The good news for Portland this year is that they are not starting the season with a 12 game road stand. The bad news from a fantasy standpoint is that there has been a lot of turmoil in the front of the formation. Gone is Brian Fernandez, back is Valeri on a TAM deal. Two new strikers are in the mix along with Diego Chara’s younger brother, Yimmi on the wing. Other than the addition of Croatian center back, Dario Zuparic, and the loss of Zarek Valentin to the expansion draft, Portland’s defense looks very similar to last season.
Tactics & Key Players
With the influx of new attackers and the aging of Perennial All Star Diego Valeri, there may be some changes to the Portland formation. The Timbers regularly put out a 4-2-3-1 double pivot with Valeri playing a bit higher than a traditional CAM with Sebastian Blanco on the left wing, and a revolving cast of wingers on the right side including Jeremy Ebobisse, Andy Polo, and Dairon Asprilla. After losing Brian Fernandez in the off season the Timbers FO outdid themselves and brought in two new strikers, Felipe Mora, a 26-year old Chilean striker from Liga MX and Jaroslav Niezgoda from the Polish 1st Division, to push Jermy Ebobisse. Does this mean a two striker formation is in the works? Until we see some preseason games, no one really knows what Giovanni Savarese is going to roll out to start off the season. (1st Preseason game we saw a 4-2-3-1 with Mora at striker)
Goalkeeper: As far as we know, Steve Clark is the starter. Jeff Attinella should be back from last year’s shoulder surgery. Aljaz Ivacic is likely going to start the season at T2 (he did not see the field for the 1st team at all last year) (1st preseason game was split between Clark and Ivacic)
Defenders: Returning from last year are most of the Timbers back line: CB Larrys Mabiala, RB and offensive threat Jorge Moreira, and LB Jorge Villafana. The Timbers picked up Croatian CB Dario Zuparic in the off season (he looked solid in preseason so far). With Bill Tuiloma going down to a “calf strain” in preseason, Zuparic is the likely starter. However, Julio Cascante is still in the picture at CB and may start early in the season if Zuparic doesn’t gel with Mabiala in pre-season. Marco Farfan is still in the mix as a back-up LB but didn’t see the field for the 1st team much last year, partially due to injury. We should know more about the starting back line after the pre-season tournament at Providence Park Feb 16-22 with New England, Minnesota, and Vancouver (presented by Old Trapper Beef Jerky… I could not make this stuff up). Anybody else on the roster at defense is likely going to spend the year at T2. 20 year old Pablo Bonilla did get a run out at RB in the 1st preseason tournament game against Vancouver.
Midfield: Diego Valeri was re-signed as a TAM player, Sebastian Blanco is a DP. Yimmi Chara was transferred in as a DP to join his brother, Diego, in the Portland midfield. Cristhian Paredes is the likely partner with D. Chara in the double pivot 4-2-3-1 we are likely to run out to start the year. In my unprofessional opinion, Valeri is the mystery here: How much will he play? Is he a locked on starter? Is he a super sub? Will he play as a false nine like (sort of) did in his MVP year? Nobody knows. Dairon Asprilla, Andy Polo, and Tomas Conechny are still in the midfield along with Eryk Williamson, Renzo Zambrano, Anres Flores, and Marvin Loria. However, none of these guys are going to be reliable starters nor are they reliable fantasy points. If I had to pick one Timbers midfielder to start the season it would be Blanco. We just don’t know enough about Valeri’s role or Yimmy Chara’s impact at this point to rely on them for fantasy points early in the season. We don’t even know if a new striker will take PKs away from Valeri.
Forwards: After the Brian Fernandez debacle of last year there has been a lot of movement on the forward line for Portland. So much so that maybe we will see a formation shift. Yimmi Chara was the first big signing of the off season for Portland. We expect Yimmi will line up at right wing. Felipe Mora was brought in on loan from Liga MX side UNAM Pumas. Jaroslav Niezgoda came in shortly thereafter after some drama about a heart condition and ablation procedure. Until we see more preseason games we don’t know who is likely to start up top each week for Portland: Mora, Niezgoda, or returning US international Jeremy Ebobisse. All of these options up top lead many Portland supporters to believe we may see Portland play a two forward formation in 2020, however, until we get some data in pre-season, I would avoid Portland forwards until we know who is the starter and can bang in goals on a regular basis.
Blanco is a locked on starter who is likely to see a lot of the ball. Valeri is still Valeri, until we see otherwise he is going to see a lot of the ball. Mabiala is a set piece threat and I think from preseason so far ZUparic is the real deal. Moreira gets forward into the attack a lot and Steve Clark can put up a clean sheet or two. I am personally taking a wait and see approach to Portland’s forward corps. So far in preseason, Valeri is on PKs and set pieces, including corners.