The Portland Timbers had a very successful first year under manager Giovanni Savarese. An early season road trip and an injury to Diego Chara saw them start slow, but they quickly figured things out. Diego Valeri and Sebastian Blanco were dynamite together on the counter attack. Samuel Armenteros was a good loan pick up while Jeremy Ebobisse found his stride in the second half of the year.
On the other hand, the defense was inconsistent throughout the season. Portland’s fullbacks struggled, prompting the club to bring back Jorge Villafana mid-season. Liam Ridgewell had some drama with Savarese in the spring. The team ultimately figured things out to make the playoffs and upset Sporting KC in the Western Conference Finals but were outmatched in MLS Cup, losing to Atlanta United FC 2-0.
Tactics & Key Players
It’s all about the counter attack when it comes to the Portland Timbers. Valeri’s still one of the best No. 10s in MLS history and Blanco is a fantastic wingman. The Timbers confront you in the midfield with numbers. Chara makes a great tackle and gets the ball to a teammate. A few seconds later, Valeri or Blanco gets on the ball and makes a play for themselves or gives a teammate a high percentage opportunity. They do that a few dozen times a game, convert on a couple of them, and celebrate with victory logs.
Out with the old, in with the less old. Lawrence Olum and Ridgewell are gone as expected as they’re well over the hill. Alvas Powell had some good playoff moments, but if the club is going to improve defensively, they have to get a replacement. Savarese has brought in Jorge Moreira and Claude Dielna, who should get regular minutes at right and center back respectively.
They’ve got a handful of players on loan this year, especially from South America. There’s also Slovenian goalkeeper Aljaz Ivacic who arrived in January.
Other than that, this team is the same, but a year older. While they’ve been a great tri, Valeri, Chara, and Blanco aren’t getting younger. This group is very good, but the window to win a second MLS Cup is closing. They’re definitely in ‘win now’ mode for this year.
From an MLS Fantasy perspective, it’s all about the attack. Diego Valeri will be one of the most expensive midfielders in the game but is absolutely worth it. Expect Portland to get on a roll midseason once their back home in the renovated Providence Park. With a favorable matchup at home, Valeri and Blanco should be locks in your Starting XI.
Ebobisse will be on the cheaper side as far as starting strikers in the game, so he’s a good candidate if you want to start three forwards or do a Switcheroo.
The defense should be better than last year, but I still have my doubts about the goalkeeping and this unit without Ridgewell leading them. If they are able to figure it out, Villafana is your best clean sheet option because he’ll pick up some offensive bonus points as well. Keep an eye on how Moreira is doing (he’s more likely than Dielna to start for me). I’m not buying his stock now, but I will revisit the entire Timbers defense once they get into that long stretch of home games in late summer.
The attack’s pretty straight forward as mentioned previously. The holding midfielder spot next to Chara is up for grabs and as is the non-Blanco winger role. I think Cristhian Paredes and Tomas Conechny can become something for Savarese but I wouldn’t count on them to start right away.
The starting center backs will be some combination of Julio Cascante, Dielna, and Larrys Mabiala. Mabiala’s probably your safest bet of the three in terms of consistent point production and playing time.
This is all something to think about. They’ll be a budget starter or good clean sheet matchup worth taking. For my Fantasy team, it’s still mostly about Valeri and whomever is in orbit around him in the attack.