Timbers off-season already on full speed…

Not a week has gone by and already the squad is taking shape for next year; here’s how things look today with the move of Sal Zizzo to Sporting KC while Zakuani and Villafana are added after round #1 of the MLS Re-entry draft… 


Goalkeepers Under Contract: Donovan Ricketts and Jake Gleeson – Offer made to Milos Kocic; David Meves remains in the wings?

A wee bird whispered to me that Milos is likely not going to resign – and not surprising really; his family remains in Toronto and it’s unlikely he wants to be the understudy to Ricketts again this year.

What remains is Portland finding a suitable back-up to Mister Fantastic with CONCACAF, US Open Cup and Regular season matches crunching the schedule up around a sandwiched World Cup summer.

With all that it is likely Milos would see far more playing time this year than last – so perhaps even with the pull of family on the East Coast I could see him returning…  When comparing Milos to Gleeson there is no question Milos is much more switched in to the game than Gleeson… regardless of Jake’s lanky frame Milos is solid when given playing time.

Defenders:  Pa Modou Kah, Mikael Silvestre, Futty Danso, Rauwshan McKenzie, Michael Harrington, Jack Jewsbury, Alvas Powell, Brad Ring and Jorge Villafana

From what I recall about Villafana he adds considerable pace and width down the left side – and given his time in the league he’s probably a tad more experienced than Alvas Powell, who in my estimation adds the same pace and speed down the right side.

Critical for both these players will be their ability to cross the ball and penetrate the attacking third ‘without’ sacrificing the ability to get back into defense as needed.

Width needs to be added to the Timbers attack and that only comes from having fullbacks who can play wing-back roles as the central midfielders role back in front of the two center-backs.

As for the Center-backs… hopefully Silvestre is 100% physically fit this next year – he will have tons of playing minutes and while Kah is a likely partner having just 4 CB’s on the roster with so many games simply won’t cut it…  I would expect at least 2-3 more center-backs being added with one a likely full-time starter.

While some might disagree with this assessment – it’s my belief that the Timbers back-four was lucky, very lucky, and far more lucky than good last year.  Ricketts was absolutely superb last year and the goals against could have been high, very bloody high – Silvestre is not the complete answer here in the back-four.

While I understand the move to shift Horst given his injuries (very unlucky David!) there is huge value and upside to a big, strong, quick, center-back who has presence in the air and good foot skills.  Not sure I see all those qualities in one center-back; all those guys are a year older and a year slower…

Midfielders:  Will Johnson, Diego Chara, Rodney Wallace (injured – torn ACL), Darlington Nagbe, Diego Valeri, Kalif Alhassan, Ben Zemanski, Michael Nanchoff, Steve Evans, and Steve Zakuani.

Speed is needed on the wings to open up the central midfield area a bit more while also adding defensive skills to smother the diamond 4-4-2 a bit more than what was available last year.

Exposure on the wings was, in my view, a greater threat on the defensive side than attacking side and while Zakuani adds depth on the wings and helps see PTFC through the Wallace injury it doesn’t lock down a defensive left side that looked lost at times.

Somewhere the sacrifice might be needed in order to minimize goals against risk again this year; while it wasn’t high last year Ricketts had a phenomenal year and to see him match his shots saved ratio again this year may be asking too much – in this case I would submit Caleb needs more out of his attack with less attackers…   adding wingers who play fullback ‘first’ helps Caleb do more with less.

In looking at rotations this year – much can be made for having Nanchoff role in behind Valeri while Kalif continues to add his unique skills (where/when needed).  Darlington and Diego will continue to be the one-two punch but the addition of Zakuani (width and pace), as well as a more seasoned Urruti might see the Timbers again playing a 2-pivot defensive central midfield…

As for the central part of the midfield – no-one in MLS has a partnership that can compare (apples to apples) with Will Johnson and Diego Chara – that’s two guys locking up the defending midfield area where Will also provided huge attacking support!  I’m hopeful Diego Chara actually scores a goal this year.

Forwards: Maximiliano Urruti, Jose Adolpho Valencia – Offers made to Ryan Johnson, Frederic Piquionne, and Sebastian Rincon.

PTFC most probably shopping for a #9 to open up flexibility in playing a 4-4-2 as well as the tried and tested 4-5-1/4-3-3 this past year.

Like it or not direct attacking flexibility is a “must” given how many teams in MLS play direct themselves or focus on counterattacking while hunkering down into a turtle shell – those long and wide balls coming in from all directions are really needed to break down those packed-within-the-18-yard-box-defenses… by adding speed to the wings/fullbacks that additional width also helps add more flexibility in attacking third…

All told this past year only 4 teams had a positive correlation between taking points in the league table and possession – in other words 15 out of 19 teams in MLS last year got more wins and draws based upon less possession as opposed to more possession…

Only LA, Portland, Philadelphia and San Jose actually won more points with more possession than their opponent!

So what that really means is the majority of teams in the MLS played a more negative attacking approach and waited to pounce on an opponents mistake as opposed to create something on their own.

Bottom line is the forward attacking corps for the Timbers is not enough to scare most teams – Valencia still puts his head down a wee bit too much but it’s less now than before; Urruti has the pace and lungs to run all day but needs to find the back of the net just as much, if not more, than Valeri.

If not, than Urruti is playing more of a false #9; and if he’s there to do that then he needs better passing moves and rotational rates with Valeri, Nagbe and Wallace/Zakuani/Alhassan…

Hard to imagine Ryan Johnson staying with Portland – my guess is Portland made an offer that has value but probably not the dollar signs RJ is personally hoping for.

Ryan has lost pace and is not as strong in the air as before – I won’t say he’s flat footed but when he goes up for a header it’s not a big leap with lots of spring – it’s more of a striding launch that takes up more time, space and energy.

On the other hand, even from the press box, I can see Piquionne still has a big spring in his step – I imagine “Piq” resigns and continues to enjoy life in the US on the left coast of America…

How Rincon plays out is very unclear – he’s never rated any better than having time in the Reserves and he’s been here at least two years.  If he had vision and the ability to spread that vision to others while playing he’d have been in the starting 11 much earlier.

I don’t see him returning, and if he did it is likely he’d be playing with Sacramento.  Some guys develop later than others – perhaps that mold fits Rincon?

In closing…

Merritt Paulson tweeted that two more moves were likely (adds to the squad) in the next 30 days or so…

I’m not sure I agree – when I count those numbers up it’s far short of the 30 odd needed for the roster and real short on starting defenders and forwards.  Only the Stage 2 Re-entry draft remains besides the College Draft.

How the college draft plays out will be hard to tell – Gangnes was the lone pickup last year and he’s no longer with the squad.  All told that’s Horst, Miller, Baptiste and Gangnes being dropped from the team with only Villafana being added – if you expect like for like then it is reasonable to expect that Portland will be picking up at least 2-3 more center-backs before preseason starts.

Lest we forget Mike Gallego is on the team – just not clear if he will join the roster this year or next.

He’s been playing as CB for U-23’s yet not clear if that continues – in seeing him play he’s got vision and positional smarts but lacks height, weight and pace – but smaller guys have been known to be exceptional CB’s before; just not sure he gives the Timbers any width at all if playing as a right fullback – and doesn’t have speed to rotate in as a right winger either.

Like Evans he screams defensive midfielder/defender with some vision but not near enough pace / speed to be the player who plays on both ends of the pitch with big impact while adding width.


Chris Gluck

Chris Gluck

I have been covering the Portland Timbers and Major League Soccer, as a community blogger/analyst for the Columbian Newspaper, since June, 2012. Since then my involvement in soccer analysis has expanded to include participating in the Regional Emmy Award Winning Soccer City PDX TV Show (Comcast Sports Northwest). My unique analytical approach has been published in Europe and presented at the World Conference on Science and Soccer 2014. I also appear regularly as a co-host on Rose City Soccer Show and the Yellowcarded Podcast. You can find my work on PossessionwithPurpose.com, PTFC Collective and Prost Amerika.

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