MLS ’12 Preview – Portland Timbers
Coach: John Spencer
Last Season: 11 – 14 – 9 = 42 points, 6rd Place Western, 12th Overall
Twitter Hashtag: #RCTID
The Portland Timbers had a spectacular first season in Major League Soccer. Did they make the playoffs? No, they didn’t. Would 12th place in the full table be considered successful for a promoted side into a first division? Of course it would, and there’s little doubt that the results in a tough conference were gratifying.
But where the Timbers truly enjoyed their success is through their reputation, especially at Jeld-Wen Field. Obviously their bitter rivals in Seattle are well regarded for their attendance and spirit, but the Timbers Army has made their place a legitimate, respected ground for soccer matches. When you hear pundits regularly talking about a stadium like Jeld-Wen as one of the ultimate experiences in American soccer, you know there’s something special happening.
But getting back to the on-field product, Portland started well in 2011, posting two solid months in April and May. But the team faded as the season progressed, and it was always going to be tough for the Timbers to persist into a top 4 spot over the long haul. Heading into 2012, you can bet that Portland fans will be looking to start a move closer to the top of the table, especially with respects to their bitter Cascadian rivals in Seattle and Vancouver.
COACHING STAFF AND FRONT OFFICE: John Spencer has instilled a great sense of work ethic and drive in Portland. Despite a close run at the playoffs, the Timbers were second worst in the Western Conference in conceding goals, and that will be an area of focus for Spencer leading into 2012. Spencer likes variants of the 4-4-2 in most cases, but will go with 5 midfielders at times. In regards to ownership, Portland has one of the bright young owners in the league, Merritt Paulson. He has been in various levels of sports management and the media, and has used Twitter as a way to directly interact with supporters and critics alike.
KEY PLAYERS GAINED: The major signing for the Timbers this offseason was Scottish forward Kris Boyd, the Timbers’ second Designated Player. After trading away Kenny Cooper on draft-day, the Timbers needed to bring in someone that would replace those goals. Since Boyd was discovery-claimed by Houston, the Timbers sent a 2013 1st round SuperDraft pick their way to sign the Scot. Boyd has a nose for goal, posting a 0.72 goals per game average at his time with Rangers (SCO). The 28-year old hasn’t been as prolific since leaving Scotland, but fans will hope his arrival will lead to the frequent smell of freshly cut logs.
To help strengthen the defense, Colombian Hanyer Mosquera was signed from La Equidad. The 25-year old will challenge for a starting center back role.
Three young midfielders were also brought in. Charles Renken came back to the US from Hoffenheim, and the Timbers were able to sign him outside of an allocation lottery due since no other teams showed interest.Cameroon midfielder Franck Songo’o was signed from Albacete in Spain. Finally, Jose Adolfo Valencia was brought on loan to Portland, but will miss a lot of time after having surgery.
As far as draft picks go, central defender Andrew Jean-Baptiste was taken in the first round of the SuperDraft. No other 2012 draft picks have signed with the team. The Timbers did sign a Home-Grown Player, forward prospect Brent Richards.
KEY PLAYERS LOST: The only significant departure for the Timbers was Cooper, traded away to New York for a draft pick.
PROJECTED STARTERS: Troy Perkins is a solid choice as the keeper. I’d predict the center back pairing to be Eric Brunner and Hanyer Mosquera, but Futty Danso is also in the mix. At the full backs, Lovel Palmer and Mike Chabala appear to be the best choices.
In the midfield, Designated Player Diego Chara, as well as Jack Jewsbury, are well established centrally, and provide a good blend of attack and defense. Haitian born James Marcellin can be brought in as a strict defensive presence in front of backline. The wide midfield contained the most variety last season, with an array of combinations. Veteran Sal Zizzo, Khalif Alhassan, and Darlington Nagbe have rotated as the wingers, and that system will likely continue.
At the forward positions, Kris Boyd and Jorge Perlaza should earn the most playing time in a two striker system.
PLAYER TO WATCH: As stated earlier, the Timbers have committed a Designated Player salary to Boyd. His production will likely dictate the fate of the Timbers in 2012. While Jewsbury and Perlaza contributed their share of goals in 2011, at a DP salary Portland should be expecting a Golden Boot-type output from Boyd. If he can’t produce, the pressure will fall on Perlaza and Co. to pick up the slack.
BEST CASE SCENARIO: I think the Timbers could finish fourth if their defense improves and Boyd flourishes. The West is tough, and a higher finish is unlikely with the Big 3 of L.A., Seattle, and Real Salt Lake. But Jeld-Wen can be a real home field advantage for Portland. If things work out as planned, a playoff berth is very attainable.
WORST CASE SCENARIO: The worst case is that Boyd fails to pan out. Even with that, I think Portland would easily replicate last season’s 6th Place finish, finding goals as their young crop of forwards and attacking midfielders blossom.
PREDICTION: The Timbers should gain ground this season and finish 5th in the West. With the unbalanced schedule, it could mean that the Timbers again miss out on a playoff spot.