Founded: 1975. There have been four different incarnations of the Portland Timbers. The first team played in the North American Soccer League from 1975 to 1982. The second team played from 1985 to 1990 in various leagues on the West Coast. The third team played from 2001 to 2010 in the A-League, the USL First Division, and the American Professional Soccer League. The fourth team started play in 2007 Major League Soccer after owner Merritt Paulson bought the rights to the Timbers name.)
Where they Finished Last Season: 7-18-9- Eighth Place in the Western Conference.
Pedigree: 2012 Cascadia Cup Champion, Runners Up Soccer Bowl 1975 (NASL,) 2009 USL Western Division Champions, 2004 A-League Western Division Champions.
Rivals: Seattle Sounders and Vancouver Whitecaps (Cascadia Cup)
Supporters: The Timbers Army
Head Coach: Caleb Porter (First Season.)
Top Returning Players: GK Donovan Ricketts, DEF Mamadou Danso, MF Diego Chara, DEF/MF Jack Jewsbury, MF Diego Valeri, MF Darlington Nagbe.
Key Additions: DEF Michael Harrington (Sporting Kansas City,) DEF Mikael Silvestre (SV Weder Bremen-Germany,) MF Diego Valeri (Club Atletico Lanus- on loan,) MF Will Johnson (Toronto F.C.,) MF Ben Zemanski (Chivas U.S.A.,) FWD Ryan Johnson (Toronto F.C.,) FWD Frederic Piqiuionne (West Ham United F.C.)
Key Departures: DEF Steve Purdy (Chivas U.S.A.,) DEF Eric Brunner (Houston Dynamo,) DEF Lovel Palmer (Real Salt Lake,) DEF Kosuke Kimura (New York Red Bulls,) MF Eric Alexander (New York Red Bulls,) FWD Mike Fucito (San Jose Earthquakes,) FWD Kris Boyd (Kilmarnock F.C.) FWD Danny Mwanga (Colorado Rapids.)
Young Player to Watch: Darlington Nagbe
What is there not to like about the Portland Timbers? A team with a ravenous fanbase (their average attendance is 20,000 people per game,) and rivalries with the Seattle Sounders and Vancouver Whitecaps that date back to the 1970s the Portland Timbers have helped this league grow immensely in the past three years. In a league that has struggled to make regular season matches noteworthy, anytime you go to a Timber’s match you are in for a show. The support that the Timbers Army shows to the players, even during the last two seasons, gives hope that American soccer can prosper in this country. Oh, and I am pretty sure Timber Joey, the Portland Timber’s mascot, can beat up any other mascot in professional sports.
No one can take anything away from what the Portland supporters have done off the field. But on the field the club has struggled in its first two years. It would seem that because was already this Portland Timbers structure existed before they entered the league that they were not an expansion team. The problem is that they were an expansion team, and with being an expansion team comes growing pains. Last season was very difficult for the Timbers. The club had the third worst record in the league last season , ahead of the disasters that are Toronto F.C. and Chivas U.S.A. The club also scored only 34 goals last season and allowed 56, which were both third worst in MLS behind the previously mentioned Toronto and Chivas. When your team cannot score and you cannot stop giving up goals, you will not win in any league.
This club may have had its growing pains the past two season, but seems to have gone past them. Unbeaten in their last matches, Portland currently sits in 3rd place in the Western Conference. Credit for this turnaround begins with the hiring of Caleb Porter as their Head Coach. The former coach of the Akron Zips, the U.S. college soccer team that won the 2010 NCAA Division I Men’s Soccer Championship, Porter has had a hand in developing some of the best young players in Major League Soccer. This list includes, among others, D.C. United Defender Perry Kitchen, Seattle Sounders Midfielder Steve Zakuani, Forward Darren Mattocks and current Portland Timbers midfielders Ben Zemanski and Darlington Nagbe. Porter may have had some difficulties coaching the U.S. Under-23 Men’s National Team, losing to El Salvador and missing out on the 2012 Olympics. But he is still one of the top American coaches and may have needed some more experience coaching in MLS before moving to the National Team.
There was also a complete overhaul of their roster starting with their defense. Adding a player like Michael Harrington to a line that includes Pah Modou Kah, Mamadou Danso, and Jack Jewsbury, who alternates between Midfield and Defense has given them some stability and some veteran leadership which they sorely needed last season. So far this season, the club has only allowed 16 goals, which is the third lowest in the Western Conference. While Donovan Ricketts is back in goal, he seems to be in better form than last season. It will benefit the Timbers down the stretch that Jamaica is essentially out of World Cup Qualifying and will probably be looking for a younger keeper other than Ricketts to start.
Though an improved defense is one of the reasons why this team has made many strides in their third season, this team’s strength is still their midfield. I rarely make public pleas to U.S. Men’s National Team Coach Jurgen Klinsmann, but this time I will make an exception. Jurgen: please figure out some way to expedite Darlington Nagbe’s Citizenship process because he is the most talented in MLS and probably the United States outside of Michael Bradley. Nagbe is a citizen of Liberia, but has lived in the United States since he was 11. Soccer is in his blood: his father Joe Nagbe was the captain of Liberia and played in Europe for PAOK Thessaloniki F.C. and A.S. Monaco. He is an excellent distributor, can blow past defenders like the wind, and has a knack for make impossible shots look easy. Watch this goal on Saturday against F.C. Dallas and be amazed. He is also the recipient of the 2011 MLS Goal of the Year, which may be one of the best goals I have ever seen.
Whereas Nagbe has always been a talent, it seems that the additions Will Johnson and Diego Valeri have eased the pressure on the 22 year old. Diego Valeri has thrived on the outside passes that he has received from his defenders, forcing crosses into the box for the likes of Will Johnson and Nagbe. Valeri, who is on loan from Lanus in the Argentine First Division, has thrived in his partnership with Jewsbury on the right side. His distribution skills help open the field for the Timbers attack. He also has a knack for the goal, scoring 4 goals in 12 matches this season. Will Johnson has also been a major asset on the attack, scoring five goals this season.
The other player in the midfield worth mentioning is Diego Chara. The little Colombian (he is 5’7’) has one of the prettiest step over moves in the league. The only problem is that he needs to work on his finishing: during the F.C. Dallas match he had at least 3 golden opportunities to score and just could not finish his shots. What makes the Timbers midfield so dangerous is that they have so many weapons going forward, which makes them nearly impossible to defend against.
The one area that has done well so far this season, but could be an issue as the season goes on is at forward. So far this season, they have looked fantastic. They currently lead the league in goals with 25 tallies, 9 of which have come from starting forwards Ryan Johnson (5) and Rodney Wallace (4). With a team of midfielders that love to shoot, it leaves a lot of extra opportunities for their forwards if there are deflections or missed opportunities.
The problem is that it seems that the team is only two forwards deep. Frederic Piquionne is not the solution. While he has been a good influence on the attack by being able to push the ball on the left hand side and cross it into the center of the box, he still has not scored a goal yet this season. At 34, it does not seem like there is much left in him. He has 18 shots this season, but only four on goal and only four assists. He was not much better during his tenure with West Ham United F.C. either. “He wasn’t a success at West Ham,” says ESPN FC writer, host of the always entertaining ESPN F.C. podcast and noted West Ham United supporter Dan Mason. “He originally signed from Portsmouth, where they suffered two relegations in two seasons. In the Championship he was rarely selected by [West Ham United F.C. coach Sam] Allardyce, who loaned him to Doncaster [Rovers.] He had almost a comic ability to arrive ever so slightly too late, or to only get a featherlight touch on the ball. A poor player.”
While they could replace him with one of their attacking midfielders, I am concerned that may disrupt the flow of their midfield which has been their source of their success this year. One player that may be a solution is by giving more minutes to Jose Adolfo Valencina. He has only played about 60 minutes this season, but I was impressed by his ability to control the ball in the May 18th match against the Vancouver Whitecaps. He was able to trap the ball off of his chest, gain possesion and fire an excellent shot that evened the game up. He may not need to be their starting forward, but he should be an serviceable option off of the bench or for the occasional spot start.
The turnaround this team has had in under a year is phenomenal. It finally seems that the enthusasim that is shown in the stands is met on the pitch by a team that can impose their will on offense, and play lockdown defense. If they can find a decent third striker and avoid any cataclysmic injuries, they will certainly make the playoffs. Beyond that, it could be difficult. Clubs like the Houston Dynamo and the Los Angeles Galaxy have poached teams in the past who fit Portland’s bill. The Timbers success will depend on their veteran midfielders and whether or not Nagbe can continue his breakout season in the playoffs.
Beer of Choice: Green and Gold Kolsch, Widmer Beer Company
Normally I would not go with a beer that is sponsored by the team but as a fan of Widmer beers and a supporter of all things Kolsch (Except Grolsch, which is as my brother would say “Gross”) I have to give this beer my full endorsement for all Timbers matches. First, the brewer Abraham Goldman Armstrong actually won a beer making competition that was sponsored by the team. And the fellow gets to sell it during Timbers? While some teams may sell awful things like giant Bud Lights or Coronas (I am looking at you RFK Stadium,) it is good to see a team that understand what makes soccer great. German beers and chainsaws.