BY CHRISTIAN ARAOS
Staff Writer, MLS
It was only a matter of time before Caleb Porter would get a coaching job in MLS.
After a very public flirtation with DC United in 2009, Porter remained with the University of Akron and won a National Championship a year later. Despite the infamous Olympic Qualifying failure last year, Porter’s stock remained high enough for Portland to hire him midway through last season.
It only made sense to be skeptical of the 38 year old American coach. After all, he took one of the most talented U-23 teams in US history nowhere. Despite his successes, the college game he prospered in is barely a shell of what MLS has become.
Yet, this is the man Portland looked towards to right the ship. Porter’s proving grounds began with cleaning the slate of the past and building something more in tune with his image.
The roster transition was the first order of business as the Timbers mutually terminated the contract of Kris Boyd, traded Jorge Perlaza, and acquired Jamaican international Ryan Johnson. Diego Valeri was picked up on loan from Lanus and new captain Will Johnson was traded for from RSL. Excluding Jack Jewsbury’s injury exclusion, the Timbers replaced seven of its opening day starters from last season.
Porter is working to install an attacking 4-3-3 that looks to capitalize on the now-expanded pitch at JELD-WEN Field. The style is already working as Portland had 21 attempts on goal last Sunday against the Red Bulls. That is already a big improvement over last season where they averaged 9.74 attempts per game. The Timbers only scored three goals twice in 2012 as well making Sunday’s result and output an already a hopeful sign of things to come.
Although the Timbers also scored three in their season opener last season, the differences between this year and last year are night and day. The Timbers are much more tenacious off the ball this year, employing a pressing style that looks to compact the midfield for their opponents. By doing this, teams that rely on passing to lead the attack (like the Red Bulls do) are going to struggle. The Timbers had the best pass conversion percentage of all teams this weekend with an admirable 84% rate. The Red Bulls had a mediocre 73%.
The normal substandard defending of Mikaël Silvestre and the rest of the Timbers defense is an issue that will need to be addressed early. They need a more dependable back four because the attack will have to go through it’s lumps, especially when going up against some of the stronger defenses in MLS. Donovan Ricketts will not lose many games for the Timbers in goal but he is far from the player that won Goalkeeper of the Year back in 2010.
All in all, Portland are going to be a fun team to watch this year. They certainly will better their total of 34 goals from 2012 but how much better they will do than the 56 goals that were conceded last year will determine if the Timbers are going to be a track meet team or a playoff contender.