Portland finished top of the Western Conference in 2017 but their playoff run ended with a shocking home defeat. With a new coach in the fold, the Timbers will rely on their strong roster to build on their regular season showing of last season.
Off-Season Grade: B
After being dumped out in the Western Conference semifinals at home by the Houston Dynamo in 2017, fans are eager to see if a new look Portland has enough to chase MLS Cup in 2018? Fans around MLS were shocked to see the departure of fan favorites, Head Coach Caleb Porter and midfielder Darlington Nagbe.
You can expect the Portland Timbers to still be a very good team this season. They aren’t using this season as a ‘’rebuild year’’ as they have a strong enough roster to build off last season’s success and the expectations for the 2018 campaign should be high. There are expected to be some growing pains with the hiring of former New York Cosmos coach Giovanni Savarese and the addition of some new talent this season. With pre-season coming to an end, it will be key to see if team chemistry affects how the team performs in the first few games.
Portland still has great attacking pieces with Fanendo Adi, Sebastian Blanco but they added even more firepower with forward Samue Armenteros and midfielder Andy Polo on loan. Teenager Christhian Paredes also joins on loan, from Club America in Mexico. Julio Cascante, a 24 year old Costa Rican defender will help a backline that has showed improvement. Free transfers, midfielder Andres Flores and defender Modou Jadama should add depth. Flores played under new coach Giovanni Savarese while with the Cosmos.
Perhaps an underrated move of the offseason is Portland’s acquisition of US youth international Eryk Williamson. The 20 year old was a DC United homegrown but he wasn’t in their plans so the U20 World Cup veteran has found a new home in Oregon.
Key Player: Fanendo Adi
Adi has been a critical piece of Portland's lineup since joining the club. He scored 10 goals in 22 starts last year, which is a slight step up, after scoring 16 goals in each of the previous two seasons. Adi's 2017 campaign came to an end with a hamstring injury in August, but the Nigerian forward finally started to take significant steps toward returning to the field after seeing a specialist in October. The Timbers did extend his contract, so it looks like Fanendo will be around for a while longer.
Best Case Scenario: Western Conference Finals
My concern is that injuries, the loss of Nagbe and age will catch up to the Portland Timbers this season. Bringing in a new Head Coach could be a blessing and It looks like Savarese is preaching fitness and chemistry. It will take time for everything to come together for the Timbers, so I don’t expect them to get off to as quick of a start as they did during the 2017 campaign. There are 4 or 5 teams that could be better than the Timbers this season, and I predict them to finish 3rd in the West. If they can figure out their style of play and find a way to score at the pace they were scoring last season, we may just see them back in the West finals.
Bold Prediction: Timbers miss out on the playoffs
Although I predicted Portland to finish in the top 3 in the Western Conference, it is a possibility that the Timbers drop out of playoff contention. Outside of Diego Valeri, their scoring production can be unpredictable, and the new guys will have to step in as soon as the season kicks off. Integrating a new system will take time and Portland starts the season with 5 straight road games. If Portland gets into a slump early, it may be difficult for them to climb back into playoff position. The West should be extremely competitive this season, meaning the Timbers can’t afford to fall behind early in the season.