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Can Portland Answer the Curtain Call? Three Questions for the Timbers

The “expansion” Portland Timbers had a debut MLS season to remember.  The team quickly became the darling of the TV networks with their passionate and creative fans, the team played an exciting brand of soccer, and the resurgence of Jack Jewsbury gave them some high-profile players.  The team even had a goal of the year candidate and an MLS moment of the year.  All that was lacking was a playoff berth, something that will not be any easier to obtain with their Western Conference rivals either improving or remaining strong, plus a new playoff format.

They say second acts are the hardest things to pull off in show business, so can Portland match the excitement off the field while taking the next step on the field in 2012?  Here are three questions for the Portland Timbers in the next two months before their First Kick 2012 match-up with the Philadelphia Union.

1. How much of a role will Valencia play for this team?

Portland generated quite a bit of buzz this offseason when they signed Colombian Jose Adolfo Valencia to a “young DP” contract, the first in MLS history.  In addition to being the son of the famous Adolfo Valencia of Bayern Munich, “El Trencito” is a rising international star that has Portland fans salivating over his creativity and speed.

However, before the team begins inducting him into the Hall of Fame, he is only 19 years old and his only professional experience has been playing in Colombia’s first division.  While MLS isn’t the cauldron that the EPL is, playing in a foreign country in a new league will be an adjustment.  How he handles that adjustment off and on the field will be critical to Portland’s chances in the new year.

2. Who will stop the goals?

Portland’s biggest weakness last season was their defense, allowing 48 goals last season, fifth worst in the league.  So far this offseason, the only thing the team has done to address this (more on this topic below) is to re-sign Troy Perkins and David Horst.  Perkins was a solid keeper last year, who needed a change of scenery after a disastrous second tour with DC United the prior year.  While he played well enough to deserve an extension, can he maintain that level of play in ’12?  At least his restructured contract will free up some spending money.

As for Horst, the center back is a physically intimidating prospect at 6’4″ but struggled to remain consistently healthy last season.  The team is betting that he will be healthier this season, but that may be a bit of a gamble.  Regardless, the team does need to invest in the back to ensure that it gets stronger there.  Some have suggested that will come through the draft, but a combination of draft/signings to add some quality depth will be essential for this team to progress in 2012.

3. Who else will Portland sign?

If you scan the transaction records for Portland this offseason, the only moves that have been made are the ones discussed above.  They have been quiet in the re-entry drafts and signings, save for Valencia.  There is still time for the team to wheel and deal, but where do they want to go this offseason?  We’ve discussed their defensive needs but more midfield depth and potentially a young keeper would be good additions.  If Valencia is the real deal up front that is less of a need, but is Kenny Cooper with this team long-term after some blow-ups with John Spencer?  if not, they need to sign a few quality and veteran forwards.