Saturday, March 16, 2019

Week 3 Predictions - Portland Timbers vs. FC Cincinnati

Fanendo Adi isn't the only former Timbers we'll see this week playing FCC
I knew the 2019 season would start off strangely, but in two matches, we already have buckets of oddities with the Portland Timbers as they search for some type of identity as a club. After their MLS Cup appearance in 2019, it's been triumphed that the team brought back the majority of the core of that group, and it would be a matter of time to tweak this group into a competitive side. In two matches, we've seen the offense be slightly predictable - unless Diego Valeri or Sebastian Blanco are creating something, the offense has been rather non-descript - but the defense has alternated between competent and dumpster fire. Jeff Attinella has stepped in to make several huge saves, and has generally been good, but he's not been covered well collectively by his backline. Perhaps the worst part of this situation is that the side of the defense that was expected to be stronger - the left duo of Jorge Villafana and Julio Cascante - has been the troubled area.

Villafana was the most consistent and viably strong defenders during the 2015 MLS Cup run for Portland, holding down his side and pouring forward with ease, but he's been very inconsistent so far and struggling to defend. Cascante, who showed signs of brilliance last year until some uneven play got him sent to the bench, has defaulted to some poor marking that has cost Portland dearly. The thing was, Zarek Valentin was supposed to be the weak link in this group, and while Zarek has shown signs of slowing down at points trying to keep up with speedy wingers, he's been the most consistent player on the defense. Even Larrys Mabiala, who was the best centerback in MLS last year defensively while adding goals off set pieces, hasn't been himself. It's been tough at points to watch, especially when LAFC carved up this group in the second half with relative ease. LAFC is very good at passing and movement, but Portland made them look elite in the second half, and the Timbers were somewhat lucky to have only conceded 4 goals. Now the team looks to travel again to Cincinnati to play the newest member of MLS, FC Cincinnati, in their official home opener - Cincinnati currently plays at the University of Cincinnati while their stadium is under construction with a tentative open date of March 2021. Diego Chara was ejected from the LAFC match due to a second yellow card in the 72nd minute when he flicked LAFC forward Diego Rossi in the ear, and we all know about the Timbers' record when Chara isn't present. Terrible isn't the right descriptor here, but suffice to say, this team has struggled to find cover when number 21 isn't in the lineup.

I wonder what he will do if he gets a goal against us.
FC Cincinnati and their fans have been waiting for this moment to show off their city and fan support, and now they have a Timbers team that is visiting without one of their key weapons. Portland also has some familiarity with this group, considering 4 former Timbers are on their roster. Alvas Powell was a key cog in the Timbers defense for six seasons before his trade eastward, while Fanendo Adi was one of the Timbers' most consistent scorers during his five seasons in the Rose City where he and Valeri were the focal points of the offense. Darren Mattocks spent 2 seasons in Portland, where he became a consistent contributor off the bench before he was traded to D.C. United, and DCU left Mattocks exposed in the 2019 MLS Expansion Draft where FCC decided to take him. Eric Alexander was likely the best part of the 2012 Portland Timbers side, as that season was a mitigated disaster between player upheaval, the firing of a coach, and struggles at every position. Alexander wasn't retained by the Timbers, but he's been an under the radar contributor in every stop since. So with all this going on and the story lines here, what might we see when these teams play, especially knowing the Timbers are still looking for their true form after snowmageddon in Colorado in week 1 followed by the LAFC stampeded in week 2.

I don't have all those answers, because if I did, I'd be the coach of this team and I'm not. I know the team is trying to get itself sorted, and that's difficult when there isn't a true home base and foundation to center around. While the team is training here and spending time in familiar confines during the week, they end each week with a big trip to a destination to do it all over again, and I'm sure that is taxing. What I also know in the stressful times is to try and focus on the important things; I recall a match in 2005 at home in July when the Rochester Rhinos were fully raging and shelled the Timbers with 3 goals in the first half, followed up by 2 more right at the start of the second. The Timbers Army defiantly sang, "Always Look On the Bright Side of Life" followed by a cacophony of noise despite the score line. It was tough and emotional, but I credit the capos for keeping the group resilient in the face of defeat; even the team commented about the helpful energy after the result. It's tough to go into situations knowing the cards are stacked against you, but it's grinding efforts and securing success that builds the foundation to future achievement. I always though the phase whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger, but in many ways, it's somewhat appropriate here. And in my way to provide support and some laughs, we have cats and soccer predictions. With the result last week, GB, Pilot and Kip get points for correctly predicting a loss, but nobody gets the 3 points for an exact pick.

Fortune is always hiding. Just like Tortie.

Tortie: Timbers 12, FC Cincinnati 10; 0 points.

The diminutive one is very distraught that her favorite player, Diego Chara, isn't playing this weekend. She, however would be tremendously happy if the Timbers offense could put up a ton of goals to help offset his loss. Plenty of eeps from her mean goals, and much like last week, she meowed more for the Timbers than the home side. Let's hope she's right this week, because I'd like to see a shootout at some point.

GB is not bothered at all about things. He's just chilling out.

GB: Timbers 3, FC Cincinnati 3; 1 point.

GB was happy to secure his first point of 2019 last week, so he comes into this week thinking that both teams will come away with a point. Instead of meows, he did tail thumps to signify goals for week 3, and each side got 3. I always knew this cat was a big fan of Adi, and now we have proof of it. 

What? The other cats have points now, too? Inconceivable!!

Spot: Timbers 0, FC Cincinnati 0; 1 point.

After weeks of her picking scores, Spot reverts back to her usual stance of not picking anything. Of the pack of cats, she's by far the most typical cat in not following any directions and doing her own thing - and sure enough, this week, she's convinced that nobody will do anything. Maybe we would all be better off with a nap in the sun, but who would watch 90 minutes of that with commentary?

I pick a winner and an own goal and I still get the cone? BOOOO!

Pilot: Timbers 4, FC Cincinnati 2; 1 point.

I'm still not sure how Pilot knew there would be an own goal in the match with LAFC, but the tuxedo cat called his shot with plenty of conviction. This week, he's convinced the offense for Portland will overcome the defensive struggles, but each side will get to celebrate goals. It's just the Portland side that will do more of it than the other ones. 

When I'm on my blanket, all is right with the world.

Lucy: Timbers 3, FC Cincinnati 0; 0 points.

Lucy hasn't been close in predictions so far in 2019, but she's making the choice that Portland will be the top team this weekend in all aspect. The offense will get 2 goals from Valeri, a goal from Ebobisse and Jeff will get the shutout. With a face like that, how could anyone tell her she might be wrong? I'd love it if this ends up being true. 

No green beer for Kip, only coffee or tea. 

Kip: Timbers 3, FC Cincinnati 2; 1 point.

I hated picking against the Timbers last week, but I couldn't see a conceivable way for them to pick up a point despite really playing well in the first half versus LAFC. Without Chara, I know the team's record is bad, but this FC Cincinnati team is beatable, even if it's the home opener. I know the emotions will be high for the home side, but I think the Timbers will right the ship and get their first win of 2019 on St. Patrick's Day. 

Saturday, March 9, 2019

Week 2 Predictions - Portland Timbers vs. Los Angeles Football Club

After last week's conditions, anything would be better for Portland
Welcome to week 2 of the 2019 Major League soccer season. The Portland Timbers started off their year by playing in some of the worst conditions I've ever seen for a soccer match when they played the Colorado Rapids. The match started in bitter temperatures at just 19 degrees with first kick, and wind chills dropping things into single digits. When the snow started falling throughout the rest of the match, it turned everything on its ear. Now, dealing with the conditions was an afterthought to staying on your feet and not getting injured as the turf conditions changed with every falling snowflake. It was certainly entertaining to watch the match on television in a warm house with several dozing kitties, but I can't even imagine what it was like being there. 

Portland is very fortunate to have walked out of the park with a point by virtue of a 3 all draw. There was plenty of folks that said we didn't learn a whole lot from this match, and just to be happy with the point and walk away considering the conditions. However, I think we did pick up a few things from this one. Firstly, Andy Polo and Sebastian Blanco were everywhere - and their speed will give clubs problems. Colorado had no clue how to mark either player, and it was the conditions that really impacted what they weer able to do. Secondly, Diego Valeri and Blanco will be the focal points of the offense per usual - and considering Diego leaves Colorado with a goal and an assist and Blanco gets a goal, it's business as usual. Lastly, this defense needs a leader and badly. If Portland hadn't made three very glaring defensive errors and let up in each instance, they could have walked out of Colorado with all the points. Granted, Kei Kamara has made a career of scoring goals moving just off a defender's shoulder, so I can't get too upset when he slipped easily by Julio Cascante. However, there is no excuse for not marking Benny Feilhaber off the second half kick as he dribbled past most of the Timbers defense and scored seconds into the half. Nor is there an excuse to leave an unmarked forward at the far post with seconds left in the match, as the Timbers did when they left Andre Shinyashiki without anyone nearby off a Jeff Attinella rebound from a shot off the flank. The Rapids rookie had an easy tap in and the Timbers learned that mistakes at any time in any condition can and often do come back to haunt you. 

Our cats were not doing this for Timbers - Rapids as they dozed away the day.
Midweek, we got a look at the official Timbers roster via the MLS Media resources, and we could see what the group looked like under the actual MLS roster rules. Portland indeed has 28 players on the roster, but they have 4 spots officially open to sign or add players due to Aljaz Ivacic being on the injured list after leg surgery and Renzo Zambrano being listed as loaned out to an unknown destination. With those 2 players also not on the official roster, the Timbers avoid roster issues with international spots having 10 international players with only 8 available spots. There are rumors that some players are close to getting their green cards - Claude Dielna for one - which would adjust this count, but for now, I am not expecting any other roster news or notes as the winter transfer window is now closed. If there are any adjustments forthcoming, it would likely be a call up from Timbers 2 or a domestic player that isn't currently under contract with any other side.

Goalkeepers (4) Jeff Attinella, Kendall McIntosh, Aljaz Ivacic, Steve Clark
Fullbacks (4): Marco Farfan, Jorge Villafana, Zarek Valentin, Jorge Moreira
Center Backs (5): Julio Cascante, Claude Dielna, Modou Jadama, Larrys Mabiala, Bill Tuiloma
Defensive Mids (5): Diego Chara, David Guzman, Cristhian Paredes, Eryk Williamson, Renzo Zambrano
Attacking Mids (6): Dairon Asprilla, Sebastian Blanco, Marvin Loria, Andy Polo, Diego Valeri, Andres Flores
Forwards (4): Jeremy Ebobisse, Foster Langsdorf, Lucas Melano. Tomas Conechny

2019 MLS Draft Picks: F Ryan Sierakowski, D Lennart Hein, D Francesco Moore, M David Zalzman

Senior Roster (1 through 20): Asprilla, Attinella, Blanco, Cascante, Chara, Conechny, Dielna, Ebobisse, Guzman, Ivacic, Mabiala, McIntosh, Melano, Moreira, Paredes, Polo, Tuiloma, Valentin, Valeri, Villafana.
Supplemental Roster (21 through 24): Clark, Flores, Jadama, Zambrano
Reserve Roster (25 through 30): Farfan, Langsdorf, Loria, Williamson

Designated Players: Blanco, Melano, Valeri
Home Grown Players: Farfan, Langsdorf, Williamson
International Players: Cascante, Conechny, Ivacic, Loria, Mabiala, Moreira, Paredes, Polo, Tuiloma
On Loan: Zambrano (TBD)
Injured List: Ivacic

Timbers 2: GK: Leeker; D: De Vera, Diz Pe, Hanson, Ornstil, Smith; M: Anguiano, Kobayashi, Ojeda, Wharton; F: Hurtado, Sierakowski

MLS Roster Notes:

  • A club's active roster is comprised of up to 30 players. All 30 players are eligible for selection to each 18-player game-day squad during the 2019 MLS regular season and playoffs.
  • SENIOR: (ON-BUDGET) Up to 20 players, occupying roster spots 1-20, count against the club's 2019 Salary Budget , and are referred to collectively as the club's Senior Roster.
  • SUPPLEMENTAL & RESERVE: (OFF-BUDGET) The salaries of players on the Supplemental Roster (spots 21-24) and Reserve Roster (spots 25-30) do not count toward a club's Salary Budget.
  • INTL: In 2019, a total of 192 international roster spots are divided among the 24 clubs. These spots are tradable, in full season increments, so some clubs may have more than eight and some clubs may have fewer than eight.
  • DP & Young DP: The Designated Player Rule allows clubs to acquire up to three players whose total compensation and acquisition costs exceed the Maximum Salary Budget Charge, with the club bearing financial responsibility for the amount of compensation above each player's Salary Budget Charge. A Designated Player 23 years old (or younger than the age of 23) during the League Year is a Young Designated Player Budget Charge. Designated Player spots are not tradable.
  • HG: A club may sign a player to a contract without subjecting him to the MLS SuperDraft if the player has been a member of a club's youth academy for at least one year and has met the necessary training and retention requirements. Players joining MLS through this mechanism are known as Homegrown Players.
  • GA & GA-C: Generation adidas (GA) and Generation adidas Canada (GA-C) are joint programs between MLS and adidas that are dedicated to developing exceptional domestic talent in a professional environment. Until a player graduates from the program, Generation adidas players are on a club's Supplemental Roster and are not charged against the team's salary budget.
For week 2 of the season of the MLS season, the Timbers head to warmer climates to play Los Angeles Football Club, or LAFC for short. Despite joining the league just last year, LAFC and the Timbers has quite a volatile history of matchups. Portland won in their first ever meeting at Providence Park back in May 2019 with a dramatic 2 to 1 win behind Cristian Paredes' first ever MLS goal, but it was the July matchups that provided the drama. The two clubs played in a scoreless draw in league play at Banc Of California Stadium on July 15 in a very conservatively played affair, but Portland remained in the area as the same sides were paired up to play in the 2018 U.S. Open Cup Quarterfinals on July 19. Playing much quicker pace, LAFC raced out to a 3 to 1 lead and held on to win 3 to 2, but the match itself was plagued by controversy relating to LAFC fielding a potentially ineligible player by USOC rules. Portland filed a protest but withdrew it later, although there were calls for LAFC to forfeit the result regarding the status of Mark-Anthony Kaye. Kaye was listed as domestic for MLS league rules being from Canada, but he is considered international for USOC matches and LAFC had already played 5 other international players. The Open Cup for 2019 has closed out this loophole, but there was also other bad blood surrounding LAFC forward Adama Diomande, who made claims of being called a racial slur during this same match. The Timbers investigated the situation and no official punishments were ever handed out publicly, but suffice to say, there is some tension among the sides. Much like the Valeri - Blanco duo makes the Timbers go, it's Diomande and Carlos Vela with some help from Diego Rossi and Christian Ramirez, formerly of Minnesota United.

Being just 2 weeks into the season, how will the Timbers rebound from the near win and wintery conditions to much warmer conditions under a faster paced tempo? Our group ponders that very situation in this week's predictions. To add a more interesting element to our proceedings, we will tabulate points based on each week's results with a correct prediction (picking a win and the Timbers win for example) at 1 point, and an exact match (score and results) with 5 points. Spot was the only one that picked the correct result with a draw, so she is leading our group with a single point.

This looks like a goal, right? 

Tortie - Timbers 15, LAFC 11; 0 points.

The diminutive one was chatty per usual when asked about this match, and we had trouble keeping up with her various noises. Her usual tactic is to ask for lots of goals, and Tortie thinks that Jeff Attinella and Tyler Miller will be picking the ball out of the net a lot on this afternoon. Unlike some old Timbers Army Football Club or Old Growth FC matches, however, both sides will be lighting up the scoreboards in this one per the tortoise shelled one. 

Thinking cat is thinking.

GB - Timbers 2, LAFC 5; 0 points.

GB hasn't predicted many multiple goal matches in his career as a soccer expert, but he's predicting that both sides will get plenty of goals like his girlfriend, Tortie. However, he isn't expecting the track meet that she predicted, instead thinking that both sides will eventually get hungry and slow down the attack. Granted, we asked him about this right before his late night snack and he could have been distracted by food, but GB gave 5 meows for LAFC and just 2 for the visitors. Considering he went right to sleep after this, he must be confident in his findings. 

I am the only one allowed to have points.

Spot - Timbers 1, LAFC 0; 1 point.

We actually got Spot to pick a score for once. After showing off that she was the only one to correctly predict that nobody would win in week 1, Spot did a loud mew when asked if the Timbers would score a goal in LAFC. She remained very silent at each of the other questions, even after getting plenty of time with the brush while sitting in the sunlight. Of all the experts this week, Spot is the only one picking a Timbers win - and she was by herself last week as well. Can she make it two weeks in a row?

If you didn't like last week's pick, you might not like this either.

Pilot - LAFC 1, Timbers 0; 0 points.

Pilot's interview was early Saturday morning, when he started giving the gift of kisses to anyone about. While learning this from Daisy, our blind calico that used to be their caretaker when she was with us, he gave kisses when asked about the match. Jennifer asked if this was a gift, and Pilot thumped his tail down; we interpreted this as somebody giving a gift. When she asked if the Timbers were going to give LAFC a goal, the tail thumped again, so this means that somebody will give LAFC an own goal. He then left the proceedings to run downstairs and beg for food, so he's convinced it won't be a happy day for the Timbers at all. 

 This picking soccer isn't so difficult.

Lucy - Timbers 4, LAFC 4; 0 points.

Lucy doesn't meow so much as she yells. She yells about everything, and so we have to conduct her interview in a quiet part of the house to avoid waking up everybody. She gave 4 yells for both sides, then proceeded to walk away to use the litter box. We weren't going to ask for any follow up questions considering the circumstances, but since she was very loud and confident, we'll go with her original thoughts of both sides getting 4 goals and it's another sharing of the points for everybody. 

My cats might know soccer better than me. 

Kip - Timbers 1, LAFC 3; 0 points.

I haven't predicted the Timbers to lose or draw that often in these proceedings, but I don't like the matchup this weekend. Portland's defense was very suspect at points against the Rapids, and while I feel the conditions had something to do with it, the other fact is that LAFC has a much better offense than Colorado. I'd like to see somebody step in and be the defensive leader, and hopefully this happens in this match. But I'm not holding my breath at this point, either. Portland will look good for most of the match, but they will come up short and absorb their first loss of 2019. 

Friday, March 1, 2019

Week 1 Predictions - Portland Timbers vs. Colorado Rapids

Beautiful city, Denver is, but this weekend will be cold and snowy.
And so begins the 2019 MLS season, and thus my 12th season of covering the Portland Timbers. This whole process started in 2008 after returning from my honeymoon when my dear friend, Rick Curwen, decided to try and resurrect the Timbers community blog at old media home. I asked if he needed a hand in producing content, and the rest is history. It's weird to think about there being another season of MLS soccer going on here on the site, and we once again bring back weekly predictions. Over many seasons, my old editors would send out repeated emails asking for score predictions and a few paragraphs of explanation, and it led to a lot of posts and some interesting comments. Now that we've moved onto our new site, I've added a new group of experts willing and able to provide their thoughts about the matches - our cats - for the past few seasons, and once again, the felines are happy to provide their various thoughts about the Portland Timbers and their match for the week. We'll see how this goes over the coming weeks.

The first match of 2019 finds the Timbers traveling to Denver, Colorado to play the Colorado Rapids. The weather conditions are going to be very similar to what the Portland area is experiencing right now with cold and wind, but there is snow in the forecast and on the ground. Portland has usually avoided the snowy stuff for their pre-seasons, but in something truly weird for this year, the snow followed them down to Tucson for the last days of their preseason matched for the Mobile Mini Sun Cup. Portland has traditionally struggled with adjusting to the conditions, as their record in Colorado has been decidedly in the home side's favor until most recently. Most experts attributed that to the mile high altitude, which can be difficult to acclimate to in a short time period. Portland has arrived early or just before the match in previous years, and it didn't seem to matter much either way, but with new conditioning programs and a renewed emphasis on fitness, I expect the Timbers to be just fine in any respect.

Colorado, meanwhile, has undergone quite the transformation from a team that has languished near the basement of the Western Conference for many years. After winning MLS Cup in 2010, they have played in the post season three times and missed out 5 times with the past 2 years finishing dead last in the West. Under new coach Anthony Hudson, the Rapids have tried their best to ditch the defensive minded play from previous regimes to play more pressing soccer, and they seem to have found the horses to finally implement that strategy. They've added talented but somewhat temperamental scorer Kei Kamara from Vancouver, speedy winger Diego Rubio from Sporting Kansas City, plus midfield stalwarts Nicolas Mezquida from Vancouver and Kellyn Acosta from FC Dallas. Acosta was acquired last year, but played sparingly due to injury, but when healthy, he gives some pace and width to an attack that has stagnated at times. Colorado added center back Keegan Rosenberry to pair with the hulking Axel Sjoberg to provide cover from either Tim Howard or Clint Irwin in goal, but suffice to say, Colorado has added some pieces that might finally mesh together.

With this being the first match of 2019, what do we all expect from the festivities? Let's find out what our crack team of predictors are thinking.

I like goals

Tortie - Timbers 12, Rapids 9.

Team Tortie loves goals. Team Tortie likes lots of goals. Team Tortie is all about the ball going into the net. She eeped and mewed through her interview, making lots of racket when asked about the number of Timbers goals. When asked why she thought this was the case, she said, "Eep blergh mew oop." She kept repeating this, so apparently it's really important but for the life of me, we can't figure out what this means. Maybe it's "lots of goals" in Tortie speak.

Well, actually, I do know a lot about soccer. 

GB - Timbers 2, Rapids 1.

GB was a bit more relaxed, providing his thoughts after a breakfast of crunchy food while begging for peanut butter and oatmeal. He meowed twice for Portland, but just once for the host team. I didn't realize he knew the song, "We always win 2 to 1", but apparently he knows more that we all realize. Since he went for a nap right after providing his thoughts, I think he feels confident about this information.

I am the queen of the world!!

Spot - no score.

The princess was more interested in the brush when asked about the Timbers - Rapids match, but she eventually gave enough attention to the questions to at least provide some thoughts. She didn't make any noise when asked about goals, but when asked about a scoreless draw, she sneezed several times before leaving to drink some water. Maybe she's allergic to the altitude.

I like purple. And chasing people.

Pilot - Rapids 3, Timbers 1.

I'm not sure what Pilot has against the Timbers, but he seemed to be very focused and excited when talking about the Rapids. After providing three loud meows for the number of goals for Colorado, he ran over to the cat tree in our cat room, and scratched it for several moments. I tried to ask if he meant yellow cards versus goals, but he declined any comments to clarify, so for now, we'll assume he's talking about goals.

I'm switching the channel to watch CSI again.

Lucy - Timbers 2, Rapids 0.

Lucy is our screaming cat. All of her talking is done at very high pitch and sounds like yelling, so much that during work from home days, my co-workers think we have a young child at home. She screamed twice about Portland very loudly, but didn't say one word about Colorado. Considering it was the quietest she had been for a few hours, I think she's convinced Portland will get the win this weekend.

I am bundled up. And very green.

Kip - Timbers 2, Rapids 1.

I am really not trying to copy GB, but the history for the Timbers hasn't been the best in Colorado. In 11 matches there, Portland has 2 wins and 2 draws, although the last match there was a very dramatic 3 to 2 result. In the first match of the year, both teams will be excited to be playing meaningful matches for the first time, and for me, I just think Portland has more talent collectively. Colorado isn't the pushover that they have been in previous years, but I believe the Timbers will get the full three points to start the year. 

Thursday, February 28, 2019

2019 MLS Season Preview - Uh, Yeah, The Season Starts in 3 Days

The cats have been busy preparing for the 2019 MLS season in their own way.
It's hard to believe the 2019 MLS season is just 3 days away. All offseasons have their own level of drama and uncertainty, but for me, this break between the Portland Timbers last match, a 2 to 0 loss in the 2018 MLS Cup championship to Atlanta United, and their 2019 opener when they visit the Colorado Rapids in Commerce City, CO, has been random. The Timbers had to make player decisions hours after their loss in MLS Cup, followed up by the myriad of player drafts and the dozens of player rumors around who will join the team core under Coach Gio Savarese. Part of my offseason ritual is to review the previous year in terms of my writings, other posts, my wife's photos, and whatever other information is out there to really capture the essence of the season. As much as I enjoyed the MLS Cup run last year, these activities were severely compressed - albeit for a good reason.

I think other factors contributing to the oddities of the offseason were the stadium construction and the preseason training schedule. Due to the stadium expansion at Providence Park to add more seating to the stadium's east deck, the Timbers didn't have their usual pre-season tournament locally, although rumors say the tourney could likely return as soon as next year. With limited spacing and the team's schedule putting the team on the road for their first 12 matches of the season, Savarese and his crew spent a few introductory days in Portland in January once training camp opened, but they ventured south for their activities. For the first time ever, Portland spent 10 days in Costa Rica playing 2 pre-season matches before heading up to Tucson, Arizona for their usual appearances in the Mobil Mini Sun Cup for 4 additional matches. Unless you traveled to Costa Rica or Arizona to watch the club, there hasn't been much ability to see the 2019 version of the Timbers up close yet. Now throw in the extended road trip to start the year, and it could be understandable why the buzz of the new season hasn't hit fever pitch quite yet.

It doesn't exactly look like this anymore. I hope to get a closer look soon.
Another contributing factor to the muted buzz could have been the player additions after that were spaced out over time, but were very focused on selected areas. Portland immediately announced the additions of Marvin Loria and Renzo Zambrano from their Timbers 2 affiliate in mid-December, but things didn't pick up until the team added Aljaz Ivacic and Claude Dielna in separate deals in mid-January. Rumors persisted the team was pursuing several options for a designated player level forward to augment their attack, but none of the mentioned names materialized into a deal before the roster compliance date of March 1 for the 2019 season. Portland did add depth in their defensive line by securing Jorge Moreira on loan for the entire season, but they will start the year with 28 signed players out of the 30 allowed by roster rules. The scouting team, led by newly minted Technical Director Ned Grabavoy and GM/President of Soccer Gavin Wilkinson, has turned their attention to the summer transfer window to find and hopefully secure targets to help for the second half of the season.

Goalkeepers (4) Jeff Attinella, Kendall McIntosh, Aljaz Ivacic, Steve Clark
Fullbacks (4): Marco Farfan, Jorge Villafana, Zarek Valentin, Jorge Moreira
Center Backs (5): Julio Cascante, Claude Dielna, Modou Jadama, Larrys Mabiala, Bill Tuiloma
Defensive Mids (5): Diego Chara, David Guzman, Cristhian Paredes, Eryk Williamson, Renzo Zambrano
Attacking Mids (6): Dairon Asprilla, Sebastian Blanco, Marvin Loria, Andy Polo, Diego Valeri, Andres Flores
Forwards (4): Jeremy Ebobisse, Foster Langsdorf, Lucas Melano. Tomas Conechny

2019 MLS Draft Picks: F Ryan Sierakowski, D Lennart Hein, D Francesco Moore, M David Zalzman

Timbers 2: GK: Mangels, Pack; D: De Vera, Diz Pe, Hanson, Mulligan, Ornstil, Phillips, Smith; M: Enriquez, Lewis; F: Jambga, Williams

Designated Players: Blanco, Valeri
Home Grown Players: Farfan, Langsdorf, Williamson
International Players: Cascante, Conechny, Ivacic, Loria, Mabiala, Moreira, Paredes, Polo, Tuiloma, Zambrano

In looking at the various parts of the roster and thinking of a true season preview, especially since we are just days away from the season, I thought I would take some moments and break down the roster and provide my thoughts about the current mix. Granted, Grabavoy and Wilkinson have a lot more experience in player acquisition and they grasp the labyrinth of MLS player acquisition rules better than most people, but having followed this team since 2004 and covering it since 2008, I have some perspective in watching soccer - good, bad, or otherwise. I try to mix in some optimism with humor and practicality, because at the end of the day, we are watching people playing a game and while the results are important, it's not life or death by any means. Talent, depth and fitness are big components of a successful team, but it also takes chemistry, attitude, hard work, fortitude and some fortunate bounces - which are difficult to control. In my opinion, the Timbers have done a better than average job of replacing key position losses, but they also need some players to step up in a huge way to fill some other gaps.

He's really, really good. And he's one of us.
Goalkeepers: This is Jeff's team, and we're all watching the greatness of a player that has finally found a home, a job and some confidence. Attinella was very good filling in occasionally during his days at Real Salt Lake, but he's outlasted other competition to seize the starting keeper job here. The only thing that has kept him out of the lineup is injury, which ironically enough is how Clark ended up in Portland during the 2018 season. Portland made Clark an offer to remain here for 2019, and his experience and ability to fill in is a huge asset. Ivacic is young and raw, but outlets like his demeanor and presence in goal, while McIntosh was a big reason for success for Timbers 2 in 2018 with his acrobatic goalkeeping. The thought is that McIntosh would be loaned out for 2019 with T2 covered in goal and Ivacic being the third keeper behind Attinella and Clark, but after suffering a leg injury, it appears Kendall will remain in Portland for the time being. Keeping is a huge asset and strength for the Timbers, and it should stay that way with this bunch.

Fullbacks: I tend not to criticize what some outlets call "the most important signing of the offseason" in adding Moreira to the defense, although I do think it is a great addition to the team. Yes, I realize that once Alvas Powell and his erratic crosses were traded to FC Cincinnati during the offseason, the Timbers were lacking some depth behind the trio of Villafana, Valentin and Farfan. Getting Moreira gives them another huge option on both sides of the ball, especially if Villafana is busy with the USMNT or Savarese wants to rotate the club. Valentin is easily the most intelligent defender we have available, but it's also known that his foot speed isn't top flight in covering speedy wings, either. I thought Atlanta was able to expose Zarek at certain points, and that will likely be an issue at points this year, but I don't question his heart or intelligence to find ways to help the team. With T2 not having any available options to call up, I think we have this foursome to cover the defensive wings and they will be better than average in comparison with other teams.

Best defender in 2018 and a top scoring option for Portland all year? Yes.
Center Backs: There is a big shift here with the release of Liam Ridgewell, who returned back to his native England to sign with Hull City in the Premiership. His partner, Larrys Mabiala, is back and I agree with recent comments from Timbers CEO Merritt Paulson that Mabiala was easily the best defender in MLS in 2018 by a lot. Having him back is huge, and adding an experienced option with Dielna is also a solid move. The future, however, is the pairing of Tuiloma and Cascante, who are easily the most talented center backs on the roster albeit younger and more raw. I anticipate we will see a foursome rotation with Jadama about as additional depth to keep the group fresh, but Mabiala will be the anchor of this group once again.

Defensive Midfielder: Chara is not a cyborg or alien, so at some point, the team needs to figure out an attack plan when the diminutive destroyer isn't available. The Timbers record without Chara is very dreadful - I could say worse, but I don't want the blog to be slapped with a penalty from dropping a curse word or three - so for me, this was a huge part of what I expected to be addressed in the offseason. I like what Paredes did to start 2018 with the Timbers until he returned to the bench midseason and really wasn't used late, what Zambrano did in a similar role for T2 in 2018, Williamson is considered a possibility for this role, and Tuiloma has said this is his best position on the pitch, but for now, the only experience here is Guzman. It's not a crisis by any means, but it's an area that needs addressing. To me, Paredes is the most logical answer to solve the riddle if the Timbers can fully acquire his rights.

I don't think he's bionic, but it would explain a lot of his stellar play. 
Attacking Midfielder: Valeri and Blanco have formed a wonderful strike force over the past 2 seasons, and it's been fun to watch for Timbers fans. However, the same situation that applies to Chara applies here although the Timbers have a few more options here. Polo is now fully a Timber and is usually the third wheel, but Portland also added Loria and kept Asprilla and Flores to provide an interesting bunch of options. Asprilla has raw speed and the potential for greatness as we saw in the playoffs, but he can also disappear just as easily. Loria has been impressive in pre-season and was a huge part of success with T2, while Flores can fill in across the board in spot minutes or the occasional start. I wouldn't be totally surprised if the Timbers added a player here during the summer transfer window, but right now, they have some intriguing options to roll out.

Forwards: This was the area of most concern for fans, especially after Portland traded away Fanendo Adi to FC Cincinnati in the 2018 season and chose not to extend the loan for Samuel Armenteros. Portland had talked with several designated player options to add at striker, but couldn't come to terms with them - and I'm actually kind of glad. It would be a rare choice for a DP to come here and not supplant the best success story of 2018 for Portland in the emergence of Ebobisse. Yes, Jeremy still has a lot to learn about the position and he needs to bulk up, but the talent, skill and smarts are there if given time to grow. Behind him is Melano, who seems hungry to prove he belongs in MLS, and Langsdorf, who was very good at T2. Inexperienced group? Yes, they are raw. Talented? For sure. Do we need another option? I think we will eventually, but it will be worth it to see what the youngsters can do during the opening road trip.

How does Gio follow up 2018? I'm sure he has a plan. Or several more.
Coaching Staff: Savarese brought in his own coaches last year although Sean McCauley remained on staff from the Porter era while other coaches were shuffled about. McCauley left midseason to head to Orlando City and the team brought up Miles Joseph to fill the role. Overall, I thought Gio and his crew had an amazing 2018 to take a existing core of players and adjust their approach and tactics. You could tell early in the season there were some problems in adjustment, but the team rallied to put forth a long unbeaten streak until August came and smacked them back to reality. The team pulled it together to put forth an incredible run to the finals, and the sky is certainly the limit here. Portland will need some players to step up and fill roles in big ways, but they are certainly capable of doing that. This staff has shown they can get the maximum from their players, and I don't see that changing.

Predictions: For me, the biggest challenges to 2019 for the Timbers are keeping focus during the long road trip to start the year, and the lengthy home stand later in 2019. Portland has traditionally been a strong home side and average on the road, but with the long road trip, the Timbers have to ensure they don't dig themselves a huge hole before the calendar hits June. Home matches have gone the Timbers way over the years, but Portland shouldn't totally count on running the table at home either just to secure the playoff. I'd like to see the Timbers sit with 15 to 20 points over the first 12 before they get home, which really should be achievable. While I have looked at the other clubs at some length, I haven't fully being able to grasp who should be good or bad for this year, but I can make some universal statements based on what I can see. Seattle needs Jordan Morris to return and be the player he was, otherwise, the offense is a tire fire. Vancouver will be interesting if they allow Marc Dos Santos to fully unleash this side, but it will be better than conservative bunch ball. Atlanta will learn really quickly how difficult it is to defend a Cup; yes, they ended up with some good talent to add to their attack, but they were ravaged by player losses. FC Cincinnati will be better than people think, but they will struggle to acclimate as most expansion sides do. Minnesota United has quietly added some good pieces and have a nice new stadium, but depth is a problem. The Galaxy will try to hold their star collective together to threaten the West, and it will be entertaining, but they will fall short. The West will be chasing Sporting Kansas City, who still have the best roster from top to bottom as long as they keep this group together. It's good to see Caleb Porter return and Columbus keep the Crew, but I can't see them overtaking the Red Bulls, NYCFC or Atlanta in the East. I'm still trying to figure out what Orlando is doing, and I might be doing that into August at this rate.

Saturday, January 26, 2019

2019 Brings A New Year For The Portland Timbers - First Post of the New Year

One of my pride and joys is this print, complete with various cards.
It was a crazy end to 2018 and the situation hasn't slowed down that much in 2019, either. That is part of the reality with the Portland Timbers playing matches into the first part of December and starting their training camp this coming week. All of the decisions for a team that didn't make the playoffs make over several months get compressed into a tight time window, but that's the reality of the league at this point. Well, until the 2019 season when MLS has decided that the playoff format will be altered and the season compressed slightly. The 2019 campaign starts on March 2, and ends on October 6 - a full 3 weeks ahead of previous years. After observing a slight break of a week, the playoffs will expand to 7 teams per conference with there being 3 play-in matches (seed 2 v seed 7, seed 3 v seed 6, seed 4 vs seed 5), but every series is a single match staged at the venue of the higher seed. The 2019 MLS Cup takes place on Sunday, November 10, approximately 1 month before previous iterations of the league championship. This really gives the league some actual down time, which in retrospect, is likely a good thing. Even the most top leagues give players a break in fixtures, but MLS has really pushed that concept with roughly 6 weeks between the end of a season and the start of training camp. I'm not a fan of adding playoff matches, but do agree the simplification of the post season will end up being a good thing because it rewards regular season success.

In looking about the other league news and business, I thought it would be easier to look at each topic based upon the subject from where we left off last season - changes within the league, coaching news, significant roster moves by the Timbers, and a look at the current roster up to now. But we have to start our discussion with the 2019 schedule. Due to ongoing construction at Providence Park for the east side expansion, the Timbers play their first home match for 2019 on June 1 when LAFC visits. Portland plays their first 12 matches on the road, and has a 10 match homestand between August 10 and September 25, which essentially slants the entire season. Portland makes just two trips to the East Coast in June and early July, a visit to the Emerald City in late July, their first look at Allianz Field in August to play Minnesota United FC, and a trip to Kansas City to play Sporting in late September. In most years, the goal for clubs is to try to maximize points at home and draw on the away legs, but with the huge disparity in travel, it will be important that Portland gain as many points as they can away from home. If the team waits until their home stretch to try and make a move, it might be too late to make up the ground if they fall behind. Consider the Timbers history in MLS on the road: 2011 - 2 W, 6 D = 12 points; 2012 - 1 W, 4 D = 7 points; 2013 - 3 W, 10 D = 19 points; 2014 - 7 W, 4 D = 25 points; 2015 - 7 W, 2 D = 23 points; 2016 - 0 W, 6 D = 6 points; 2017 - 4 W, 4 D = 16 points; 2018 - 4 W, 5 D = 17 points. The Timbers had a road stretch to start 2011 after the first run of updating Providence Park was going on, but there hasn't been anything like this before. The average of road points for Portland in the MLS era is 16 points, but for 2019, this might not be enough to earn before the home stretch starts.
Best wishes, Liam. Wishing you well in your next stop in your career.

For league business, MLS welcomes FC Cincinnati to the fold for the 2019 season, thus balancing the league with 24 total clubs and 12 per conference. This means for the 34 matches played in 2019, there will be a true balance - Western Conference sides play their fellow conference members 2 times, 1 home & 1 away, and the Eastern Conference teams just once. The whole playing sides 3 times and others twice was very confusing for many, so this means we really have true balance in the scheduling - until MLS adds teams 25, 26, 27 and 28. Nashville and Miami have been confirmed for 25 and 26, but in one of the oddest moves of the year, Austin FC was confirmed as team 27 this past week when the league and their ownership group approved a new stadium deal. Austin FC's owner, Anthony Precourt, was the owner of the Columbus Crew when he bought the team in 2013 from the original ownership group. Unbeknownst to many, Precourt had worked in plans to explore other markets if needed. In 2017, he triggered a clause and announced his intentions to move the Crew to Austin due to lack of community support. Over the following year, local supporters and businesses put out an all-stakes effort to keep the team in Ohio through any means, including using a state law that prohibited team moves without proper disclosure (created when the original Cleveland Browns bolted Ohio and became the Baltimore Ravens). The Crew ended up being saved with a brand new ownership group, which actually includes the owners of the new Browns franchise that returned to Cleveland, while Precourt was given the league's blessing to pursue a deal in Austin.

I never did like this situation to move a team unless absolutely necessary, and the metrics that were being pushed to support the move didn't hold water for me. Austin might be a lovely city, but there have been several big failures of previous soccer clubs, and the USL has put competition right in the area by putting in their own club to start play soon. Columbus has been a good market for the league, and while plans are underway to address a new stadium for the club, it does leave a bad taste in my mouth for several communities that have followed the MLS expansion rules in hopes to secure a club. The league had put out a request for prospective cities to file a request for expansion, and the league would go through several iterations to review the applications and pick the respective cities in a reasonable time table. FC Cincinnati jumped up to the top of the list because of big attendance and the ability to play right away, with Nashville and Miami officially joining in 2020. However, Austin's inclusion effective jumps several other cities that have been working to join the league, most notably Sacramento, CA, St. Louis, MO, Tampa, FL, San Diego, CA and Las Vegas, NV. The situation with the Crew was a huge headache that worked out in the end - Columbus keeps their team, Austin gets a stadium - but I do wonder if the other prospective franchises are happy about being pushed back further. Commissioner Don Garber has always indicated that the league wanted to get to 28 teams, but there is no plans to stay pat once the league reaches that number, which means we might continue to see markets added for some time.

Yes, it's weird to think he'll be back in the league.
This business side of the league and successes in each market are extremely important, which is why the stadium expansion at Providence Park is such a huge deal. However, the changeover project has impacted local supporters and their ability to see the team early in the year. We have been spoiled in previous years with the Timber hosting a local pre-season tournament, but the team hasn't staged one for the past few years, although there is a rumor this could return in 2020. For supporters wanting to get a close look at Portland before June, you might need to use some frequent flyer miles to get up close. The Timbers will train in Portland for 10 days before traveling to Costa Rica on January 30 to train for 11 days, where they will play Deportivo Saprissa, a club they've battled in CONCACAF Champions League play, and C.S. Herediano. Portland will then travel to their familiar haunts of previous pre-season years, Tucson, Arizona, for 2 weeks of training and 4 pre-season matches against MLS competition. For Timbers Coach Gio Savarese, it will be be paramount to gauge everyone's talents and early season fitness, but with the traveling for this club, the bigger goals will likely be building chemistry and familiarity with each other. It's weird to think that chemistry might be an issue, but Portland has seen several huge alterations to their roster from the team that advanced to 2018 MLS Cup. The core of the team is still very much present, which we'll talk about in the roster section, but Portland will need to figure out long term replacements in a few keys areas of their lineup.

Goalkeepers (4) Jeff Attinella, Kendall McIntosh, Aljaz Ivacic, Steve Clark
Fullbacks (3): Marco Farfan, Jorge Villafana, Zarek Valentin
Center Backs (5): Julio Cascante, Claude Dielna, Modou Jadama, Larrys Mabiala, Bill Tuiloma
Defensive Mids (5): Diego Chara, David Guzman, Cristhian Paredes, Eryk Williamson, Renzo Zambrano
Attacking Mids (6): Dairon Asprilla, Sebastian Blanco, Marvin Loria, Andy Polo, Diego Valeri, Andres Flores
Forwards (4): Jeremy Ebobisse, Foster Langsdorf, Lucas Melano. Tomas Conechny

2019 MLS Draft Picks: F Ryan Sierakowski, D Lennart Hein, D Francesco Moore, M David Zalzman

Timbers 2: GK: Mangels, Pack; D: Batista, Diz Pe, Hanson, Mulligan, Ornstil, Phillips, Smith; M: Enriquez, Lewis; F: Jambga, Williams

Designated Players: Blanco, Valeri
Home Grown Players: Farfan, Langsdorf, Williamson
International Players: Cascante, Conechny, Ivacic, Loria, Mabiala, Paredes, Polo, Tuiloma, Zambrano.
Jeremy Ebobisse opens 2019 as the team's most experienced striker. 

With the current additions of Ivancic via transfer from NK Olimpija Ljubljana and the Timbers trading with the New England Revolution for the rights to Dielna, a center back that lost favor with their coaching staff, the roster was sitting at 24 signed players just prior to league meetings. Portland then added 4 players via draft picks from the 2019 MLS Super Draft while continuing negotiations with 3 players from the 2018 team for this year - goalkeeper Steve Clark, midfielder Andres Flores and forward Tomas Conechny. The Timbers announced on January 24 that not only had they reached terms with Clark, Flores and Conechny to return to the team in 2019, but that Dielna had reached a deal plus Eryk Williamson would be returning from his loan stint in Portugal. With those additions, the roster currently sits at 27 players with 4 draft picks, and rumors persist that Portland is in negotiations with at least 2 designated player strikers and a right back to add to the roster. Both striker targets, Ezequiel Ponce and Julian Quinones, would be high profile adds for the Timbers in terms of resume, as both 21 year-olds have been very good in their previous stops and had been drawing attention from several other international clubs.

There are several key subtractions to the team from the 2018 roster, as we say goodbye to goalkeeper Jake Gleeson, defender Roy Miller, defender/midfielder Lawrence Olum, defender Liam Ridgewell and defender Alvas Powell. Gleeson, Miller and Olum had expiring contracts that the Timbers chose not to renew back in December, while Powell was traded to FC Cincinnati for allocation money right after the 2018 Expansion Draft where FCC made their first official MLS player selections. Perhaps the biggest surprise was the situation with Ridgewell where the team and Liam agreed mutually to terms for his outright release on January 10, 2019. At this point, none of the players have new clubs where they have joined, although Olum and Miller have been seen in early pre-season training with the Timbers in town to get in some training work. While some of the moves had been expected somewhat - Gleeson's status with the team had been in question since suffering another injury in 2018 as Attinella took over the starting role while Clark filled in admirably when Jeff himself was injured, plus Powell had been the subject of many discussions about trades. The fact, however, that all the subtractions during the offseason were on the defensive side of the ball means that Savarese and his coaches have confidence in their young defenders while targeting to add experience in Dielna.

With Jake gone, Chara is the only 2011 Timber left.
Each of the departing players left differing legacies with their time in Portland. Miller was one of the team's better center backs when he first joined the club, and his injury affected the team's rotation late in the 2017 season. Powell arrived via loan back in 2013 as an 18 year old defender, and leaves being in the top six in the MLS Timbers era relating to appearances; at points, Alvas showed great promise as a defender that reinforced his great talent, but he was never able to show the lengthy consistency in his performance and fell out of favor once Villafana and Valentin took the starting fullback jobs. Gleeson won 3 cups as part of the Timbers organization - a 2010 PDL championship with the Timbers U23 team, a 2014 USL Championship with the Sacramento Republic (a then-affiliate of the Timbers), and the 2015 MLS Timbers - and while he did eventually win the starting job with the first team, he could never stay healthy enough to keep the job long term. Olum was a key cog of the USL Timbers back in 2007 and 2008 that eventually found MLS success with Sporting Kansas City for several seasons until SKC traded Olum back to Portland just before the 2017 season; Olum ended up filling in regularly at center back as the Timbers struggled with injuries. But perhaps the most influential signing of the group was Ridgewell back in 2014. At the time, the Timbers defense was lacking consistency, direction and organization, and Ridgewell brought in a sense of calm and confidence the group sorely needed. Yes, Ridgewell had a penchant for lackadaisical play at points and wasn't the strongest player physically, but his presence solidified a backline that needed it. Without him, Portland likely doesn't win the 2015 MLS Cup. Yes, there were better players for the Timbers, and some more influential, but perhaps nobody more important to the current Timbers era than Liam.

Even with having 27 players on the roster, there are still several questions within the team makeup that, will need to be addressed during the pre-season training. On defense, will Portland find depth in the fullbacks, or is the current trio of backs enough for the year? Is this the year that we see Cascante and Tuiloma take the starting roles, or will there be a rotation of backs between them, Mabiala and Dielna throughout the year? Does Portland have a viable succession plan for Chara and Valeri? Is it Paredes or Williamson for the defensive midfield role, and will we see Polo, Loria or Conechny give the Timbers other options if they need to rest Valeri? While Ebobisse has started to blossom as a true scorer for the team, what are the backup options behind him, especially if the team needs another experienced scoring option up top? Will the Timbers potentially loan out a player to get them more playing to free up a roster spot - many rumors have circled about the team loaning out McIntosh with the addition of Ivancic to the team, but nothing official has been noted yet. With the 2019 season starting on March 2, the roster compliance date for all teams will be days prior to those matches, so Portland has time to get their player portfolio completed.
He seems ready to go. Can we start things now?

It will be interesting to watch the pre-season work from other clubs as well to see who among the rest of the league will challenge the defending champions, Atlanta United. ATL didn't sit pat after winning MLS Cup either, in the fact that they lost several players from their 2018 roster, they added a huge offensive weapon in Pity Martinez. Colorado and Vancouver have significant remade their rosters, with new Whitecaps Coach Marc Dos Santos putting his imprint on a team that is trying to overcome the loss of Alphonso Davies via transfer to FC Bayern Munich. Los Angeles has undergone significant changes in their front office after Sigi Schmid stepped down as coach in September 2018 to be eventually replaced by former Columbus Crew striker Guillermo Schelotto. One of the more emotional events of the 2018 MLS offseason was the news that Schmid passed away on December 26, 2018 while awaiting a heart transplant. While his coaching counterparts Bob Bradley and Bruce Arena are highly regarded with their coaching resumes and success with the U.S. Men's National Team, Schmid was their equal in terms of success within domestic competitions and league titles within MLS. Another name familiar to Timbers fans was in the running for the Galaxy head coaching job, former Timbers Coach Caleb Porter, who hasn't held a coaching job since unexpectedly leaving the Timbers after the 2017 MLS season concluded. After going back and forth in considerations, Porter eventually took the head job in his old stomping grounds when he took the coaching job for the Columbus Crew when their head coach, Gregg Berhalter, left the club to take over the USMNT. Porter was the coach for the University of Akron men's team for seven season before he took the Timbers job in 2013, and his name had circulated around several coaching openings since his departure from the Timbers until now.

My intention in 2019 is to post here regularly each Wednesday with various updates and comments about the status of the team and thoughts on any news surrounding the team. It will be a very different season for everybody considering most of the action will be happening outside Portland although the team will return regularly to the Rose City during their early season travels during stadium construction. However, June will be here sooner that we realize and then the team will be home bound for the majority of the summer months to balance out the schedule. Personally speaking, I can't wait to get a good look at the new players and how the Timbers rebound from a rather successful 2018 season where few had them advancing to MLS Cup 2018. It was no secret that one of the reasons Porter left the team was a disagreement with the organization about the roster makeup, and it was amazing to see a new coach come in with essentially the same core from the 2017 Timbers and end up a mere 90 minutes away from their second ever championship. Portland will have a target on their back due to their success, but knowing Savarese, he's already been working on various strategies and approaches with his 2019 roster, and the acquisitions to this point appear to fulfill one of Gio's goals with his team - versatility. Now that we've seen Savarese's influence on a team that was largely put together before he arrived, it will be fascinating to see what happens now that he's more involved within the talent acquisition process.