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Portland Timbers Resume Season Under Pressure to Find Answers

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

 

The Portland Timbers return to action Tuesday night in a U.S. Open Cup clash with the San Jose Earthquakes before resuming their MLS campaign Saturday on the road at Real Salt Lake. 

Portland has enjoyed a badly-needed two week break along with the rest of Major League Soccer while the national teams in Copa America and European Championships have taken the spotlight. Timbers star Darlington Nagbe will remain with the United States Men’s National Team as they begin the knockout rounds, while Jermaine Taylor will return to Portland after Jamaica has been eliminated in the group stage. 

Portland is also set to receive reinforcements, with starting right back Alvas Powell set to rejoin the squad after breaking his wrist back in April against FC Dallas. The break has also provided a much-needed rest to a number of Timbers veterans who have had to bear a heavy burden of minutes with the number of injuries suffered throughout the season. 

The Copa America break also provides a nice measuring point for the Timbers, with most MLS teams having completed somewhere between 33-47% of their games. Portland is on the higher side, having played 15 of their 34 games, or just under half. 

However, even with the additional games, Portland remains just below the dreaded playoff red-line, one point shy of San Jose and two points behind Vancouver and Los Angeles. 

While there remains over half a season left and it is not yet time to panic, Portland has already used up most, if not all, of their margin for error in 2016. Portland has eight MLS games to play before the end of July, with six coming against Western Conference opponents. It’s Portland’s busiest stretch of the 2016 season, and will go a long way in determining whether the Timbers are legitimate threats to defend their 2015 MLS Cup title, or if they will play out the final part of the season as also-rans. 

Portland’s results improved over the last couple games, with seven points taken from a possible nine out of their last three matches. But a number of issues remain with the squad that need to be addressed if Portland is to make the kind of run that led to that magical 2015 post-season:

Lucas Melano – The lifeboats have been filed and Melano island is quickly being evacuated, as the 23-year-old forward has, quite simply, failed to perform this season despite being given every opportunity by Caleb Porter. Melano has yet to score a goal in 2016, despite logging the fourth-most minutes on the team thus far and the most for any forward. His raw speed and talent are undeniable and he teases Portland fans game after game with brilliant runs, only to consistently fail in the final third of the pitch. While recent rumors of a return to Argentina are probably premature, Melano simply must be better going forward or his time in Timbers green may be short-lived. 

The Goalkeeper Conundrum – Coach Porter has a decision to make in the net, with Ghanaian international Adam Kwarasey set to return from injury soon. In his absence, New Zealander Jake Gleeson has performed admirably, displaying a shot-stopping ability that may surpass Kwarasey’s. While Gleeson’s distribution still leaves something to be desired, Kwarasey’s huge cap number compared to Gleeson’s (Kwarasey’s salary is ~$240,000 more according to MLS Players Union information) may help make the decision for Porter. 

The Back Line – Portland did not earn their first shut out of the season until their most recent match against San Jose, making them the last MLS team to do so, and has struggled at times on the defensive end this year. Nat Borchers was one of Portland’s most important players in their run to MLS Cup last season, but it appears that the 35-year-old has lost a step while being asked to carry a defensive unit that was minus team captain Liam Ridgewell for a six-week period. Portland has also struggled to replace offseason departure Jorge Villafana at left back with Chris Klute failing to win the job and Portland forced to take a platoon approach. It is already being reported by Timbers insider Jamie Goldberg of the Oregonian that Portland will make the position a priority during the summer transfer window that opens on July 8th.  

Caleb Porter and the Timbers have not had the beginning to the 2016 season that they have hoped for. While injuries have undoubtedly played a large part, Portland has also, until recently, failed to take advantage of the opportunities when they present themselves. Those missteps have placed Portland squarely behind the eight ball as the season enters its most difficult stretch and left them with a mountain to climb moving forward. But if 2015 taught us anything, it’s that Caleb Porter and these Timbers play best when their back is against the wall; good thing too, because that’s exactly where they find themselves with 2016 hanging in the balance. 

 

Related Slideshow: 10 Vines Celebrating the Portland Timbers Season

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The Portland Timbers took a 1-0 lead in the MLS Cup final on this error by the Columbus Crew goaltender Steve Clark and a goal by Diego Valeri The goal took 28 seconds to score and is the fastest in MLS Cup history.

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Timbers go up 2-0 on what proves to be the MLS Cup winner.

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The Portland Timbers win the MLS Cup. The first championship in team history.

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Let the celebration begin.

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Drinking from the cup.

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Timbers advance to MLS Cup Finals.

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Lucas Melano helps seal a western conference championship over FC Dallas. The Timbers advance to the MLS Cup Final.

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Fanendo Adi gets Portland on the board in the MLS Cup Playoffs.

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Timber Joey has had a lot to celebrate this season.

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Fans pour in to Providence Park

 
 

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