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Will Fanendo Adi’s Struggles Doom the Portland Timbers?

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

 

The Portland Timbers delivered another listless performance in a 1-0 loss on Saturday against Toronto FC. Consecutive losses against Houston Dynamo and Toronto FC mark the first time since March of last season that the Timbers have lost back-to-back games, and only the third time (not counting playoffs) since Caleb Porter took over in 2013. 

Portland had no answer for Italian international Sebastian Giovinco, who scored on a beautiful long-distance strike in the 5th minute. Giovinco then spent much of the rest of the game tormenting Portland's back line, and right back Alvas Powell in particular. For the first time this season, Powell looked truly lost and out of his depth, as he was repeatedly beaten and beaten badly by Giovinco, which led to numerous chances for Toronto throughout the game. Were it not for the excellent play of Portland goalie Adam Larsen-Kwarasey (in what might have been his best game of the season), the game easily could have ended up a 3-0 or 4-0 blowout. Once again, Portland's attack was disjointed and lacking creativity, particularly after Diego Valeri suffered an ankle injury in the 25th minute and was unable to continue. The severity of Valeri's injury was not immediately apparent and Coach Caleb Porter has yet to elaborate on the subject. The Timbers attack after Valeri left mainly consisted of running the flanks and sending in crosses that were easily defended by Toronto. The one spark Portland had was a long pass taken by Maximillano Uruti in the box, who was then clipped by the Toronto goalkeeper in an apparent penalty; however, much to the Timbers' chagrin, the referee did not agree, and Portland did not seriously threaten again. 

All the preseason talk from the Timbers focused on avoiding the nightmare start of 2014 that eventually led to a missed postseason birth. But after 12 games, the 2015 version of the Portland Timbers have exactly the same number of points (13) as their 2014 counterparts did at the same point. With that in mind, it is fair to ask: are the Timbers a good team who has yet to find their stride? Or are the recent results proof that the team is destined for another disappointing campaign? 

The truth, as it usually does, lies somewhere in the middle. Portland's defense has been among the best in MLS this season, a vast improvement over the sieve-like effort often put forward last year. Nat Borchers has teamed beautifully with Liam Ridgewell, and Larsen-Kwarasey has proven steady in goal. Powell has struggled at times at right back, but has improved dramatically in both attack and defense from last season, and Jorge Villafaña has been solid, if unspectacular, on the left side. Portland has allowed 13 goals in 12 games, for a perfectly respectable rate of 1.08 goals allowed per game. 

However, it is becoming readily apparent just how much Portland relies on Valeri to inject life, skill, and creativity into the offense, and how badly Portland lacks all three when he is not on the field. Much of this blame for Portland's attacking struggles has to fall on striker Fanendo Adi, who was brought in to play the tip of the spear, scoring goals and opening lanes for the rest of the Timbers' attackers. Were Adi simply another player thrust into this role, his struggles could be forgiven; but Adi is one of three of Designated Players and is the second-highest paid Timber, ahead of the likes of playmakers Valeri and Darlington Nagbe. 

Adi was specifically targeted by Portland GM Gavin Wilkinson as a player who had succeeded in Europe and played at its highest levels, including Champions League appearances against Real Madrid and Juventus. But for whatever reason, that success has not consistently translated to MLS. Adi often looks lost or frustrated on the field, as he consistently fails to connect with teammates and has been unable to finish those chances that do come his way. He often appears to be playing tentatively and without confidence, taking an extra dribble instead of trusting his shot which leads to missed opportunities. Instead of using his strength to hold up the play and allow teammates to find lanes, he will flop in an attempt to get a call. He is a step late or slow on through passes and fails to anticipate in key moments.

When Adi is playing well, he is a force in the box that requires multiple defenders to deal with; he is a threat in the air as well as with his feet, and makes the game easier for all of his teammates. But Portland has yet to see that version of Adi this season for any extended period of time, and time is quickly running out for both Adi and the Timbers to salvage their season. There are no realistic long-term replacements for Adi currently on the roster; Uruti is a solid player and excels in short spurts as an energy player and pest off the bench, but is not ready to bear the burden of carrying Portland's attack. No other player on the Portland roster shows even glimpses of the ability required to be the focal point the Timbers are in desperate need of. 

Portland's offense has been abysmal this year. Whether Adi can find his form or the answer is simply a return to health for Valeri and Will Johnson, the Timbers will find themselves in a precarious position if Portland cannot regain their scoring touch quickly. Gavin Wilkinson, Caleb Porter, and the Timbers do not have the luxury of waiting until the summer transfer window opens up on July 8th to go out and find their offense. If Portland's attacking struggles continue for much longer, 2015 will end up in another lost season for the Rose City and Adi, Wilkinson, and Porter may all find their respective positions in serious jeopardy. 

GoLocalPDX partner Oregon Sports News: Since 2011, Oregon Sports News has provided entertaining, hard-hitting local sports news & commentary every weekday. To read more from this author, check out Oregon Sports News by clicking here.

 

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Alex Morgan

Alex Morgan, 25, is a forward for the Portland Thorns. She recently signed with the club in January of 2013 after playing for the Western New York Flash and the Seattle Sounders. She rose to prominence because of her success playing for the United States women’s national soccer team. Morgan was the youngest player to represent the U.S. during the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup. She will once again represent team USA this summer as they prepare to head off to Canada for the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup.

 

Photo credit: Alex Morgan's Facebook page

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Meyers Leonard, 23, was the 11th overall pick of the 2012 NBA Draft. Over the past few years he has been diligently working with the Portland Trailblazer’s coaching staff in order to refine his game. The Illinois alumni’s hard work has been paying off considering he’s having the best season of his career. 

 

Photo credit: Meyers Leonard's Facebook page

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Kaylyn Kyle

Kaylyn Kyle, 26, is a Canadian soccer player who currently plays for the Portland Thorns. She is also a member of the Canadian women’s national team. Kyle was part of the 2012 Canadian national team that defeated France in the bronze medal game. She is also an ambassador for, Right To Play, which is an organization dedicated to using soccer as a resource to educate and empower children from disadvantaged communities.

 

Photo credit: Kaylyn Kyle's Facebook page

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Gaston Fernandez

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Photo credit: via forums.bigsoccer.com

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Marcus Mariota

Marcus Mariota, 21, is coming off one of the best seasons any Oregon Duck quarterback has ever experienced. He is the first Hawaiian-born athlete to ever win the Heisman trophy. This season he also led the Ducks to a 12-1 regular season record. Duck fans everywhere will be anxiously waiting to see where Mariota goes in this year’s NFL Draft. 

 

Photo credit: via Oregon Football's Facebook page

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Ellie Cribbins

Ellie Cribbins is a second year Blazer Dancer for the Portland Trailblazers. Cribbins is originally from Portland, Oregon but attended Oregon State University. This season proved to be a unique one for Cribbins since her sister also made the Blazer Dancers last August.

 

Photo credit: via Ellie Cribbin's Facebook page

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Jake Gleeson

Jake Gleeson, 24, is a New Zealand born goalie that is currently playing for the Portland Timbers. He signed with the club in February of 2011. Gleeson has taken pride over the past few years of being a young player who has worked his way up the ranks. 

 

Photo credit: via solofutbol.cl

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Janie Takeda

Janie Takeda, 21, is a senior outfielder for the University of Oregon. The Dallas Charge of the National Pro Fastpitch League recently drafted her 26th overall. Takeda was also selected to play on the United States women’s national team during the 2015 summer season. She is set to graduate from the University of Oregon’s School of Journalism and Communication this spring. 

 

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LaMarcus Aldridge

LaMarcus Aldridge, 29, is widely considered to be one of the best power-forwards in the NBA. The Texas native is averaging 23.6 points and 10.3 rebounds per game this season for the Portland Trailblazers. He is also a four-time NBA All-Star. On March 10th, 2015 Aldridge became the Trailblazers all-time leading rebounder.

 

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Devon Allen, 20, just completed his freshman year as a wide receiver for the Oregon Ducks. Not only is he the starting wide receiver for the Ducks he also runs track for the Oregon Outdoor Track and Field team. He recently earned a Gold Medal in the 110 meter hurdles during the 2014 USA Outdoor Track and Field Championships. Although he is recovering from a torn ACL we hope to see him back on the field during the 2015-2016 season.

 

Phot credit: University of Oregon Facebook page

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Chase De Leo

Chase De Leo, 19, currently plays center for the Portland Winterhawks. His quickness and overall creative offensive game earned him an invite to Team USA’s selection camp back in December of 2014. Of all 30 players who were invited, he was only one of 2 WHL players.

 

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Darron Thomas

Darron Thomas, 24, is a professional quarterback for the Portland Thunder of the Arena Football League. During his college days he played for the Oregon Ducks. While starting for the Ducks he led to the team to the 2011 BCS National Championship game, as well as the 2012 Rose Bowl. The Texas native recently partook in the NFL Veteran Combine with the hope of upstarting his NFL career.

 

Photo credit: Portland Thunder Facebook page

 
 

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