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2018 Western Conference Previews: Minnesota United, Portland Timbers, Real Salt Lake

Minnesota hasn’t done much in the offseason, while Portland has a new coach and RSL has added a number 9 to an already fairly solid defense.

MLS: Portland Timbers at Real Salt Lake Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

We started our 2018 previews with FC Dallas, Houston Dynamo, LA Galaxy, and newcomers LAFC (read here), and now we’re moving on to Minnesota United, Portland Timbers, and arguably our biggest conference rivals: Real Salt Lake.

Minnesota United

2017 Record: 10-18-6, 36 points, 9th in WC

Goals For: 47, 9th in WC

Goals Against: 70, 11th in WC

3 Key Additions:

Matt Lampson, Tyrone Mears, Harrison Heath (Yes, Head Coach Adrian Heath’s son)

3 Key Subtractions:

Jermaine Taylor, Justin Davis, Joseph Greenspan (not necessarily a key subtraction, but of note for Rapids fans)

General Thoughts:

Last year was Minnesota’s first MLS season and they started the year with three big losses (giving up 16 goals while scoring just 4) and a, um, 2-2 tie with the Colorado Rapids. On March 31st, the Rapids sent Sam Cronin and Marc Burch to Minnesota in exchange for Josh Gatt and Mohammed Saeid, and the Loons improved marginally. Minnesota finished the season in 9th place in the Western Conference with 36 points.

For 2018, the Loons haven’t made many upgrades, so I don’t really expect them to do much better. They haven’t made many moves to improve their offense or defense, but they still have Christian Ramirez, who was a 2017 Rookie of the Year nominee and got himself 14 goals and 3 assists last year. While MNU didn’t score a ton of goals last year, their big issue is defense and stopping goals from going in. Bobby Shuttleworth wasn’t a terrible goalkeeper last year, but picking up Matt Lampson from Chicago will definitely give Shuttleworth some competition for the starting spot. The only real key addition has been Tyrone Mears because it gives the back line some experience. But he’s also 35 years old.

Predicted Finish in the Western Conference: 12th

Portland Timbers

2017 Record: 15-11-8, 53 points, 1st in WC

Goals For: 60, 1st in WC

Goals Against: 50, 6th in WC

3 Key Additions:

Julio Cascante, Andy Polo, Cristhian Paredes

3 Key Subtractions:

Caleb Porter, Darlington Nagbe, Darren Mattocks

General Thoughts:

The Portland Timbers were a very good team last year and went into the playoffs in top form only to lose to the Houston Dynamo in the Western Conference Finals. The unexpected departure of their head coach Caleb Porter left many fans wondering what 2018 was going to bring. In about a month, the Timbers named Venezuelan Giovanni Savarese as the new manager.

I expect Portland to be a very good team again this year, but I would also expect some growing pains with a new coach and the loss of Nagbe. They still have attacking weapons Fanendo Adi and Sebastian Blanco, and the newly-added 23-year-old Peruvian Andy Polo should be a good replacement for the missing Nagbe.

The Timbers have also added 19-year-old Cristhian Paredes (a central midfielder from Paraguay) and Julio Cascante (a 24-year-old defender from Saprissa), two areas where the Timbers could use some depth due to injuries and aging players.

Predicted Finish in the Western Conference: 2nd

Real Salt Lake

2017 Record: 13-15-16, 45 points, 8th in WC

Goals For: 49, 5th in WC

Goals Against: 55, 8th in WC

3 Key Additions:

Alfredo Ortuño, Adam Henley, Brooks Lennon

2 Key Subtractions:

Chris Wingert, Reagan Dunk (also not a key subtraction but Rapids fans might care)

General Thoughts:

Real Salt Lake won the Rocky Mountain Cup last year and was in contention for the playoffs—until a certain burgundy team crushed their playoff hopes by beating them 1-0 in October. They had four players put in 7 goals each (Yura Movsisyan, Albert Rusnak, Joao Plata, and Luis Silva), with Rusnak adding 14 (!) assists. All four of these fellas are coming back, plus RSL added a number 9 (26-year-old Alfredo Ortuño from Spain). They didn’t really lose any key players in the off-season besides defender Chris Wingert.

They also added depth to their back line by signing four defenders in the off-season. One is a homegrown player and another is from the USL, but 23-year-old Adam Henley from the Blackburn Rovers could be promising if he can stay healthy. American Shawn Barry also adds some depth and experience to RSL’s defense.

Salt Lake also brought back attacker Brooks Lennon. He was with the club on loan in 2017, and officially transferred to RSL from Liverpool for 2018. Lingering issues for RSL are the aging Kyle Beckerman and Nick Rimando, and neither have any competition for their starting positions.

Predicted Finish in the Western Conference: 6th