Portland Timbers 2016 Season Review

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With the Portland Timbers coming off a season that ended in winning the MLS Cup Final over Columbus Crew SC, this season had high expectations. Little did they know that they would go the entire campaign without winning outside of their home stadium and miss out on a return to the playoffs by only a single win.

Portland Timbers 2016 Season Review

Things started positively with a 2-1 win at home against that same Crew side they had defeated in Ohio to win the trophy. However, it was all downhill from there as any time Portland left the boisterous confines of Providence Park they played unorganized, sloppy soccer that cost them a playoff berth when all was said and done. Their 12 home wins were tied for most in the Western Conference and second in all of MLS. The more significant figure, though, was the zero victories on the road.

What Went Right

In truth, not much went right for Portland. If you want to highlight anything, Diego Valeri signing a long term extension to keep him in the Rose City for the rest of his productive soccer playing years is nice. Jake Gleeson storming into the starting goalkeeping role is certainly nice too. The fact that came more or less because of an injury to original starter Adam Kwarasey is a little bit of an indictment on Caleb Porter.

As highlighted above, the team went 12-2-3 at home. Winning in front of your own fans is very nice and fun, but you have to do it in front of your opponents fans, too, if you want to have a great season. Indeed, only one extra win outside of Oregon would have been enough to lift them into the post season. Two extra wins would have seen them hosting a knockout round game.

The attacking of Valeri and Fanendo Adi was a spectacle to behold. The pair combained for 30 of Portland’s 48 goals on the season. Those three will have to stay together for as long as possible if the Timbers want to have any long term success.

What Went Wrong

A lot of things derailed Portland’s season, some of which arose before the first match was played. The team lost three major members of their MLS Cup winning side in the off-season. Jorge Villafana was a stud at left back in 2015 and he was sold off to Santos Laguna in Mexico. Rodney Wallace was a beast along the left wing and helped create goal after goal after goal all last year. He was shipped off to Portugal and eventually Brazil. Maxi Urruti was the guy who would come off the bench to poach a big goal late in a game and he turned into a key man for FC Dallas in their Supporters Shield run.

The loss of those three important players were plenty worth the nine points in the table lost from 2015 to 2016.

The defense was also quite woeful and inconsistent. Last year’s third stingiest defesne in MLS ended up conceding a whopping 53 goals this season, which was worst in the Western Conference.

A lot of that can be attributed to early season injuries to Liam Ridgewell and Alvas Powell. Shortly after those two returned to action, Nat Borchers ruptured his Achilles tendon and was done for the season. None of the replacement options worked well enough. Chris Klute never really fit in with the group and was loaned out to Minnesota United. Midseason acquisitions Steven Taylor and Vytautas Andriuskevicius came along too late to make any difference.

Although the team scored seven more goals this season, the wide play was also dreadful compared to last year. With Wallace gone, the onus fell upon Lucas Melano, Dairon Asprilla, and early season addition Darren Mattocks to pick up the slack. Melano was inconsistent at best, having moments of brilliance cancelled out by instances of stupidity. Asprilla was so awful he was loaned back to his native Colombia for seasoning. Mattocks was alright, but he never really made a name for himself the way Wallace did throughout last year.

Finally, Darlington Nagbe, despite all the praise being heaped his way, really struggled this year. The recently capped American international only scored once and only created five assists. He needs more of those money numbers to pull his weight. However, this isn’t as much about his level of talent as it is about how he was used all season. His strength is as a central midfielder, where he played at the tail end of last season. This year, thanks to awful play out wide, he was forced into a wide role that does not make full use of his talents.

Offseason Plan

The Timbers have two major areas to address. First off, they will need to shore up their back four. Borchers may never be the same owing to his age and the nasty recovery process from an Achilles injury. Liam Ridgewell, in addition to getting in trouble with drinking and driving, is also starting to show his age. Powell is probably the only current piece of that back four that can be relied on for next year. The injection of a smart, young defender would do wonders for this team.

Finding someone to replace Rodney Wallace on the outside would also be quite nice. Yes, the Timbers scored more this season than last, but they need an option that doesn’t involve the increasingly predictable tactic of Valeri setting up Adi. They need that dynamic winger that can swing in ungodly crosses. Snagging one of those can push Nagbe back into the central midfield where he belongs.

Speaking of central midfield, some depth in that area would be nice. Jack Jewsbury and Ned Grabavoy are retiring. Diego Chara is always at risk of a red card or yellow card suspension. A stable body to toss in there at a moments notice could help the team late in matches or during a congested fixture list in the middle of summer.

With the rough ending to this season, the talk of Caleb Porter’s job security has come up at times. I think the manager is safe for next season, considering the damage caused by injuries and late off-season roster turnover. He also should be credited for the tactical planning that pushed the side to the playoffs and beyond last year. I feel the only reason he wasn’t able to create a similar run this year was a lack of options on his roster. All in all, the problems were with the players, not with the man leading them.

The 2016 Timbers season can only be described as a failure after last year’s thrilling title run. Thankfully, with a little tinkering to the roster and a little better luck keeping players out of the infirmary, they can make another playoff run in 2017.