Chris Hardwicke in Portland examines the newcomers to the Timbers roster and the influence they might have.
As the Portland Timbers approach the 2013 season, to say that the club has undergone major changes would be a massive understatement. With the arrival of former Akron coach Caleb Porter, the Timbers set in motion a whirlwind to reshape the team from John Spencer’s unsuccessful model and interim coach Gavin Wilkinson’s subtle changes to finish out the season with dignity.
Porter, the most important change in the Portland hierarchy as head coach, brings to the table a much different coaching style. Primarily, Porter has shown an uncanny ability to recognize talent and develop player skills, thus producing amazing results. When he was introduced in July, he took extra time to explain his coaching style with the media with a calm yet confident tone.
Porter plays a fast paced game with lots of movement, passing and fast attacks. He’s also anxious to be successful in MLS, and Gavin Wilkinson was quick to point this out.
“He’s young, he’s hungry, he’s intelligent, he has a great soccer mind. He’s someone that we believe in and someone that we’re very, very enthusiastic about working with.”
It will be fascinating to see Porter’s final 2013 roster, but even now we have a good glimpse into the kind of moves the new coach has made. So lets take a look at some of the key additions, departures and retentions that will change the way Portland plays in the inaugural season of the Porter era.
The addition of Diego Valeri is the biggest move the Timbers made in the off season. Valeri, at age 26, still has the youth and quickness, yet has developed the skill and wisdom to be a major difference maker at both midfield and on the attack. Valeri has a treasure chest in experience in his seasons with Argentine sides Lanús and Almería as well as international experience with three caps for the Argentine National Team.
Teaming Valeri, a skilled attacking midfielder as well as creative distributor, with fellow talented midfielders Darlington Nagbe, Diego Chara and a revitalized Kalif Alhassan could end up as a flurry of offense for the Timbers in 2013. Valeri paired with veterans like Jack Jewsbury and Eric Alexander could make the possession game at midfield a stinging headache for opponents. So far in practice, the chemistry seems to be there, and chemistry is key. Only regular season minutes on the pitch will tell for sure, acquiring Diego Valeri is the best move they made.
On the subject of midfield, Will Johnson will certainly figure into the mix. The Canadian was a superstar for Real Salt Lake, but he did manage nine goals and eight assists in 114 games. He also had 79 shots on goal during his run in Utah. In a midfield with the potential to be very technically skilled, a great deal of his future shots could find the back of the net. Expect to see Johnson start often and make a noticeable contribution.
Trading back into the draft was also news for the Timbers, as they landed Dylan Tucker-Gangnes, a skilled center back from University of Washington. This is a position that the Timbers arguably require more depth. It’s questionable as to how much playing time Tucker-Gangnes will get in the upcoming season, but he is the player Gavin Wilkinson and Caleb Porter wanted.
At Akron, Porter ran one of the most successful defense-minded squads in college soccer, and shoring up Portland’s back line has got to be tantamount in building a successful team. Moves like signing Tucker-Gangnes, though they may not pay dividends this season, may be what Caleb Porter sees as building a strong foundation for long term success.
Also on the subject of defense is the signing of Ryan Miller, fresh off of solid performances in Sweden.
Miller is a solid defender with plenty of experience including international play overseas. Again, while Miller may not be the pivotal cog that will make the machine work, he’s an upgrade to the previous product in front of goal.
The same can be said about Michael Harrington, acquired from Sporting Kansas City in December.
He appeared 149 times for Sporting during his time in the Midwest, tallying five goals and building a reputation as a staunch defender.
He’s not the star defender Portland needs, but he is also an upgrade and adds depth to a back line that desperately needs it.
Now that the topic of star defender has been raised, could that package come in the form of former Manchester United and Arsenal star Mikaël Silvestre? The French footballer is currently on trial with Portland and has look sharp and in physical form in practice sessions.
At 35, There is the obvious question. Does Silvestre have enough left in the tank to run with boys on average ten years younger than him? Many would argue that, though many European footballers have played the ends of their careers with notable success in MLS, the window may have closed on Silvestre.
However, Porter and Wilkinson have obviously put faith in the Frenchman, who has looked on point in trials. It will be a big gamble, but if it works, Portland will have found their rock star on the back line. They have gambled twice on star signings with Kris Boyd and Kenny Cooper. Maybe the third time is a charm.
Rounding out the pool of acquisitions are forward Ryan Johnson, midfielder Steven Evans and goalkeeper Miloš Kocić. Johnson certainly adds depth to the tip of the spear and could prove to be a diamond in the rough.
Evans is a local prospect out of University of Portland who has had some success with the Timbers U-23. Kocić was put in the mix as a replacement for Joe Bendik, but could figure as an upgrade. He has experience in both Europe and the US going back to 2004 and should figure as a solid backup to Donovan Ricketts.
In Part 2, Chris Hardwicke runs the magnifying glass over the Key Retentions and the Key Departures