Previous Year Recap
The more things change, the more they stay the same. Valeri is gone, Blanco is back although at what fitness level? The back four are the same as last year (except both starting CBs had sports hernia surgery in early February). The midfield is crowded: Great things are expected from Santiago Moreno and Diego Chara is still smiling and still fouling, even though he will be 36 in April. Goalkeeping is a concern as we start the new season with two less than stellar options.
Fantasy Players to Watch
The choice here is easy. Niezgoda is healthy, played in preseason, and both drew and took the only PK that the Timbers were awarded in preseason play. Mora had minor knee surgery and has a 6 week recovery time, so I don’t expect he will see meaningful minutes any time soon. If Niezgoda can maintain anything near his strike rate from the end of last season, he could be very dangerous. This is the first time in his stint with Portland that he has been the obvious number one choice at striker.
The era of Diego Valeri is over. After some shopping around, Blanco is returning. However, with his injury history, and no appearances in preseason, he should be avoided until we see how Savarese is going to use him. The excitement in the Portland midfield has centered on the development of Santiago Moreno. He played on the wing at the end of last year and finally notched a goal in the playoffs. He has looked good in preseason and has been interchanging into the middle and out on the wing with Yimmi Chara. Y. Chara is certainly an option as well, but can’t be relied on to put up more than an occasional goal or assist (6g, 5a in 30 appearances for a 0.23 goal/90). Paredes is healthy and playing the 8 next to the great (and smiling) Diego Chara. Paredes picked up a goal in pre-season on a late run into the box. Diego Chara is small, hard, and gets yellow cards. Like any D-mid, he is not all that good a choice for fantasy. However, he and Paredes might be solid options under the old DGW scoring that has returned. D. Chara reliably scores 4 to 5 points/game. What is still up in the air is the impact of new young player David Ayala who just showed up in Portland, and when Eryk Williamson will return, and what position will he play. Does he displace an in-form Paredes, or does Savarese try him at the 10. Will Moreno stay wide, or pick up play-making duties in Blanco’s absence? I do expect that Moreno will usurp Asprilla’s position on the wing if and when Blanco returns to the pitch. Also while Blake Bodily may seem like a good scrub at $4, he may be our 2nd string LB at this point, so keep an eye on line-ups as he seems to be Portland’s answer to Kelyn Rowe, that guy you can throw on the pitch anywhere that doesn;t make too many mistakes.
Van Rankin and Bravo are both returning at outside back. Despite giving up PKs at different points in the season, both are reliable options, although Bravo tends to get forward more than Van Rankin. Last year’s starters at CB both went under the knife in February with a “6 week return time” (Is that to training or starting? Who knows!) There are bargains to be had in the center of Portland’s defense: McGraw ($4) and Tuiloma ($5.5) have filled in well in preseason, including clean sheets against Minnesota and RSL. Tuiloma had a sweet banger of a goal from a free kick against RSL. With Blanco questionable, he may be the FK taker for kicks that are going direct on goal while he is starting at CB. Both are definitely inviting options if your bench fails and you need a defender as Portland often plays late in the schedule.
Ivacic and Bingham have split keeper duties so far, it is anyone’s guess who has won the starting spot. Both are at least solidly mediocre, but not worth counting on until one of them nails down the spot. From the little bit I have seen of their play, I personally think Bingham has looked better. He is WAY more confident coming off his line and Ivacic’s distribution on goal kicks is not good. I will be avoiding Portland ‘keepers until/unless I see some evidence of quality.