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Ten Bold Predictions for the Portland Timbers 2016 Season

Thursday, February 18, 2016


Believe it or not, we are less than three weeks away from the Portland Timbers opening their 2016 MLS campaign on March 6th against MLS Cup Final opponent Columbus Crew. How did this happen?! I feel like it was just yesterday that the parade was rolling through downtown and Merritt Paulson was dropping F-bombs on the trophy stage in the most Portland-y weather possible. I still don't think I've fully recovered from the Sporting Kansas City game, and now we're starting all over again?

Well, if we're going to do this, we're going to start with every sportswriter's favorite pastime: crazy guesses about the upcoming season! Here are my 10 “bold” (and, let's be honest, probably wrong) predictions for the Timbers in 2016:

1.    The injury bug will cost a key contributor at least six matches in 2016.

Sadly, this is probably the safest prediction on this list. In each of the past three seasons, Portland has had to deal with significant injuries that had a dramatic impact on the Timbers' season. In both 2013 and 2014, team captain Will Johnson dealt with injuries that cost him six and five games, respectively, and resulted in a lost 2015 campaign that never really got started for him. Diego Valeri has battled the injury bug as well, missing 12 games in 2015 while recovering from ACL surgery as well as a badly sprained ankle. It seems like a safe bet that the Timbers will spend at least some of 2016 missing at least one of their top players.

2.    Darlington Nagbe will look like an early-season contender for MLS MVP...until he is called for national team duty for Copa America.

Nagbe's positional shift to central midfield late last year gave the Timbers' offense an added dimension and sparked them towards their eventual MLS Cup run. Nagbe seemed immediately at home as a box-to-box midfielder in a way he simply never was as a winger, striker, or attacking midfielder. He'll pick up 2016 right where he left off 2015, using his speed and vision to transition from defense to offense before the opponent can get set and setting up Valeri, Lucas Melano, and Fanendo Adi for numerous scoring opportunities.

3.    Fanendo Adi will finish in the top three for the Golden Boot award.

One of the prime beneficiaries of Nagbe's emergence as a primary playmaker was Adi, who scored six goals in his final five games of the regular season, and added two more during the MLS Cup playoffs. With more weapons surrounding him and Adi seemingly beginning to fully realize his prodigious talent, the goals will come in bunches for him this season, with Adi challenging Sebastian Giovinco, Robbie Keane, and David Villa for the league's top scorer.

4.    Left back will prove to be the team's Achilles heel.

Jorge Villafana was absolutely critical for the Timbers during their title run last season, but left for the greener (as in richer) pastures of Mexican club Santos Laguna. Portland quickly traded for former Columbus Crew member Chris Klute to fill the void, but Klute has already struggled with injuries in preseason and has yet to see the field. If Klute's injury woes continue, the depth behind him is thin, to say the least. Portland may be forced to move center back Liam Ridgewell to the left and start veteran Jermaine Taylor alongside Nat Borchers in the middle. While Ridgewell can certainly hold the position down, it is not his strong suit and he can be burned by the speedier wingers in MLS. Expect this to be a regular topic of consternation for Timbers fans, particularly if Klute's injury continues to linger into the regular season.

5.    The Timbers will once again struggle for points in the early part of the season...

Portland has made a habit of coming out of the gates slowly; in fact, they haven't won a game in the month of March since 2012. I expect that trend to continue this year, with Portland having a difficult opening schedule that includes three of their first five on the road including away games at San Jose, Orlando, and Los Angeles. If the Timbers are unable to take all three points from their opening game against Columbus, they once again could find themselves stuck in an early-season hole.

6.    ...But will eventually find their form and go undefeated in six straight at some point.

Surprisingly, despite winning the title last year, Portland failed to go unbeaten in more than four straight games during the regular season. While I don't expect this team to match the heights of the 2013 team that went unbeaten in 15 straight (fourth-longest in MLS history), I do think this team will rip off a number of wins in a row at some point. If I had to call it, I think the stretch begins in mid-May with a visit from NYCFC kicking off a slate of four out of six at home, with only one playoff team (Vancouver at home) on the docket.

7.    The Timbers do not lose to the Sounders in 2016, and bring the Cascadia Cup back to Portland.

Sounders fans were (justifiably) over the moon when homegrown debutant Jordan Morris chose Seattle over German club Werder Bremen, but that optimism received a bucket of cold water this week with the news that striker (and frequent Timbers nemesis) Obafemi Martins had agreed to a move to China just nine days before the Sounders kicked off their Champions League campaign. Martins was the back-to-back team MVP for the Sounders, and was runner-up for league MVP honors in 2014. While the move allows Seattle to begin a needed youth movement, it is undoubtedly a crushing blow to their 2015 campaign.

Meanwhile. in a weird scheduling quirk, Portland will play Seattle three times in just six weeks this season, including back-to-back meetings in late August. For Seattle, those two meetings will be sandwiched by an additional match in the middle of the week that will undoubtedly be physically taxing. With two of the three matches coming in Portland, the Timbers may never have a better opportunity to sweep their Cascadia rivals. I think Portland goes undefeated against Seattle, and brings the Cascadia cup back to Portland.

8.    Lucas Melano is Portland's 2016 breakout player of the year.

Another prediction that isn't exactly the most left-field of choices, but hear me out: I think Melano is going to be really, really good and it may be as early as this year. No seriously, like REALLY good.

Remember, he is only 22 years old and came to Portland over halfway through the season last year. He might be the fastest player on Portland's roster, and has the potential flair and creativity with the ball that only Valeri can match.  Just look at what Melano's speed did to FC Dallas during the Western Conference Finals last year and the chances he created. Should Melano's comfort with his teammates grow and his finishing improve even slightly, Melano could add another dynamic weapon to the Portland attack.

9.    The shrewd offseason acquisitions of Ned Grabavoy, Jermaine Taylor, and Jack McInerney will pay big dividends.

While both Grabavoy and Taylor are now on the wrong side of 30, both have been solid contributors in MLS for a long time and will find regular roles in this Timbers squad, providing badly needed depth and experience on defense and in the midfield as Portland navigates a schedule that includes not only MLS, but also CONCACAF Champions League group matches.

But the real steal of the offseason may have been McInerney. He may give off the impression of a journeyman since the Timbers are his fourth squad in just over two years, but he is only 23 years old and was an MLS all-star as recently as 2013. Should the two goals he scored in a preseason game against Seattle be a harbinger of things to come, Caleb Porter could find himself with an embarrassment of riches in choosing his strikers, and Portland could have the necessary firepower to make a run at a second MLS Cup.

10.    The Timbers once again reach the Western Conference Finals, but fall to FC Dallas.

Portland absolutely has the talent to make another run at a second MLS cup, and certainly won't lack confidence after last year's run. I think Portland has another excellent season, reaching the playoffs in back-to-back seasons for the first time in club history. But I think the FC Dallas squad that Portland eliminated en route to their first title will come back with a vengeance and end the Timbers' season one step short of the final, with Maxi Urruti coming back to haunt his old club with a title-clinching goal.

So there you have it, 10 predictions for the Timbers in 2016. What say you, Portland? Can Caleb Porter lead the team back to the promised land and make Portland the first back-to-back MLS Cup champions since 2012? Or will the Timbers' bid for a second title fall short? If history has taught us anything, only one thing is certain: that it is going to be one wild ride.

One thing is certain: that it is going to be one wild ride. 


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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