It’s been a rough second year for Caleb Porter, but the American coach looks destined to lead his team into the playoffs. The 39-year-old has put together a squad that’s qualified to compete in a top league. He has a superior goalkeeper, an experienced defense, a midfield packed with creative talents and an array of goal scoring machines.
Before I dive into the positives of the team, I’d like to state Portland’s Achilles heel.
Porter’s experienced defense, especially the center backs, has failed him this season.Before the win against Chivas USA on Wednesday, the Timbers had zero clean sheets in 12 games.
Pa Modou Kah (33), Mamadou Danso (31), Norberto Paparatto(30), Michael Harrington(28) and Jack Jewsbury (33) are all playing like rookies. The center backs are too exposed, leaving a huge gap for a forward to exploit. For example, against LA Galaxy, the most dangerous goalscorer was left wide-open in the box for an easy header. These kinds of mistakes are behind the 20 goals Portland has conceded this season.
Now let’s talk about what makes Portland special. It’s only right to start with the most important player in the squad, Donovan Ricketts. The Jamaican is the wall that protects the Timbers from predators. The big goalkeeper is arguably the best net-minder in the league.
As I was watching Portland dominate Chivas’ midfield in the early minutes of the match, I noticed something, Diego Valeri and Darlington Nagbe weren’t on the pitch. My mind was blown. It was hard to believe that a team would just run over an opponent without two of its best players.
Instead of using his two star players, Porter handed Kalif Alhassan and Michael Nanchoff the start against the last place team in the Western Conference. In front of an embarrassing total attendance of 3,702, the role players were fantastic and Portland’s midfield didn’t miss a beat.
The depth in the middle automatically makes Portland the best midfield in the MLS. With Valeri, Nagbe, Alhassan, Will Johnson and Diego Chara, Porter has the creative to unlock any defense and the drudgery to protect his defenders.
Out on the flanks, the return of Steve Zakuani and Rodney Wallace makes fullbacks in the league quiver. Zakuani proved that he is an elite winger during his time with the Seattle Sounders, but Wallace shocked MLS fans when he scored seven goals and added six assists last season. The Costa Rican returned to the bench on Wednesday, and I have a feeling he’ll be suiting up before the two week World Cup break.
And finally, at the forward position, Porter has a prolific goal poacher, a technical genius and a target forward.
Since his move to the City of Roses, Gaston Fernandez has won the heart of the Timbers Army. The Argentine forward is the definition of clutch. The small attacker finds himself at the right places at the right time to score important goals.
Joining Fernandez at the top of the teams goalscoring chart is another Argentine, Maximiliano Urruti. The young forward possess the technical abilities of an English Premier League forward. Quick on the ball, likes the ball at his feet, makes smart runs and only seems to score imaginative goals.
And then, there’s the new signing, Fanendo Adi.
The on-loan striker celebrated his first MLS start with two goals against Chivas. The towering center forward is exactly the kind of player that complements the Timbers’ creativity. He holds on to ball well, is very fast for a big guy, makes great runs in behind the defense and he is surprisingly technical.
With a squad this powerful and healthy Portland is primed for success. The defense will definitely improve, the midfield balance is second to none, and the forward options makes the Timbers capricious.
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