I’ve wanted to write about the state of the Portland Timbers for a while, but couldn’t find the words to describe how I feel about the team. I think I have now.
Before I begin, I must preface this: I love the Portland Timbers with all my heart, and I always will. I grew up 20 minutes from the stadium and have been a regular at Providence Park since it was called Jeld-Wen Field.
I’ve suffered through the eras of acting John Spencer, Kenny Cooper, Kris Boyd and Gavin Wilkinson, but right now the conclusion I’ve come to is this: they’re no good. In fact, they’re about as poor as I’ve seen them in the 11 years I’ve supported the club. To be completely honest, it feels like a chore to watch them right now.
Eyestrain comes down to many things. Combat and player passion are rare, the team seems to run out of ideas in attack and defense every time they step onto the pitch, and off-pitch controversies have inflated the atmosphere of matches. And what sucks is that none of that seems to be changing anytime soon.
Timbers are flatter than a soda that’s been left on a coffee table for a few days – and I don’t know how that changes. There are good players on the roster, but they can’t string together consistent performances. There are good coaches among the coaching staff, but they can’t seem to get the most out of the players at their disposal consistently. Were there any injuries? Most definitely: Felipe Mora, Sebastian Blanco, Claudio Bravo, Larrys Mabiala, Dario Zuparic, Eryk Williamson, Jaroslaw Niezgoda and George Fochive have all missed serious time through injuries.
But that cannot and should not be the excuse for the disorganization of the team as a whole this season.
Here are some facts about the Portland Timbers in 2022:
- With more than a third of the season played so far, the Timbers sit in 12th place in the Western Conference with 15 points, a record better than just five of MLS’s 28 clubs.
- Bill Tuiloma, a centre-back, leads the team in scoring with five goals in 15 games. Jeremy Ebobisse, the forward they played out of position on the left wing before trading him to San Jose last season, currently leads the league with nine goals.
- The Timbers have a -4 goal difference, which would seem much worse if not for the aberration that was the 7-2 win over SKC. Only four teams have conceded more goals in MLS this season than the Timbers (25).
- The Timbers are tied for the second-fewest wins (3) in MLS in 2022 and have kept just three clean sheets all season.
- The Timbers are tied with the Chicago Fire for the most red cards in MLS at four, all brandished at outside backs (Josecarlos Van Rankin has two, Bonilla and Bravo both have one).
- The Timbers have the fifth-worst field goal percentage in MLS at 31.5% and have scored just 21 goals (again, that looks a lot worse without the SKC result).
I’m sure there are more stats that illustrate how hard the team has struggled this season, but I think you all get it.
I’m really baffled as to how a team can get to the MLS Cup and then start next season as badly as the Timbers did this year, especially given how little turnover there has been when it comes to the roster and coaching staff. .
Of course, losing your captain and club legend in the off-season is a blow in terms of leadership and dressing room cohesion, but on the pitch Valeri was clearly on the decline. He started just 10 games last year, scoring twice and collecting three assists in 29 total appearances. Not exactly earth-shaking numbers.
Steve Clark was the other notable departure from the Timbers team last season and one of that team’s most consistent performers. And while I can admit going from Clark to Ivacic is a downgrade, the stats suggest it’s not as monumental a change as some people on Twitter have suggested.
The most glaring difference is Clark’s save percentage of 74.6% in 2021 and Ivacic’s save percentage of 64.2% this season. Other than that, the stat drop was there, but it was minimal:
- Average goals conceded per game: Clark 1.29 in 2021, Ivacic 1.71 in 2022.
- Pass percentage: Clark 67.9% in 2021, Ivacic 62.3% in 2022.
- Clean sheets: Clark seven in 24 games in 2021, Ivacic three in 15 games in 2022.
- Penalties: Clark faced six and conceded six in 2021, Ivacic faced two and saved one in 2022.
It should also be noted that defending and keeping clean sheets is a collective effort for which the entire defense is responsible, and lineup stability plays a huge role in how confident a baseline plays. In 2022, Ivacic has had nine different starting defenses ahead of him in the 14 games he has started so far, and had to take down a man in four of those 14 games.
Aside from Clark and Valeri, the only other first-team departures in the offseason were Renzo Zambrano and Andy Polo, who together played just 773 minutes all season. But despite relatively few subtractions, the team appears to be in serious need of a refresh, and signings in recent transfer windows simply haven’t had enough of an impact.
As of December 2020, the Timbers first team arrivals are as follows: Felipe Mora (signed permanently after one season on loan), Claudio Bravo, Josecarlos Van Rankin (on loan), Ismaila Jome (has not made a single appearance after rupturing his Achilles tendon), Santiago Moreno, George Fochive, David Ayala, David Bingham, Tega Ikoba, Justin Rasmussen, Diego Gutierrez, Justin vom Steeg and Nathan Fogaça.
Of those 13 players, only Mora, Bravo, Van Rankin, Moreno and Fochive have made more than 10 appearances for the club, and I would go so far as to say that only Mora and Bravo have played regularly enough to start the Bois.
So out of those five, Portland’s transfers are:
- Two backup left-backs: SuperDraft pick in Rasmussen and a veteran in Jome who unfortunately couldn’t play a single minute for the first team.
- A young backup defensive midfielder: a 19-year-old in Ayala who looked exactly like that: a 19-year-old.
- Two substitute goalkeepers: Bingham and vom Steeg.
- Three young substitute strikers: Ikoba, Nathan and Gutierrez, who were all destined to play major minutes for T2 but were pushed into the first team out of necessity due to various injuries up top.
Essentially, the above was the succession plan for deceased players Ebobisse, Valeri, Clark, Jorge Villafana, Marco Farfan, Julio Cascante, Polo and Zambrano. And this succession plan is not working at all.
That said, the secondary transfer window for MLS clubs opens on July 7 and ends on August 4 of this year, and the Timbers likely need to make a few signings to turn things around.
Van Rankin’s initial loan expires this summer, but the Timbers have the option to extend the loan for the rest of the season, and another option to make his signing permanent if they choose to do so. For my money, it’s time to part ways with him and find a long-term solution to a right-back position which has been a huge problem for the past few years.
I also think the Timbers need a complete No.10 who can consistently create goals and assists from the middle of the park. Blanco and Yimmi Chara have taken turns behind the lone striker this season and I think both are exceptional options to have at your disposal. But if we’re being brutally honest, the Timbers haven’t had a consistent chance-maker in place of CAM since Valeri’s eight-goal, seven-assist season in 2020.
This is partly due to the fluid attacking system used by Savarese, which sees attacking players changing positions frequently throughout games. But again, the Timbers have been at their best over the years when Valeri was pulling the strings down the middle.
I’ve used about 1,400 words to describe what hasn’t gone well for the Timbers so far in 2022, and with good reason. But there is a silver lining: there are still 19 games left to play this year.
We’re no strangers to slow starts turning into big finishes in the Pink City, and results can always change, no matter how badly they start.
Felipe Mora is back in full training and looks set to return to action in the near future, which will be a massive boost for a Timbers offense that has yet to begin. Eryk Williamson’s hamstring injury suffered against the Philadelphia Union doesn’t seem as serious as first thought, and Savarese also expects him to return after the international break. Put those two, Bravo and Niezgoda healthy, and mix in some first-team signings this summer, and I think the results will start to change.
It’s been a very tough time for PTFC fans recently, and only time will tell whether or not the Timbers are right on the ship. But I’ve seen it happen before and I know it can happen again. And throughout it all, one thing is certain: I am Rose City ‘Til I Die.