The Portland Timbers ended 2014 on a high note with three wins and a draw in the final four matches. Despite losing Will Johnson, Ben Zemanski, and Diego Valeri to leg injuries, Caleb Porter’s retooled and deeper group should be expecting start 2015 strong.
Where defense was Portland’s achilles last season, the signings of Nat Borchers and Adam Kwarasey bring the club legitimacy and depth. Borchers spent seven years with Real Salt Lake and has been in the league for the last ten. His beard also fits right in with the Timbers Army. This is Kwarasey’s first stint in the United States, but he’s looked solid through the preseason and has championship experience in Norway. The Ghanaian keeper leads a high line and is fast enough to rush off his line and out of the box when needed. Plus, it isn’t nearly as terrifying as when Ricketts would try to (hopefully no karate kicks this year).
Alvas Powell has improved on both ends of the ball and looks ready to start and contribute every match. Over the preseason his combination play with Darlington Nagbe and improved decision making on the attack have impressed me most. The 20 year old right back still makes mistakes and can get lost taking players one-on-one, but he shows the willingness to shoot in situations where Nagbe is known to hesitate.
On the other side of the pitch, Jorge Villafana is expected to continue feeding balls into Fanendo Adi. However, I’m more excited about newcomer Jeanderson Pereira. The Brazilian reminds me of an old Rodney Wallace: he can come in and provide speed, creativity, and service anywhere on the left. Jeanderson likely won’t see much playing time, but his depth is important for a club already suffering from injuries.
As long as Diego Valeri is out we can expect to see Gaston Fernandez starting up top behind Fanendo Adi. La Gata hasn’t been too popular with fans and can’t replace the Valeri, but Gaston can score. With a year in MLS under his belt I expect more than the seven goals and two assists of last season. Plus, Fernandez will be taking a PKs and a decent number of free kicks. I believe in the Argentine enough to start him well one in fantasy MLS.
Darlington Nagbe needs a good season and I think he’s going to have a great one. While the USMNT prospect only found the back of the net once last year, he didn’t need to fill that role. Nagbe assisted on nine goals and played the facilitator better than ever before in 2014. Preseason showed an aggressive attacker who was willing to use his left foot when necessary. This matches well with Fanendo Adi who will be holding the ball and holding off defenders while Nagbe and the speedy Rodney Wallace rush into the attack.
The Timbers final new signing is winger/forward Dairon Asprilla. The 22 year old has captivated Portland fans with his preseason play on the right side. He lets Darlington Nagbe move high up the pitch and looks to be combining fantastically with his teammates. I don’t think he’s ready to displace anyone from the XI, but he’ll be seeing steady minutes as a backup.
The question for Portland is if there’s any way they can overcome a tough schedule while Valeri and Johnson are out. Last year’s slow start is what kept the club out of the playoffs. With the defense upgraded and real depth for the first time, I don’t think I’m being a homer for thinking the Timbers have a good chance at recapturing some of that 2013 magic.
(image courtesy of mlssoccer.com)