This week we've reached out to Michael Orr of Stumptown Footy and asked three questions regarding the Timbers and what to expect from them.
1.) Portland lost a couple of key players in Andrew Jean-Baptiste and Ryan Johnson. How will the loss of these guys as well as the others (Jose Adolfo Valencia, Sal Zizzo, and David Horst) affect the Timbers?
The Timbers swapped out Andrew Jean-Baptiste for the right to select Steve Zakuani in the Re-Entry Draft. Though Zakuani is not yet healthy enough to play, the trade was made with the knowledge that Argentine center back Norberto Paparatto would be joining Portland. The 6’4" defender replaces both Jean-Baptiste and Futty Danso as Pa Modou Kah’s partner and is a better fit for Caleb Porter’s system. Ryan Johnson turned down a bona fide offer and recently signed with Chinese Super League side Henan Jianye. That provided space up top for Maximilano Urruti to have a more significant role and allowed for the signing of Argentine forward Gaston Fernandez. More about him below. The truth is that while there were a reasonably high number of departures this offseason, the majority of those were either holdovers from the John Spencer era or pieces that did not best fit Porter’s style. The replacements are better reflections of Porter’s plans for his team, especially offensively.
2.) Of the new acquisitions, which will have the most impact on the Timbers this season? Whose success (or failure) will have the most impact on the club?
If the preseason is any reflection of what’s coming in the regular season, Gaston Fernandez will have the biggest impact. His presence, especially while Zakuani and Rodney Wallace are out injured, gives Porter four talented, expressive attackers at the top of the formation (Urruti, Diego Valeri and Darlington Nagbe complete the foursome). The team is too talented offensively for a potential Fernandez failure to be a disaster, but what he brings enhances the attack by more than the sum of its parts.
Should Norberto Paparatto fail to deliver, that would be a bigger issue for the Timbers, though the club could easily turn to Danso (as they did last season) or Rauwshan McKenzie in central defense. All of the other additions are either draft picks with an eye toward the future (Schillo Tshuma, Taylor Peay, etc.) or additions meant for depth (Andrew Weber, Jorge Villafana).
3.) What does Portland need to do to repeat as Western Conference champions?
Perhaps the easiest way to answer this is to suggest that players who had career years in 2013 come close to replicating that success. Overall the talent level on the 2014 team is better than a year ago but that does not guarantee an injury-free season or similar results or fortune. The schedule is much more difficult given the breakdown of the unbalanced schedule and Eastern Conference away games against Houston Dynamo, New York Red Bulls, Montreal Impact and Toronto FC. There will also be Champions League games to deal with later in the season, so a strong start will be key if the Timbers hope to repeat as regular season Western Conference champions.
Injuries/Unavailable: Zakuani (sports hernia), Wallace (ACL), Evans (back)
Starting XI (4-2-3-1):
GK - Donovan Ricketts
LB - Michael Harrington
CB - Pa Kah
CB - Norberto Paparatto
RB - Jack Jewsbury
CM - Diego Chara
CM - Will Johnson
LM - Gaston Fernandez
ACM - Diego Valeri
RM - Darlington Nagbe
F - Maximiliano Urruti