The Portland Timbers enter a dreary offseason after a frustrating 2016 campaign left the holders at home finishing 7th in the Western Conference 2 points off the playoffs behind RLS. PTFC had a -5 goal differential finishing with 14 losses and failing to win on the road in 2016 as frequently noted. Oh, and Seattle won the MLS Championship.
An early season injury to GK Adam Kwarsey opened the door for Jake Gleeson to have the starting job and he did nothing on the field to lose it.
During the little bit of magic fueling the 2015 championship run, the Timbers enjoyed continuity along the Back 4 with Powell-Ridgwell-Borchers-Villafana. Days after summiting the mountain, PTFC sold left back mainstay Villafana to Santos in La Liga. So the Timbers entered 2016 with uncertainty at left back. and it turned out that Zarek Valentin was not the answer. However, the arrival of Lithuanian fullback and national spelling bee winning word Vytautas Andriuskevicius appeared to nail down the position for the foreseeable future as he grew more comfortable and confident in the Timbers regular XI. Regular right back Alvas Powell was part of a huge number of Timbers injured on off throughout the year. Centerback Nat Borchers ruptured achilles in July created another massive hole along the back. Import Liam Ridgwell battled injuries all season and import Steven Taylor was not the solution. Jermaine Taylor and Taylor Peay got minutes with the first team but that seemed charitable personnel management on the part of Caleb Porter.
In the midfield, Diego Chara was indispensable as the crunching box-to-box midfielder. Ben Zemanski is the logical replacement to give Chara rest or when Chara was on yellow card suspensions. But Zemanski had multiple 3 week injuries during the 2016 season. Jack Jewsbury was running on intellect and fumes at this point in his career. We wish him well in his new role in the Timbers front office, a job he probably should have been given after the 2015 championship. The Timbers didn’t have much depth there at defensive mid which again, given Chara’s work rate and yellow card proclivities was a bit of a problem, especially in front of a creaky and mutable backline.
Diego Valeri was the fulcrum again for the Timbers attack and the mercurial Fanandeo Adi was the primary beneficiary. Future USMNT mainstay Darlington Nagbe has unrivaled pace and verve with the ball at his feet. But too often Nagbe’s burst of individual brilliance left teammates as spectators as he failed to find a consistent rhythm floating in and out of matches. Lucas Melano certainly has the speed and skill required but he fell further and further out of favor in Portland and it seems clear he’ll be sold long before the 2017 season begins. Adi was the subject of much transfer speculation this summer but that talk appears to have cooled for now. Nagbe put many Rose City hearts in mouths in the last month as he has been linked to a move to Celtic in Scotland. Losing either Nagbe or Adi would certainly shuffle the lineup card for Caleb Porter. As is obvious, neither Valeri, Nagbe, or Adi have obvious understudies on the Portland roster.
Darren Mattocks was a smart add for the Timbers given his energy, experience, and adaptability since he can play in a number of attacking roles. Aside from the aforementioned Villafana, the Timbers sold Rodney Wallace, an energetic winger and regular starter on the 2015 squad. PTFC also loaned out Dairon Asprilla to a Colombian side leaving them thinner at the position. Of course, Melano was probably supposed to lay claim to the job and Adi buffeted by Melano-Nagbe-Valeri should make for a pretty tantalizing attacking quartet. Instead, that never really congealed. For awhile Jack McInerney looked to be a promising attacking addition but his star dulled considerably over the course of the season. Smarter soccer minds than mine project him to get snatched up in the upcoming expansion draft.
With both Atlanta United and Minnesota United FC joining MLS in 2017 its expansion time. The draft takes place tomorrow (Tuesday December 13th) The Oregonian outlines the procedure:
The expansion draft will give expansion clubs Atlanta United and Minnesota United FC a chance to each select up to five players from the list of 259 available players. MLS teams are allowed to protect 11 players, all of whom will be unavailable for selection. Teams may only lose a maximum of one player in the draft.
The Timbers are protecting Fanendo Adi, Vytas, Gbenga Arokoyo, Diego Chara, Jake Gleeson, Darren Mattocks, Lucas Melano, Darlington Nagbe, Alvas Powell, Liam Ridgewell and Diego Valeri.
I’m assuming that Melano is on the list so we can sell him. The only other “surprise” inclusion to me would be Gbenga Arokoyo. But he is a young defender who arrived in August and given Borchers’ injury (he turns 36 in April), Ridgwell’s age (32), injuries, and off the field behavior, and Steven Taylor’s (31 in January) underwhelming debut in Portland, keeping a young defender (turned 24 in November) with upside is a smart move.
I’ll update this after the expansion draft.
*No Timbers players were selected in the expansion draft
As always, recommend keeping an eye on Stumptown Footy for better analysis and news as the Timbers limp into the offseason.