As the Portland Timbers get ready for the MLS season, we look at five factors which will determine their success in 2018.
MLS fans around North America are ready for the new season and Portland Timbers supporters are no different. Have their beloved team got what it takes to add a second MLS Cup to the trophy cabinet?
There are lots of potential storylines surrounding the 2018 edition of the Timbers, which will help answer this question. With this in mind, we look at five factors for you to consider during the coming months:
1) Season-opening road trip
The Timbers’ season will get off to an interesting start, as they begin the campaign with five road games. This is due to construction which is taking place at Providence Park as part of phase one of the stadium expansion.
Adding to the ‘fun’, Portland will be flying all over the country during the five-game stretch. Stops will include Los Angeles, New York, Dallas, Chicago and Orlando, with the outcome potentially impacting how the season will play out.
For what it’s worth, Toronto FC have already shown it’s possible to survive and even prosper on long road trips at the start of a season. In 2015, they had a record of 3-4-0 in seven games and the following year went 3-3-2 in eight games.
2) Fanendo Adi’s health
Fanendo Adi was enjoying another fine season in 2017, with 10 goals and three assists in 22 games. However, his hamstring started playing up and what was originally meant to last just a few weeks, turned into a season-ending injury.
Adi’s absence was especially felt by the Timbers in the playoffs. After finishing the regular season with the best record in the Western Conference, they were upset by the Houston Dynamo.
Suffice it to say, Portland need their prolific forward back and healthy. If the 27-year-old is fully recovered, expect him to be among the league leaders in scoring.
3) Giovanni Savarese’s impact
You can make an argument that the shock surrounding Caleb Porter’s resignation is still being felt around Portland. However, time moves on and Giovnni Savarese is tasked with continuing his predecessor’s success.
Savarese will be helped by Adi’s return, as well as the majority of the roster which topped the West last season. It will be extremely interesting to watch how the players respond to him.
It helps that the 46-year-old has played in MLS himself, thus he can use the benefit of his own experiences. Regarded as a student of the game who has always been interested in tactics, there is every reason to believe he will do just fine.
4) Still something to prove
This refers to the team as a whole, but particularly Diego Valeri. The Argentinian had a fantastic season, scoring 21 goals and adding 11 assists on the way to being named MLS MVP.
And yet, you imagine Valeri has a bitter taste in his mouth after the way the Timbers were knocked out of the playoffs. While his 2015 MLS Cup MVP award proved he can rise to the occasion, he faced criticism following the Dynamo loss last year.
Fair or not, it could be just what the midfielder needs to spur him on in the coming months. Certainly if he’s on form, it will be tough for any team to stop him.
5) The new boys
We can fully appreciate why Toronto FC, Atlanta United and the Seattle Sounders are among the favorites to win the MLS Cup in 2018. However, the Timbers will be in the running as well, especially with their potent offense.
It helps that Portland have boosted their forward options with talent such as Andy Polo. The Peruvian international winger is versatile and will add pace to the attack.
The Timbers also signed Samuel Armenteros on loan from Serie A side Benevento Calcio. He has an excellent record of scoring and if he performs, Portland has the option to buy him.
Do you have any observations to make about the five storylines detailed? Are they any other significant ones you want to add, which will help determine the Timbers’ success this season? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.