—by Robert W. Cross
"But this wasn't a talent issue." - Portland Timbers Owner & CEO Merritt Paulson
The Timbers' owner also noted that missing the playoffs was "not acceptable" and mentioned complacency and lack of leadership during his annual season ending appearance on Timbers in 30. Nothing was too notable to me except his statement above, "but this wasn't a talent issue."
I wholly disagree.
What equals 24 wins, 25 losses, 16 ties and a -10 goal differential?
That is the Portland Timbers' record in MLS during 2015 and 2016 aside from the Cup run. The Mighty PTFC switched to a 4-3-3 on the road in Game 32 against RSL and never were to lose again over 9 matches. This included winning our first MLS Cup in Columbus against the Crew. I remember; I was there.
The Timbers' championship was a by-product of good fortune (precipitated by Will Johnson's injury which afforded Coach Caleb Porter an opportunity to gamble with the 4-3-3), good form, and pluck: think Double Post, Steve Clark's miscue in Columbus, and the non-call for offside on Rodney Wallace's goal. The ball is round and the star was and forever will be ours.
Diego Valeri, Fanendo Adi, and who else exactly?
Adi (16) and Valeri (14) combined for 30 of PTFC's 48 goals this season. That is 63% of the team's total production. The third highest goal scorer was #5Million with 3 goals. After that, Darlington Nagbe and a myriad of others with one lone tally apiece.
The Timbers attack was predictable and largely easy to defend. Clog the middle, let us operate on the flanks, and watch us either try to force the ball through the center of the pitch or send crosses to no one in the box. Poor wing play and production was a common facet of our offensive struggles in both 2015 and 2016.
The 2016 Portland Timbers conceded 53 goals.
This was the worst in the Western Conference. Is there any member of PTFC's back line that you think is a lock to come back next year? Both starting fullbacks have their faults, whether it is Vytas struggling in space 1v1 or Alvas Powell's forays up the flank rarely leading to anything in the final third. Steven Taylor was not effective in his late season audition with Liam Ridgewell, who has a serious issue to address off the pitch this offseason.
Will it be a 4-2-3-1 or a 4-3-3 in the midfield?
The midfield was the strength of the Timbers in the MLS Cup run. Diego Chara, remarkably, manned the single pivot; Darlington Nagbe flourished; and the Maestro was the Maestro. Jack Jewsbury has retired, Ben Zemanski is oft injured, and a past strength of the Timbers is a real question mark right now.
What of Nagbe? Darlington's function and utility cannot be taken for granted, but this is an uniquely talented player who has scored 7 goals in 99 regular and postseason matches for PTFC the past 3 seasons. PTFC needs to drop the 4-2-3-1 if Nagbe is to remain. We cannot forsake production from an attacking player that far up the field, especially with Adi on his way out the door.
Is there talent to support the senior club elsewhere in the organization?
The Timbers signed their first Homegrown Player (Marco Farfan) from our Academy earlier this year. Much has been made of recent youthful acquisitions for T2, but our USL side offered scant support in MLS matches this past season. Do the names Andrew Jean-Baptiste, Schillo Tshuma, Nick Besler, or Ben Polk ring a bell? These are the Timbers' recent selections in the MLS SuperDraft. None have a made an impact with the senior club. There is no question that PTFC has made a concerted effort to improve in regard to the Academy, T2, and scouting. We will need more personnel support from inside our organization to be successful in MLS in the coming years.
Do the Timbers have a talent issue?
I think they do. What do you think?