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2020 Western Conference Preview: Portland Timbers

Portland is looking like a massive, major question mark as they head into the 2020 season.

SOCCER: JAN 22 MLS - Portland Timbers Media Day

It’s that time of year again! We’re going through each team in the Western Conference to see how they ended last year, how things have gone in the offseason, and what we might expect from them in 2020. They will be published in no particular order, and you can find all of them here.

Portland Timbers

2019 Record: 14-7-13 (49 points, 6th place in WC, lost in Round 1 of playoffs to Real Salt Lake)

Goals for: 52 (T-5th place in WC)

Goals against: 49 (T-5th place in WC)

Three key additions:

  • Yimmi Chara
  • Jaroslaw Niezgoda
  • Felipa Mora

Three key subtractions:

General thoughts:

After several years of looking like a constant MLS playoff team, the Portland Timbers’ 2019 season was the first sign that perhaps their team wasn’t as perfect as they thought. The year started with an extended series of road trips, as their home stadium, Providence Park, was undergoing some expansions. What most Timbers fans thought would then be a near-unbeaten run at home amounted to just an 8-4-5 WLT record and it took until Decision Day to seal their playoff spot. Needless to say, last season wasn’t the success that they had hoped it would be.

Portland’s biggest addition to their team last year came in the form of newly signed Designated Player Brian Fernandez, signed for an undisclosed transfer fee that was reported to be between $10 and $12 million (a club record). In the 19 games he played in, he put in 11 goals and was on track to become one of the best players that the Timbers had signed in years. However, this new player would quickly turn into a disaster for the team. Shortly after the Portland’s season ended, MLS announced that they had terminated his contract. Yes, that’s right, MLS, not Portland, had terminated his contract. He had voluntarily entered the MLS Substance Abuse and Behavioral Health Program a little over a month before, which is an admirable thing for someone struggling with addiction. But, this wasn’t enough to sway MLS. A short six months after the Timbers brought in their biggest signing of all time, he was just as quickly taken off their roster.

The Timbers then knew that they had a serious offseason in front of them. Arguably the biggest thing was them re-signing their fan favorite and 2017 MLS MVP Diego Valeri, who they managed to talk into becoming a TAM player and not a DP. They brought in two new DPs: Diego Chara’s brother, Yimmi (who was playing in the Brazilian league), and Polish striker Jaroslaw Niezgoda (who was with Legia Warsaw).

There are some major questions surrounding these two. Yimmi ostensibly plays as an attacking midfielder, but only managed to score four goals with Clube Atlético Mineiro over 40 games. It seems like the majority of the Timbers fans see him as a questionable DP. He certainly has a lot to prove, but the fanbase does hope that his partnership with his older brother on the field will be a long and fruitful one, as Chara has unquestionably become an icon in Portland.

A similar question surrounds Niezgoda. Generally, the Polish league is seen as a lower league compared to MLS, and though he potentially has a huge ceiling, it will be a question of how well he will adapt to the league. Expectations are running high with them.

To further improve their offense, they also managed to get Felipe Mora on loan from Pumas in Liga MX. The young Chilean has had a handful of appearances for the Chilean Men’s National Team and had a successful 2018 with Pumas. Unfortunately, 2019 wasn’t quite the same, as he managed just one goal over 14 games. The loan to Portland may do him a lot of good to restart both his club and country play.

As they head into next season, Portland has a lot of questions to answer. How are they going to balance their new offensive talent with their overall defensive issues? Will they push striker Jeremy Ebobisse out of position and make him play as a left winger, or will they pivot to using a two-striker system? How will their new DPs play?

On paper they should still be a solid team, but the same was said of them last year and the cracks are starting to show.