5 Bold Predictions for the Portland Timbers’ 2014 MLS Season
MLS: 5 Bold Predictions for the Portland Timbers Season
There were a lot of uncertainties last year for the Portland Timbers as they entered the season with their new coach, Caleb Porter. Some have even used the term rebuilding when discussing last year. Of course, any rhetoric can be used when your team makes a deep run into the playoffs, but comes up short. However, the rhetoric that matters for Porter is consistency. The refrain is to threaten for the MLS Cup year to year.
It was a generally quiet offseason for the Timbers as most of their roster stayed intact. They mutually parted ways with veteran Mikael Silvestre, which was best for both parties. Compared to last season when half the team was new and the style of play was unknown, this has been a walk in the park. Make that a walk in Providence Park as the changing of the naming rights to the Timbers' home field may have been the biggest transition of the offseason.
There are some issues with injury that will influence decisions in the early part of the season as well as four additions to the roster. Jorge Villafaña and Steve Zakuani changed MLS teams and the Timbers signed a pair from Argentina, Gastón Fernández and Norberto Paparatto. Adding depth will help with a more demanding season as the second half will include play in the CONCACAF Champions League to go along with a run toward a championship.
Portland will have higher expectations this year, but Porter has internally raised the bar for his players. He has also coached his team to play a brand of attractive soccer in one of the better soccer environments in the United States. Since it won't be status quo for the Timbers, we might as well go for some bold predictions for the 2014 season.
5. Steve Zakuani Will Be a Bench Player
It was a bit of news when Steve Zakuani switched Cascadia teams, but it made sense to be reunited with Porter after having played for him at the University of Akron. Portland claimed the speedy winger during the first stage of the Re-Entry Draft from the Seattle Sounders with the second pick.
Zakuani has spent more time starring in repetitive Microsoft ads on MLS Live than he has on the field in the last three years. The Timbers have given him a chance to start over but Zakuani is still recovering from two sports hernia surgeries.
Rodney Wallace will be out of the lineup for some time, but it will be hard for Zakuani to fully integrate back into the lineup. There is still depth through the midfield for Porter, but Zakuani's speed could be a difference-maker off the bench. Perhaps super sub is a role Zakuani is better suited for this year.
4. Max Urruti Will Challenge for the Golden Boot
This prediction may be the boldest of them all as there is considerable competition for the striker position with the Timbers. Max Urruti is not the biggest player, but is being touted for strength and nimbleness. Urruti can run channels and press the back line of the opposition. Fernandez is pressing Urruti and has more experience. The preseason has been good for Urruti and he has stuck out for all the right reasons. Urruti will eventually take the starting role and be in the right place at the right time. This team should score as well, which is expanded upon later.
3. Portland Will Make the CONCACAF Champions League Quarterfinals
Portland made the 2014-15 CONCACAF Champions League through a new rule change that rewards the conference champion with the second most points in the league rather than the runner-up in the league final. A lot of the details for the next tournament are still unclear as the current version is entering the quarterfinals, but the Timbers are built like a team that could make waves. The quarterfinals will be set sometime near the end of October. Portland should have a good chance of turning this into a bolder prediction in 2015.
2. Portland Will Lead MLS in Goals Scored
Part of the reason Urruti will be in contention for the Golden Boot is because the Timbers will score a lot. In 2013, Portland scored 53 goals which was good enough for third in the league. They only earned three penalty kicks all of last season, but they converted on all of those. With more consistency and knowledge in attack, this team will be formidable on offense. Darlington Nagbe has the freedom to roam and Diego Valeri will be the facilitator for the offense. The integration of Villafaña strengthens the midfield allowing defense to turn to offense quickly. The Timbers will be fun to watch again.
1. The Portland Timbers Will Win Their First Six Games
It will be a good start for Timbers as four of the first six matches are at Providence Park. There are some tricky matches, but the home-field advantage will prove to be the difference. Portland opens the season with the Philadelphia Union followed by the Chicago Fire. They will then hit the road against the Colorado Rapids and FC Dallas. The biggest test in the first six could be against Seattle on April 5 as the rivalry is always emotional. The final match of the first six is against Chivas USA, or perhaps the "Escape Goats" as coined by ELAC on Twitter.
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