MLSsoccer.com is previewing each of the 19 teams in Major League Soccer, ending with the league's newest addition, the Montreal Impact. This is part one of two previewing Portland's 2012 season. You can find Part 2 here.
Setting the Scene
Saying the Portland Timbers' foray into MLS was a roller-coaster ride would be an understatement. The Timbers burst onto the scene in 2011, with their raucous fans and European-esque stadium atmosphere being the first to make national headlines. Portland went all in with the signing of veteran forward Kenny Cooper, pushing their chips into the pot for a one-time prolific goal scorer with Dallas. And it seemed to have paid off as the Timbers flew out of the gates, winning their first five home games.
But then a dry spell hit during the summer months, and the Timbers won just one of their next 10 games. Cooper didn’t score for three months, leading to a place on the bench. But then things turned around again, starting with an emphatic 3-0 victory against the eventual MLS Cup champion LA Galaxy on Aug. 3, with Cooper earning his way back onto the field as a result of a concussion suffered by Eddie Johnson.
Portland went on to spar their way into postseason contention with Cooper leading the way as he rediscovered his scoring touch over the final two months of the season. But despite the inspired run and five goals from Cooper in their final 13 matches, the Timbers just missed a spot in the MLS Cup Playoffs.
In and Out
IN: F José Adolfo Valencia (12/14: Independiente Santa Fe/Colombia); F Brent Richards (1/4: Home Grown); D Andrew Jean-Baptiste (1/12: SuperDraft); M Brendan King (1/12: SuperDraft); D Hanyer Mosquera (1/17: free); M Ryan Kowaluk (1/17: supplemental draft); M Miguel Ibarra (1/17: supplemental draft); G Doug Herrick (1/17: supplemental draft); M Logan McDaniel (1/17: supplemental draft); F Kris Boyd (1/30: free); M Charles Renken (1/31: waiver wire); M Franck Songo'o (2/16: free); GK Joe Bendik (2/24: Sogndal)
OUT: D Kevin Goldthwaite (11/29: retired); F/M Ryan Pore (12/1; option declined); G Adin Brown (12/12: option declined); M Rodrigo López (12/12: option declined); M Peter Lowry (12/12: option declined); F Brian Umony (12/12: option declined); F Kenny Cooper (1/12: trade to New York)
Star Attraction: Kris Boyd
The Timbers traded one high-profile forward in Cooper for another in Boyd. Having deemed the Cooper experiment a failure, a decision that paved the way for his trade to New York, Timbers owner Merritt Paulson doubled down to bring in Boyd, the Scottish Premier League’s all-time leading scorer. The Portland soccer scene has been abuzz ever since he arrived in town on Feb. 20.
Boyd scored 164 goals in 296 SPL appearances with Kilmarnock FC (2000-05) and Rangers FC (2006-10). The new Timbers No. 9 not only gave Portland fans another reason to fall in love with their club but a reason Portland will be a playoff contender in 2012.
Unsung Hero: Troy Perkins
As much as any Timbers player last year, Troy Perkins held the team together. One of the few veterans on the young expansion club, Perkins led the team with 25 consecutive starts, and turned in a career-best season with nine shutouts and a 342-minute scoreless stretch.
His kick save that preserved a 1-0 win on July 16 against Chicago was the reason for Portland’s first franchise win on the road and was the runner-up for MLS Save of the Year. Yes, Perkins always had a knack for coming through in the clutch.
Ready for Primetime: Darlington Nagbe
Nagbe was certainly no stranger to screen time in his rookie season, especially after his juggling golazo on July 2 against Sporting Kansas City that became an overnight Internet sensation and was voted MLS Goal of the Year. But the forward/midfielder, who was selected No. 2 overall in last year’s SuperDraft, was the first to admit that more was expected.
He scored just two goals and recorded three assists, low numbers for the role he played in the offense. And Nagbe isn’t the only one expecting major strides in his sophomore campaign. Head coach John Spencer has continually compared his pure skills to Landon Donovan. With comparisons like that, Nagbe needs to produce.
Storylines to Watch
1. Will Kris Boyd be the goal-scoring assassin that the Timbers are expecting? The Scottish striker is coming off a disappointing one-year stint in Turkey. Since arriving in Portland, Boyd has said he is motivated to resurrect his career as a prolific goalscorer. But with the immense pressure of a passionate soccer market bearing down, can that happen in the Rose City?
2. Can the Timbers maintain the momentum from their late-season playoff charge? Portland players said they finally came together during the season’s final two months to mount a postseason push. Was that for real, or will the Timbers return to their inconsistent midseason form?
3. Will the injury bug hurt the Timbers? Every team battles with it, but Portland is coming into the season sans Eddie Johnson, David Horst and José Adolfo Valencia, all of whom will miss major time. And Boyd and midfielder Frank Songo’o have already been dinged this preseason and missed training time.
What He Said
“There’ve been some nice additions, and I think the biggest story is depth. You cannot have depth as a first-year team; you can’t have competition at every position. There’s not a position that we have right now that there’s not a competition for.”
– Timbers owner Merritt Paulson (pictured right with coach John Spencer)
If Everything Goes Right
Even in an improved Western Conference, anything short of the playoffs will be a disappointment for the Timbers. With major offseason investment that seemingly addressed each weakness from last season, Portland should be considered one of the most improved clubs in MLS.
They narrowly missed the postseason last year. In a perfect world, all the moves work and Boyd scores high double-digit goals, Mosquera forms an imposing backline partnership and Songo’o adds creativity and inspiration to an already solid midfield. Fold all that in with All-Star captain Jack Jewsbury, talented young players in Nagbe and Diego Chara and stalwart 'keeper Perkins, and Portland could be in for a memorable year and a top-five finish in the West.
WATCH: Offseason additions highlight Timbers' ambition
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.