The Portland Timbers in 2018 were like a well-built pickup truck. They weren’t anything special, but they were sturdy. Without ever feeling like it was the best vehicle out there, one day you looked down and saw that that baby had 250,000 miles on it and was still going strong. Similarly, the 2018 Timbers were a decidedly average team that just kept truckin’ along until they found themselves playing for the MLS Cup. To get back there in 2019, they will need their aging midfield to continue to drink from the fountain of youth, overcome some depth issues, and solidify the attack, but as long as they keep getting their oil changed every 3,000 miles, they could find themselves vying for another trophy.Read More
Welcome to Lowered Expectations, week 29 edition! Each week, we go about posting chalkboards and GIFs of the weekend’s best open-play shot attempts which did not quite live up to expectations (and rarely do we update this paragraph). We look at each one and not only evaluate the results, but also the process leading to them.Read More
Welcome to Lowered Expectations, week 21 edition! Each week, we go about posting chalkboards and GIFs of the weekend’s best open-play shot attempts which did not quite live up to expectations (and rarely do we update this paragraph). We look at each one and not only evaluate the results, but also the process leading to them.
#5 - Christian Ramirez, Minnesota United, 71st minute, 0.457 expected goals
Assisted by: Darwin Quintero
Keeper: Matt Turner
Passes in sequence: 3
Across the Major League Soccer landscape, there are some exciting attacking duos. From Atlanta’s prized combo of Miguel Almiron and Josef Martinez, to LAFC’s Carlos Vela and Diego Rossi, to RBNY’s Bradley Wright-Phillips and Kaku, attacking players grab headlines. In this week’s analysis article, we are going to break down a less heralded, but possibly more intriguing, duo than any of those previously mentioned. We are going to look at Diego Valeri and Sebastian Blanco, the Portland Timbers dynamic, creative attacking pair.
In order to properly appreciate the work that Valeri and Blanco are doing this season, first we need to take a step back and look at the bigger, tactical picture in Portland.Read More
Welcome to Lowered Expectations, the week 12 edition! Each week, we go about posting chalkboards and GIFs of the weekend’s best open-play shot attempts which did not quite live up to expectations (and rarely do we update this paragraph). We look at each one and not only evaluate the results, but also the process leading to them.
#5 - Tosaint Ricketts, Toronto FC, 63rd minute, 0.295 expected goals
Assisted by: Victor Vasquez
Passes in sequence: 4
On the back of humanitarian and league MVP Diego Valeri, the 2017 Timbers won the Western Conference and thought they had a chance at a second MLS Cup. Unfortunately, injuries struck at the worst time and they bowed out of the playoffs with barely a whimper. With a new coach and some shrewd offseason signings, Portland will try again to end their season with an addition to their trophy case.Read More
The Timbers are one of the biggest clubs (trust us) in MLS, and they have an owner, coach, and fan base with consistently high expectations. After winning the cup in 2015, very few changes were made to the roster and the league got better around them. They missed the playoffs last season and never found the spark that took them to the championship. Changes had to come, and some big additions (and subtractions) were made to improve the team. While it's too early to say if those moves were the right ones, one thing is clear: the Timbers want another MLS Cup.Read More
Coming off of an epic end-of-season run that ended in the Timbers hoisting the first trophy in the club’s 40 year history, expectations are high among the Rose City faithful. While significant changes aren’t usually expected for a championship winning side, Portland has seen quite a few. If everything falls into place for the new arrivals, the team can stay healthy, and Caleb Porter’s patented single-pivot midfield continues to unlock defenses, this club could join Houston, Los Angeles and DC United as the only teams to ever repeat as champs. If all the pieces don’t click, we could see a repeat of the 2014 season when the club’s lofty preseason expectations were met with a finish outside of the playoffs.
2015 in review
The best team during the long MLS season doesn’t usually win the playoffs, and last year was no exception. If you consider the full length of the season, the Red Bulls and FC Dallas were unquestionably the best teams in their respective conferences. And while the Supporter’s Shield is nothing to shake an energy drink at, it’s certainly not the most coveted prize.
So if the Timbers weren’t the best team in MLS last year; they were the best team in MLS when it mattered. With three games remaining in their season and daunting road games in Salt Lake City and L.A. ahead of them, our own playoff odds gave them a less than 50% chance to make the playoffs. After a great run of results in the spring, it looked again like their status was “same as it ever was” and the team was doomed to just miss the playoffs for a second season in a row.
More on the epic run to the cup after the jump.Read More
So you’re excited about the US Men’s National team breaking through the group stage? It may even be that you find yourself liking this whole soccer thing. That’s not surprising; most Americans you talk to that follow soccer, including myself, have had that specific moment that sealed commitment, a moment often from a past World Cup. Whether that be the 2002 World Cup run in South Korea or the 2010 heart break against Ghana that brought you to the “beautiful game," because of the placement that soccer has in the standings of American culture, it’s just common to have these iconic moments associated with the sport. The thing that distinguishes people like us from the rest of the excited US supporters across the nation during this time is that, once the World Cup tournament concludes, we'll still want more.
Well, fear not because there is a serious and thriving league here in the US. If you are or have ever been called a ‘Euro snob’, then you can probably stop reading now. You’re going to argue and just generally disagree with most everything I have to say. So what’s the point? I’m not trolling you and it’s great that you like soccer in Europe. But we’re to talk to these new recruits about soccer in the United States. So here we go. Here are five reasons and examples about soccer in the US, and why you should follow it after the World Cup.
1) Soccer in the United States is actually good.
Once upon a time Major League Soccer was viewed as a retirement league. A place where aged stars came for one last pay day once they were out of their prime. It was viewed as such simply because it was exactly that. It wasn’t that long ago, and because of that there some pretty common misconceptions about MLS.
“It used to be that just CONCACAF [The Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football] internationals and retirees came here. In 2014 Brazilians, Spaniards, Englishmen (that just miss out), Australians, Persians (Iran), and Irish all play in MLS, and they also play roles for their home countries in the World Cup, or are of World Cup quality.”
Look, most people that don’t like MLS likely have not watched more than a couple of games; which is silly considering they base all their opinions on those few games. It would be like me basing the entirety of the NBA on a Cleveland and New Orleans games or New Jersey and Phoenix. Neither of which are what we would call riveting match-ups.
The quality of MLS is improving every year. If you believe MLS still to be a ‘retirement league’ or a ‘first division with watered down depth’ you haven’t really invested any time in getting your facts straight. Truth is most people are forming opinions based on a small sample size from years ago.
Looking at numbers produced by Dave Clark and the statistician known by the handle Sidereal, one finds strong indicators that MLS has just continued to improved over the last few years. The league is gaining traction to being near par with some quality European soccer leagues.
2) MLS is on the verge of getting even better and it starts with increased wages.
“Although not often addressed, there's no question that achieving that vision will require increasing MLS player salaries to attract more top players. It's just a question of how fast, and the salaries may need to increase much sooner than 2022.”
“What could the future MLS look like? Or what would it need to look like for the Don Garber to see his vision meet reality? Let's build the reality. Let's assume by 2022 the MLS will pay their players 50% of total revenues, in line with the current Bundesliga level. MLS won't need to reach revenues of the Bundesliga to be considered a top league in the world, but they will need to be close to be paying quality players closer to market rate. Let's assume that MLS can achieve Don's dream by reaching Ligue 1 revenues but paying Bundesliga salaries. Finally, let's assume that Ligue 1 revenues grow at a modest 4% per year until 2022.”
“The target MLS revenue growth of 16% is very aggressive but Don Garber has a good amount of low hanging fruit to pick. The new rumored TV deal is for about $100M in 2015 and would increase the 2012 revenues (the basis for these numbers) by nearly 15%. The next TV deal might fetch the same 15% growth or more. MLS has also announced a five-team expansion plan which will bring at least 26% growth as the teams come on. Without doing much, MLS can get almost a third of the way to the goal according to my calculations.”
Okay, I pray that Jared will forgive me for lifting so many of his brilliant words from his article. Go read the whole piece because it’s great. Unfortunately it’s a bit of an involved article, and I just wanted to frame a great thought from his head.
The United States first division is growing, and growing at a substantial rate. That is due to the injection of money and the fact they can start paying players what their worth. This brings in more players from all over the place that can use the league as not just a place to end their career, but really to start it.
A new Collective Bargaining Agreement will be negotiated this year after the season is over. I get that most of us sports fan are sick of labor talks and news of player strikes. I read you loud and clear. The thing that makes this different is simply that the league gets better with increase salary caps for clubs and the increase of minimum player wages. I don’t want there to be a work stoppage, but with the increased revenue from the TV deal that MLS just signed, they owe it to the players and fans to further the cause of soccer in this country.
3a) It’s not just about overpaying old guys to get eyeballs, MLS is acquiring young and exciting talent…
The main example you could probably point to for young guys coming into the league is Fredy Montero. Montero has transitioned over the last 18 months from one of the MLS top scorers to being a perennial talent in Portugal. Montero, who spent four very good seasons in Seattle, had the opportunity to make mistakes in a league that pushed his abilities enough even four years ago.
Montero’s arrival was followed by an influx of young international talent.
Darlington Nagbe, for example, is an international and former collegiate star at the University of Akron. He has been a critical piece for the Portland Timbers, is one of the most creative and eccentric talents in all of MLS.
Fabian Castillo, the Columbian winger with plenty of technical prowess, passed up opportunities in Europe for a stable playing environment and a chance for consistent playing time in Dallas.
Deshorn Brown is a high-end prototypical speedster from Jamaica. In his first season with the Colorado Rapids, he lead his club in goals scored and took them to the playoffs for the first time in four seasons.
For every Montero, however, there will always be a player that just doesn’t work out. The examples are many. In spite of that, MLS has begun the reverse transition from retirement league to what many would call a feeder league. While many, if not most, would not purpose to spend the prime of their careers in MLS (see point: 3b), they can still make a fine career for themselves and good wages because of how the league has grown to reward these players.
More and more young players are coming here in the vein of Montero, now viewing the US as an opportunity to get on the radar of European scouts and develop a pathway to launch a more lucrative career while still having stability and having the chance to prove them in a physical league.
“The increased visibility in M.L.S. is attractive to the players, who also benefit from the league’s financial stability compared with some leagues in their home countries.” (Leander Schaerlaeckens, NY Times)
It’s true that MLS still has more players retire at the end of the year from soccer than will transfer out of its league, but the players that are being transferred out are going to better and better clubs.
3b) ...and some of that league talent is even in its prime.
As I said, there aren’t many who look at MLS and think “gosh, I could have a good living in the US in the prime of my career." However there are a few where the stars lined up perfectly and they've chosen to play in America rather than going abroad with their talents. Such examples are:
Diego Valeri, the creative midfielder from Argentina, has been a force since arriving in Portland. And teamed with their young budding star, Nagbe, they're a spectacular pair just to watch.
Juninho, the Brazilian, is often glossed over in terms of the whole league, but his consistency in LA and his ability to play both ways centrally is fantastic. He could be earning much more abroad but the allure of being on an iconic franchise and coached by one of the best US coaches in the business, Bruce Arena, keeps him in LA... for now.
Osvaldo Alonso is a unique case. His heroic escape from Cuba and passport situation limit his options abroad, but believe me... he has them. Yet, he loves Seattle and MLS. He's easily a top-3 midfielder in the entire league and still has a couple prime seasons left in the tank.
Matt Besler, the Sporting KC and USMNT centerback has had chances to go abroad, and yet here he is in his prime. This has happened by way of MLS introducing retention funds to pay for... well, people whom they define as worthy of using it. His salary relative to the cap has been kept manageable because of those funds and he loves playing in Kansas City. He's possibly and probably the best defender in MLS.
4) It’s not just about foreign talent; we have a thriving league to grow future US national team talent.
Players like Shane O’Neil (Colorado), Luis Gil (Real Salt Lake), Benji Joya (Chicago) and DeAndre Yedlin (Seattle) are just a few names that play significant roles on their MLS clubs, and they still can't drink legally in this country. You could almost have thrown Will Trapp (Columbus) on this list too, but he busted the beer-drinking landmark at the beginning of the year.
All four have been featured in U-23 matches gearing up for the Olympics, just two short years away, and all look to be prominent members of future World Cup teams. There are others worth mentioning also, but the point here is that MLS is starting to become a facilitator of growing US talent. That’s important.
That doesn’t even highlight players such as Gyasi Zardes or Jack McInerney, who are both big-time names in the league and may not qualify as members of the Olympic roster. It also doesn’t include 19-year old striking sensation Diego Fagundez, who just graduated from high school two weeks ago and just entered his fourth season as a member of the New England Revolution. Sadly enough, he is still technically not a US citizen…yet.
5) There is parity, and possibly more so here than in any other relevant league in the world.
“The three factors above were weighted equally and assigned a standard deviation (either + or -) for each league and each metric. Add them up and MLS is indeed the most competitive league in this 15-league sample. Interestingly, Brazil was not far behind. Of course, there are multiple ways one can measure parity and competitiveness, and this is just one of many approaches.” - Alex Olshansky
“This consistency, when combined with MLS’s overall lower variation, results in a lower proportion of the MLS’s points variation resulting from actual talent differences. The overall impact is that MLS table results are nearly a 50/50 split between talent and luck.” - Zach Slaton
Everyone hates the Yankees and yet wants to be them. It’s one of the greatest catch-22’s in sports. We all hate the winner---unless, of course, it’s us. MLS has developed a single entity program that just doesn’t lend itself to helping clubs that win, but it helps those that do not. In fact it’s worse to finish middle of the pack in the league than to finish at the back.
The league subsidies the salary cap of certain teams based on the order in which the teams finished. Teams towards the bottom get certain stipend (called allocation money) that assists in pay down contracts for cap purposes. Teams at the top also are awarded this money as a means of deepening the team for international competition in CONCACAF Champions League. This enables them to compete against the Mexican League teams that often tend to be superior in talent depth.
This all creates an environment on a yearly basis that creates volatility in casting predictions and makes the whole process rather difficult. A team can be good and have bad luck (see: LA Galaxy) or it can be mediocre with good luck (see: Real Salt Lake, according to Matthias), or it can have best of both worlds (see: Seattle Sounders). The beauty is that teams are never that far out of it, and never that far ahead.
The team that serve as the best example of this anything-can-happen league is DC United. Our readers had predicted prior to the season that they would miss the play-offs and would be generally sit near the bottom. In fact 15% thought they would end up dead last, opposed to the less than 1% that thought they would win the conference. Currently sitting nearly halfway through the season, they are in good position to fight for that very chance. And last year, this is the same club that nearly set all types of records for being anemic and generally pathetic in their overall performance.
There are few, if any, instances in which you can point to a club going from worst to best in a single season. The 1990 Atlanta Braves come to mind for me, but thinking abroad in the world of soccer, that seems improbable if not all together impossible. In MLS, it's a yearly event.
These are just a few reasons on why you should turn your attention to Major League Soccer after the World Cup. I'm sure others could add to this list, and generally speaking I know I missed things that others would include. But in talking with so many people down here in the South, I felt compelled to at least try to provide a this motivation to get involved in a dynamic league right here in the United States.
Like a hot new boy band busting onto the music scene, the Portland Timbers came out of nowhere last season to improve more than any other MLS team, jumping from an eighth-place Western Conference finish and 34 points in 2012 to first place and 57 points in 2013. Expectations are high for 2013 Coach-of-the-Year Caleb Porter, and we will soon see which member of the band the Timbers are; a legitimate talent with true staying power like RSL, the Galaxy and JT, or the goofy one that is just along for the ride, like 2007 ChivasUSA, 2010 FC Dallas, and Chris Kirkpatrick. Do the Timbers have a model that will let them hang with the big boys, or will they regress to the mean with a vengeance? ASA readers see them as Nick Carter material, with a majority of voters picking the Timbers to win the Western Conference for a second season in a row.
|Players In||Players Out|
|Jorge Villafana||D||Trade from Chivas USA||David Horst||D||Traded to Houston|
|Norberto Paparatto||D||Transfer from Tigre||Ryan Miller||D||Option declined|
|Bryan Gallego||D||Homegrown player||Dylan Tucker-Gangnes||D||Waived|
|Taylor Peay||D||SuperDraft||Andrew Jean-Baptiste||D||Traded to Chivas USA|
|Steve Zakuani||M||Re-Entry Stage 1||Mikael Silvestre||D||Contract terminated|
|Schillo Tschuma||M/F||SuperDraft||Sal Zizzo||M||Traded to Sporting KC|
|George Fochive||M||SuperDraft||Brent Richards||F||Waived|
|Aaron Long||M||SuperDraft||Sebastian Rincon||F||Loan expired|
|Andrew Weber||GK||Free Transfer||Jose Valencia||F||Loaned to Club Olimpo|
Roster Churn: Portland returns 82.31% of their minutes played in 2013, 6th most in MLS.
Coming off their first place Western Conference finish in 2013, the Timbers’ theme for the 2014 offseason has been “more of the same”. Led by new coach Caleb Porter and MLS Newcomer-Of-The-Year Diego Valeri, the Timbers were a surprise contender in 2013. Porter's 4-5-1/4-3-3 hybrid system was a 180% turn from their philosophy under former coach John Spencer, and it brought the team immediate success. By controlling possession and maintaining the defensive pressure even in the opposition end, the Timbers brought a unique style that was both entertaining and effective. This attack based system saw them finish with the third most goals in the league last year, despite being only 9th in attempts. Not only were their attacks fruitful, they were dangerously efficient. Unlike last season’s roster overhaul, Portland made few big changes in the offseason for 2014, instead solidifying their depth and bringing in two Argentine veterans to shore up the back-line and attacking corps. Clearly, the Timbers are willing to ride Goalkeeper-of-the-Year Donovan Ricketts and playmakers Diego Valeri and Darlington Nagbe in the upcoming season.
As in 2013, Valeri and Nagbe will be relied on to be the catalysts for the Portland offense. Led by their 12 and 10 goals respectively, the Timbers finished with the fourth best finishing rate (goals divided by attempts) in MLS last season. Being two of the most fouled players in MLS last season, and due to Valeri’s somewhat slow recovery from off-season hernia surgery, their health could determine if Portland can continue to finish with similar efficacy this season. Still, the additions of Gaston Fernandez and Steve Zakuani will alleviate some of the dependence on Portland’s playmakers. If injury isn’t an issue, the Timbers can expect to score lots of goals in 2014.
The biggest (and perhaps the only) major offseason subtraction was the loss of Jamaican international and Oregon State alum Ryan Johnson’s nine goals (third on the team last year), as he pursues a career in China. The departure of Johnson will certainly be felt, but late-season acquisition Maxi Urruti had taken over the starting striker position before an injury last year, and he looks to fit perfectly into Porter’s high-pressure defensive scheme. Also significant has been the addition of “La Gata” Fernandez. Besides having the best tribute video on the internet, Fernandez will fill some of the holes left by both Johnson and Rodney Wallace, who tore his ACL in the playoffs and isn’t expected to return until late summer. Fernandez is versatile as an attacking midfielder/forward, and seems likely to assume a utility role on the Left side of Midfield to start the season. Zakuani is an unknown quantity after excelling for the Sounders before enduring two years of injury and disappointment. Few things would be more welcome to Timbers fans than seeing a former Seattle player return to form in Portland, so any significant contribution from Zakuani will be considered a bonus. Couple those additions with first-round SuperDraft pick Schillo Tshuma, who has impressed in preseason, and the Timbers will expect to continue with their high-scoring output last year.
Still, requisite warnings about reading too much into the preseason aside, a lack of scoring (only 6 goals in 7 preseason games) in the lead-up to this MLS season is cause for some concern. For the Timbers system to work they'll need to score goals in bunches.
The Real Bash Brothers
2012 Timbers Army’s player of the year Diego Chara and captain Will Johnson, who saw his career revitalized by a move to Portland last season, will again anchor a high-energy midfield that is likely to be among the league leading duos in minutes and fouls (Chara has finished in the top three in fouls committed in all three of his MLS seasons). While not as flashy as their attacking counterparts, Chara and Johnson are just as important to the Timbers’ success. Their hard-tackling, box-to-box styles are exemplary of Porter’s possession philosophy. The Timbers will expect to win the midfield battle in nearly every game they play this season, with Chara and Johnson expected to neutralize the opposition’s playmakers as a way to free up and start Portland’s multi-faced attack.
Despite a conference best 33 goals against last season, center back was a position in flux last year with six different players all getting starts there (Futty Danso, Pa-Moudu Kah, Andrew Jean-Baptiste, Mikel Silvestre, Rauwshan Mckenzie, and David Horst). Jean-Baptiste started the most games next to Kah, but lost his starting spot to Danso in the last couple months of the season. Still, Danso’s limitations were exposed in the playoffs last season, and priority number one for the offseason was to find a consistent starter to pair with Kah. Portland ultimately ended up bringing in contender for best-named signing of the MLS offseason, Argentine Norberto Paparatto. While little besides some YouTube highlight videos (especially dubious when judging a CB) is known about Paparatto, judging by his solid if mostly unremarkable preseason the starting spot next to Kah appears his to lose. The outside backs are likely to stay the same as they were for nearly every game in 2013, with Jack Jewsbury and Michael Harrington (fresh off a USMNT summer call-up) being active both as wing-defenders and initiators of the attack.
Ricketts silenced his doubters and skeptics last year by earning his second Goalkeeper of the Year award at age 36. While not getting any younger, the Jamaican did a lot to cover up for the mistakes of Portland's defenders last year, having allowed only 83.2% of the goals a replacement MLS keeper would have, according to our goalkeeper ratings. Along with Nick Rimando, Ricketts was a head above the rest of MLS keepers, having prevented 6.27 goals more than the average MLS goalkeeper last season. Still, the Timbers appear to be grooming young New Zealander Jake Gleeson (who they have sent on loan to Sacramento Republic FC) to fill Rickett's shoes, so there will be a smooth transition when Ricketts ultimately retires.
The 2014 MLS All-Star game will be in Portland, but the Timbers’ organization and fans expect MLS Cup to be held there, too. Under the guidance and leadership of Caleb Porter and Diego Valeri, year two is primed for success. With the Timbers figuring to compete in all three major competitions – MLS, the US Open Cup, and CONCACAF Champions League – this is a team that expects success. Outside of the Cascadia Cup, the Timbers have never brought any silverware back to the Rose City, but this could be the year things change.
Our data suggest the Timbers drastically over performed compared their expected goals for and against last season. Did they just get lucky a season ago, or has the organization finally built a model for success? They return their three best players from 2013 in Ricketts, Valeri, and Nagbe, and hope the added experience and chemistry between these players continues to flourish. A lot is expected of the Timbers this season, and only time will tell if 2013 was a sign of things to come, or in the words of N’SYNC, it will be “Bye, Bye, Bye” for their championship hopes in 2014.
1st place in the Western Conference; 204 of 404 (50.4%) readers projected the Timbers to win the Western Conference, and 386 (95.5%) projected them to make the playoffs in some capacity.