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2017 Western Conference Preview: Portland Timbers

If the Timbers can figure out their defense, they could go far this season.

Columbus Crew SC v Portland Timbers Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images

I’ll just say it. I kind of like the Portland Timbers. Timber Joey is a badass mascot, and I wish that Denver had a soccer culture like Portland does. My fiancé is even going to watch Portland play (and hopefully beat) the LA Galaxy for his bachelor party. So I think it’s safe to say that if I wasn’t a Rapids fan, I could be easily persuaded to go green.

That being said, I take just as much joy in our Colorado Rapids beating the Timbers as everyone else. Last season, the Timbers came in just below the playoff line, so let’s take a look at what’s been going on in the offseason to see if they have a better chance this year.

Portland Timbers Preview for 2017

2016 Record: 12-14-8 (WLT), 44 points, 7th in the Western Conference

2016 Goals For: 48 (11th in MLS)

2016 Goals Against: 53 (T-7th most in MLS)

Key Stat for 2016:

Their 53 goals against was the worst in the Western Conference and tied for 7th worst in MLS.

Key Additions:

Lawrence Olum (from SKC), Amobi Okugo (re-signing), Sebastián Blanco, David Guzman (Costa Rica)

Key Subtractions:

Lucas Melano (loaned to Club Athletico Belgrano), Nat Borchers (retired)

What Portland has going for them:

Fanendo Adi and Diego Valeri, who were both surprisingly snubbed in the 2016 MLS All-Star game, are returning to the team. And that’s a very good thing. In 2016, Adi had 16 goals and Valeri had 14 goals, which means these two players combined for almost 63% of the teams total goals for the year.

“[In 2016], the lion’s share of goals came from the No. 9 and No. 10,” Head Coach Caleb Porter recently said. “We need goals and assists out of our wide players.” And that’s why the signing of Sebastián Blanco was key - he fills that right winger spot, while USMNT regular Darlington Nagbe will set up in the left winger spot - allowing the team to add pressure from the sides.

David Guzman joined the Timbers from Costa Rican side Deportivo Saprissa, and will likely play midfield opposite Diego Chara. Guzman is known for being able to hold up the play and distribute the ball. Bringing in Guzman (and Okugo for depth), should help secure their questionable back line.

Lucas Melano was an integral part of the 2015 squad that won the MLS Cup. Unfortunately, he did not play as well last year, and so they are saving the roster spot and loaning him to Club Athletico Belgrano in Argentina to hopefully develop him into the player they’d like him to be. If can improve, he will add another piece to the already solid offense (though not until next year). This seems like a wise move for the future of the team.

What’s troubling:

Portland is in a bit of a pickle with the center back position. Nat Borchers retired and then Gbenga Arokoyo (the assumed starter) ruptured his Achilles during training a couple weeks ago. The Timbers don’t really have anyone right now to fill that open center back spot. As Stumptown Footy suggested, there are several players on hand that could technically do the job, but the Timbers had the worst back line in the Western Conference last year. Portland needs to pick up an experienced player to bolster their defense. They recently signed defensive midfielder/center back Lawrence Olum from Sporting Kansas City and brought back defensive midfielder Amobi Okugo, but both were signed for depth, not as starters.

If Liam Ridgewell is back at 100% (he missed 12 games last year due to a calf injury), and other guys live up to their expectations, it could be fine, but it looks like Portland could really use a veteran signing.

2017 Forecast:

It sounds like Portland has made some moves to improve their already pretty decent offense, but their defense is quite a concern. I think it’s easier to go far with a stout defense and lackluster offense (ahem 2016 Colorado Rapids), than vice versa, so this presents a problem.

If they can figure out this defense issue, they will for sure make the playoffs, if not make it all the way. If they don’t figure out that center back position and the defense leaks goals all year, it’s not looking good. I feel safe assuming they’ll come in at least 5th in the Western Conference.