It was not the result that the Portland Timbers faithful and manager Caleb Porter were hoping for on Sunday night as Real Salt Lake claimed the 2013 Western Conference Championship with a 1-0 win on the night and 5-2 win on aggregate at Jeld-Wen Field. Even though Portland finished one step below the MLS Championship that they craved, they can take this experience and learn from it going into the 2014 season.
The scary thing is that this Portland team could be even better next year.
The six players that make up Portland’s attacking core are all still relatively young, their average age being just 26. These six players also accounted for 52 of the 71 goals scored by Portland players during the season across all competitions. These players are 28-year old Ryan Johnson (10 goals), 27-year olds Diego Valeri (13 goals) and Diego Chara (0 goals), 26-year old captain Will Johnson (11 goals), 25-year old Rodney Wallace (seven goals) and 23-year old Darlington Nagbe (11 goals).
Portland also has talented 22-year old striker Maximiliano Urruti, who appeared in only seven matches due to injury. Urruti was acquired from Toronto FC for Bright Dike in September. He grew up in Argentina playing in the youth system of club Newell’s Old Boys. He was pulled up to the senior squad in 2011, where he scored 12 goals in very limited minutes before being signed to MLS.
Timbers fans will surely be able to see Urruti on the field in 2014 after he has had some time to adjust to life in North America, as well as having played a preseason with the team.
The defense in 2014 may be a bit of a concern for Portland. It was a group that dealt with loads of turnover due to injury, but they still were able to get the job done. Michael Harrington will continue to be a solid choice at left-back as long as Rodney Wallace continues to be used in the midfield.
Converted right back Jack Jewsbury played very well this season after mainly playing in the midfield under former manager John Spencer. Jewsbury may have found the role he needs to play in order to find regular minutes.
The center-back position will need to surely be addressed however, after seeing how RSL carved up Pa Modou Kah and Futty Danso during the Western Conference Finals; Kah and Danso were unable to keep with the speed of Robbie Findley. Portland does have some youth in that position with 21-year old Andrew Jean-Baptiste but other than that, they really don’t have many starting XI-caliber choices, while Kah and Danso are both over 30.
They will have the option to bring back former Manchester United defender Mikael Silvestre, but he will be 36, coming off of an ACL repair and most likely will have lost a step.
As far as the goalkeeper position is concerned, if Donovan Ricketts stays healthy, I do not see a reason why he would need to be replaced. The Jamaican international is 36-years old but is still playing at a high level for the Timbers and the Jamaican National Team.
The shock of their playoff defeat is still fresh in their minds, but the Timbers faithful will have plenty to cheer about and look forward to in this upcoming season, which is now a little over three months away.