2, 2017, 8 p.m.
Portland Timbers v. San Jose Earthquakes
Expectation: Unknown, and things will have got weird by now.
New, therefore unknown, patterns will have developed for most MLS teams by Week 14, and probably before. Seeing as this match-up threw me four weeks back, it should throw me more at this point. The secondary transfer window probably won’t be open at this time (opened July 4 last season), so San Jose should have whatever they started with, and three months of figuring out how to make it work. The same applies to Portland, by this point, we’re truly flying blind…let’s see how the rest of this goes…
Saturday, June 10, 2017, 7:30 p.m.
Portland Timbers v. FC Dallas
Dallas was good for an ass-kicked blow-out once or twice last season. Given the average age of their core, I’d expect Dallas to be better next season. That doesn’t mean I expect them to win every game. So, yeah, everything about this game depends on where each team is at this point.
Sunday, June 18, 2017, 6:30 p.m.
Colorado Rapids v. Portland Timbers
Expectation: Portland loss, draw at best.
Yes, this assumes two things: 1) that Portland’s road record can improve without becoming perfect; and 2) Colorado is, oh, one quality attacking piece away from being a nightmare. This team thrived on slim margins next year – their defense is the one thing that never let up – and there’s nothing out there that says that core will get worse. As such, it’s all about what the Rapids change in the attack, and the odds of them being worse feel low.
Wednesday, June 21, 2017, 5 p.m.
Minnesota United v. Portland Timbers
Expectation: Unless Minnesota goes nuts before First Kick, Portland win
First, did not know that MLS rolled Minnesota into the Western Conference (also, poor bastards). To the game at hand, hosting shouldn’t hurt (and I can’t wait to see Minnesota’s stadium, whatever the incarnation!). The Loons should be a little more formed by now, but that doesn’t mean I think they’ll be good, so I think a lot of this will depend on where Portland is upon Game 17 next year. If Portland’s struggling by this time, all bets = off.
Sunday, June 25, 2017, 1 p.m (acceptable given the occasion)
Portland Timbers v. Seattle Sounders
Expectation: Like a scrum, tight and rough
My only real thought on the most fraternal of the Cascadia games is that they will do what they do regardless of each team’s form. Like any good rivalry. That said, I expect ugliness and a little bloodshed.
Saturday, July 1, 2017, 4 p.m.
Sporting Kanas City v. Portland Timbers
Expectation: Unless Portland has figured out road games, SKC win
I think it’s safe to say that I’m nervous about SKC in same vague way I worry about the teams around Portland improving as the Timbers stagnate. I’ve seen our moves so far and, while I can’t call them inadequate, I also can’t call them reassuring. My point is, think what happens if both SKC and San Jose level up next year. Where does that leave Portland, really?
Wednesday, July 5, 2017, 7:30 p.m.
Portland Timbers v. Chicago Fire
Expectation: An improved Chicago team - ?
Just got word that Chicago pinched Dax McCarty, and that only confirms my theories on the Fire’s (sometimes misguided) ambition. Adding ex-Galaxy stalwart Juninho means I already expect a better spine; add a new (maybe?) high-profile DP, a better understanding amongst a current crop that was growing stronger late last year, and it’s worth wondering Chicago will be in by this time in 2017, all while knowing that I have no fucking idea. Same goes for Portland.
Wednesday, July 19, 2017, 7:30 p.m.
Portland Timbers v. Real Salt Lake
Expectation: Depends on Portland, but…win?
As I look back over the past four weeks, I mostly hope Portland makes the most of this tidy little run of home games. As for RSL, specifically, they shed some necessary blood in this offseason (Jamison Olave and Morales), but, unless Albert Rusnak plays 2nd-year-Barnetta-level, they still have some rebuilding left to do. Therefore, unless both Portland and their home record suck, this one feels like a win.
Sunday, July 23, 2017, 3 p.m.
Vancouver Whitecaps v. Portland Timbers
Expectation: Portland win; and Vancouver will have a new player or two
The second transfer window surely opens by now, yes? Barring one of those “surprise!” pants-down goals/performances from some random player (see, Manotas, Mauro), I don’t see much positive in Vancouver’s future unless they do something between today and this game.
Saturday, July 29, 2017, 6 p.m.
Houston Dynamo v. Portland Timbers
Expectation: Unknown, time will tell, on at least two levels
Beyond Portland being either/both being a good team and decent on the road, the outcome of Houston’s rebuild feels like the defining factor for this one. Um…
Sunday, August 6, 2017, 1 p.m.
Portland Timbers v. Los Angeles Galaxy
Expectation: That LA will have at least one new awesome/famous player by this point.
Because I think LA will be good till further notice, I have to assume that this game, like so many before it, depends on how Portland is as a team and on the road. And, unless Curt Onalfo totally shit-cans LA, they’ll always be a zombie-risk kinda team.
Saturday, August 12, 2017, TBD
Toronto FC v. Portland Timbers
Expectation: To be honest, not great
Toronto ended 2017 good, but not lucky. At this point in the 2017 season (Week 25), they should be strong based even on their end-of-2016 line-up. Seeing as they’re not unambitious, they might even have a new player (or two). Then again, Portland might have a new player by then, so…now what, bitches? See? It’s totally fluid by this time. Next…
Sunday, August 20, 2017, 5 p.m.
Portland Timbers v. New York Red Bulls
Expectation: I dunno, Dax McCarty left New York, and now I’m really sad.
I have nothing for this one.
Wednesday August 23, 2017, 7:30 p.m.
Portland Timbers v. Colorado Rapids
Expectation: Tough game.
Again, I feel like Colorado’s gonna be good next season. So, to tally up a potential Top 6 (e.g. playoff spot), I see the following, as something like guaranteed: Seattle Sounders, LA Galaxy, FC Dallas, and the Colorado Rapids. That should give you context for why I view talk of rebuilds in San Jose and Houston with such alarm, and god bless Vancouver for standing just as pat. I mean, I love Juan David Guzman, but…other teams aren’t standing still. That matters.
Sunday, August 27, 2017, 9:30 p.m.
Seattle Sounders v. Portland Timbers
Expectation: Three times? Not that I mind, but really?
Again, unless one team or the other is tits-up in the moment, I expect a war. What I do know (or believe) is that either team can still be great at any given time, or at least until further notice. Put another way, I think we have a good thing going up here in Cascadia, something that’s satisfyingly self-sustaining on some level. The rest of the world should be so lucky…
Saturday, September 9, 2017, TBD
New York City FC v. Portland Timbers
Expectation: Per our reputation with The Road
If Miguel Camargo pans out for NYCFC, they’ll improve quite a bit next season…and that should be mildly terrifying. The weird secret to NYCFC’s offensive prowess is how much it grew from young, little-heralded players on the team. So long as I believe that David Villa has one more year left in those legs (and so long as he proves it), I’d put NYCFC’s rate of success as high as its defense can carry it.
Saturday, September 16, 2017, 6:30 p.m.
Real Salt Lake v. Portland Timbers
Expectation: Unknown. Too many variables.
Sunday, September 24, 2017, 5 p.m.
Portland Timbers v. Orlando City SC
Expectation: Portland loss. We always lose to these guys.
Seriously, has Portland ever beaten Orlando in the MLS era? If so, I can’t think of it. For all that, Orlando hasn’t added the parts (or shed the likely limitations…ahem, Kaka!) as yet to become contenders for 2017. Maybe Jason Kreis can get this rag-tag bunch to come together (especially with a herding dog on the field, nipping at their heels), but, barring new additions, Orlando still feels like it’s constructing to stop MLS teams from scoring as opposed to figuring out how to win in MLS.
Saturday, September 30, 2017, 7:30 p.m.
San Jose Earthquakes v. Portland Timbers
Expectation: These guys too? Three times? Ugh!!
So, yeah, either San Jose’ll be good by this point, or Portland’ll be good. Or neither team will be good and it’ll feel like a maintenance fuck late in the season, just like they did this season.
Sunday, October 15, 2017, TBD
Portland Timbers v. DC United
Expectation: Total mystery…please, stop…
Sunday, October 22, 2017, 1 p.m.
Portland Timbers v. Vancouver Whitecaps
Expectation: That Portland will be in a very different place next year than they were in 2016
Really? And see above.
So, that’s it, that’s everything. To roll it all together into a soft, velvety bow, I feel like we all have some reasonable semblance of a compass for the first, oh, 10 weeks of the season. Very shortly after that, it’s all about habits and record in the moment/flow of the season, all of which can go absolutely upside-down from expectations at any given time and for any reason, but which…define something like “form.” In all honesty, I expect half the received wisdom – e.g. the sense of what we think we know – will have evaporated by Week 15 (that said, I expect both Dallas and Colorado to be stable next season, and for Chicago to make the playoffs).
In case any visitors hadn’t noticed, I pushed a lot of the above through the lens of the kind of team the Timbers will be in 2017. Honestly, I don’t know what to expect; I only know the team picked up a couple accomplished professionals, and both of them seem like they’ll be OK. They’re also riding a couple of half-missed pick-ups from last season, and, new guys aside, that appears to be the end of the plotting for now (yes, this assumes Blanco will land; the question is, who’s next? Would I like to see more? Hell, yes!)
A couple patterns emerge when I look at the schedule. On the one hand, MLS seems to want Portland to enjoy an easy first step to the season. That could also have to do with how hard the schedulers fucked the team in the month of May (which, if you include April 29, have the now-notoriously road-fragile Timbers playing four of those five games on the road). I dunno, they do a good job with the home-away thing. It’s Portland’s problem to solve in the end, really. That's the shape of the 2017 season, though, and, more than anything else, it's a fiesta of variables.