MLS Preview: Team By Team, Portland Timbers Actually Aiming For Playoffs

Posted In Features - By Kevin McCauley On Wednesday, March 2nd, 2011 With 0 Comments

The roster of the Portland Timbers hasn’t exactly escaped the “expansion team” feel, but it’s certainly deeper and better looking than expansion teams in the past. Inevitably, they will be compared to the Vancouver Whitecaps for years. Right now, the Timbers look like the team more set up for early success of the two, as they have done well to build a roster that looks like it can compete in MLS immediately. They’ve done it by using the Expansion Draft, SuperDraft, trades, outside signings, and D2 promotions, utilizing every resource at their disposal to build a good squad. They lack some depth in areas, but the Timbers look like they have enough talent to avoid the basement of MLS in year one.

Unfortunately, they’ve suffered a couple of injuries to their forwards early on. Bright Dike, who re-started his career in D2 after being cut by the Columbus Crew, has suffered a serious Achilles tendon injury and will miss at least the first five months of the season. Rookie star Darlington Nagbe is out with a much shorter term injury - a sports hernia - but he will still miss at least the team’s season opener.

Portland have a much more filled out roster than their Cascadia expansion neighbors, but they still have some wiggle room if they want to sign another foreign player. Like Vancouver, they have brought some D2 talent along, which has definitely aided them in their roster building process. A lot of the players they have added are not necessarily young or inexperienced players, so unlike Vancouver, they’re not about building for the future. They’re about winning now. It may be unrealistic, but it’s a commendable attitude.

Defense is probably the area where the Timbers have their biggest problems. They’re employing a group of respectable journeymen, but they lack anyone who is a known bona-fide starter. Kerrea Gilbert, a fullback formerly with Arsenal, could be that player, but he’s yet to play with the team. Eric Brunner, Kevin Goldthwaite, and Rodney Wallace are serviceable, but they’re not much more than that. Steve Purdy and Mamadou Danso were good D2 players, but they might have a bit of trouble making the step up. If the Timbers fail to compete for the playoffs, this will likely be their undoing.

The midfield is quite a bit stronger, by comparison. Adam Moffat had an okay season for the Columbus Crew last season, but his positional sense looked very poor at times. If Portland is going to play with two players in the center of midfield with defensive responsibilities, it’s probably best that Moffat is the man told to sit back. He can tackle, shoot, and pass just fine, but Moffat’s biggest problem is knowing when to get forward and when to stay put. If there’s no “get forward” option for him in the playbook, he’ll be a very effective player. Jack Jewsbury, who was just acquired, will probably be an even better and more consistent player in the center of midfield. The Timbers have a plethora of players who can occupy an attacking midfield role behind a striker or pair of strikers in Darlington Nagbe, Ryan Pore, Peter Lowry, and Kalif Alhassan, and it will be interesting to see if John Spencer is interested in utilizing a player who plays that role. Their biggest deficiency is wide players, where they have literally no proven quantities. Sal Zizzo has yet to show if he can live up to his potential, while Nagbe has been stuck out wide in some pre-season games.

At forward, Portland is loaded with question marks, but it would be shocking if one or two of those question marks didn’t become very good options up top. Kenny Cooper should be the starter from day one, whether Spencer wants to play with one striker or two, and he’s a proven quantity in MLS. After him, who knows? Nagbe looks like more of a winger or attacking midfielder than a striker at this point. Eddie Johnson and Bright Dike are great D2 players, but they’re unproven in MLS. Brian Umony is a total unknown quantity, but his pre-season camp is inspiring some optimism.

Even though it doesn’t appear to be in John Spencer’s playbook, doesn’t this team just scream narrow 4-4-2 diamond with the variety of strikers and attacking midfielders, combined with the lack of quality wide players? Time will tell how Spencer plans to emphasize the strengths and hide the weaknesses of his roster.

So, playoff prospects? Not bad if they can stay healthy and find a way to cover up for the fact that they don’t have anything on the wings. Portland could ultimately become the biggest benefactors of MLS changing the playoff system to allow 10 teams to make the postseason.

About Kevin McCauley - Kevin McCauley is the Editor in Chief of The Allocation Order. He is also the managing editor at World Soccer Reader and a contributor on multiple levels to SBNation

Leave a comment

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>