Kings of Cascadia! But seriously, that was mostly wretched. In any case, it’s over now.
From a league-wide perspective, the end of 2012 feels an awful lot like the end of 2011. Galaxy-Dynamo in the MLS Cup Final! Is David Beckham leaving MLS?! Fredy Montero, no means no postseason goals! But we’ll deal with the MLS in a couple weeks.
This week, it’s about our team, the mighty PTFC. There were reasons for optimism after a 2011 campaign that saw a fast start, a muddled middle, and a strong finish. Finishing four points out of a playoff spot, the obvious expectation for 2012 was to qualify for the postseason. We all know how that worked out.
Nonetheless, there are reasons to think that 2012’s ineptitude was as much a mix of bad luck and bad mentality as it was a bad roster. First, as we’ve discussed ad nauseum, the Timbers luck in 2012 was awful. Moving on. Second, the 2012 Timbers showed a remarkable ability to ship points to bad teams while playing up to quality opposition. Don’t believe me? 24 of the Timbers’ 34 stinking points this past year came from playoff teams. Finally, many of the most cringe-worthy performances came from that midsummer nightmare wherein the Timbers’ wheels came completely off the wagon. So, as I’ve discussed previously, I think this team was poor, but perhaps not as bad as their position on the table suggests.
That said, clearly serious changes are in order this winter. While it’s unlikely further changes are going to be made at the top, there should be a number of 2012 faces missing from the practice pitch when the Timbers come back together in 2013. Who will those be? Glad you asked.
Freddie Braun – Showed flashes of being a guy that could break into the lineup in one capacity or another, but apparently wasn’t improving at the necessary rate to stay with the team. Of the three already announced departures already announced, the former U-23er is emotionally the toughest loss. All the best to Freddie.
Charles Renken – If Braun was the toughest loss, Renken was the biggest surprise. Considering he looked halfway decent for his age in a handful of reserve matches, you have to wonder if something in his contract was a bigger problem than his potential. Still, surprised he didn’t get one more year to show some development.
Ian Hogg – Not the Kiwi many supporters wanted to see on the waiver list.
Imminently Former Timbers
Lovel Palmer – Obvi.
Steve Purdy – If he couldn’t make a case to be in the team at right back this year, he never will.
Mike Fucito – There’s more to soccer than running a lot and being small. In 2012, Fucito found that out the hard way.
Kosuke Kimura – The fact that he didn’t lose his job a right back is a testament to how desperate that whole situation was.
Kris Boyd – Objectively, seven goals in 26 appearances isn’t as disastrous as it felt. But it’s hard to shake the impression he quit on the team after John Spencer was shown the door. While his contract may make him difficult to move, I would be surprised if the Timbers didn’t find a way to offload him, even if it means eating a substantial portion of his wages.
Chris Taylor – The fact that the team brought in Ian Hogg for a glorified trial doesn’t bode well for Chris.
Rodney Wallace – He’s clearly lost his spot at left back to Steven Smith, and there are a number of better options at left mid on the roster already. With his salary number, there is no way he should be back as a backup left back or – at best – third-choice left wing.
Futty – This makes me sad, but it’s probably the right thing to do.
One Bad Year Away from Being a Former Timber
Kalif Alhassan – Kalif’s 2012 season eerily mirrored the Timbers’. It started with tremendous promise, and was quickly derailed by inconsistency and bad luck. There is absolutely no question Kalif has the talent to be an impact MLS player. There is substantial question about whether he has the maturity and durability. If he doesn’t show some of the latter in 2013, he may find himself putting his hands up for a new club.
Jake Gleeson – Had his 2012 club season put on ice by injuries, but even when he was healthier toward the end of the year, it looked like Joe Bendik had become the undisputed #2 keeper. A working class hero, maybe, but a #3 keeper isn’t something to be.
Eric Brunner – Perhaps the safest of the bunch, and this was also largely injury related, but David Horst and Hanyer Mosquera emerged as the clear top choice centerbacks in 2012. With Andrew Jean-Baptiste showing potential behind him, if Eric has another lackluster year, he could find himself on the outs.
Ryan Kawulok – He looks an awful lot like 2013’s Freddie Braun. That said, considering the desperate right back situation, if he can develop he might find himself in the team.
Eric Alexander – He led the team in assists in 2012 with a grand total of 24 appearances and 12 starts. So there’s a strong case that he’s undervalued. But with Franck Songo’o and Sal Zizzo having the inside track to start on the wings, and Kalif Alhassan always lurking, Eric may have to find a way to ply his trade in a more central role if he wants a long-term place with the Timbers.
So, if that’s who is on the outs – or at least on notice – what should the Timbers be looking to bring in before camp opens?
Right Back – The clear top priority. Ryan Kawoluk is the only 2012 right back with a snowball’s chance of returning in 2013, and he’s not a legitimate starting XI candidate at this point. The Timbers will have to bring somebody in here or you can write the story on 2013 before it begins.
Defensive Central Midfield – This isn’t as pressing a need, as Jack Jewsbury is still passable at this spot. But the captain is getting on in years, and Diego Chara is The Sidler, not a destroyer. The Timbers will need one to take Jack’s spot at some point in the fairly near future, and nobody on the roster is an obvious candidate. While some have mentioned Jonathan Bornstein as a candidate at fullback upgrade, I think it is more likely he could step into this role if he returns to MLS, even if he is an imperfect fit for Caleb Porter’s system.
Striker – The Timbers have lots of interesting young pieces at this position, but nobody proven. Bright Dike made a surprisingly compelling case for being a legitimate MLS striker late in 2012, and the roster still features well-compensated youngsters Danny Mwanga and Trencito Valencia, but no veteran presence to bring the young guns along. Kris Boyd was a serious disappointment in that respect. Accordingly, don’t be surprised to see Portland bring on a veteran striker, perhaps from the MLS ranks, this offseason. Would Merritt Paulson throw crazy money at Chris Wondolowski? I’m only 80% sure the answer is no, and 52% sure he shouldn’t. After all, in many ways, Bright Dike is a Steven Lenhart with dignity.
Onward, Rose City!
 To the extent those things can be completely separated. Seriously, hear me out.