The Portland Timbers have been very active in the off season. Any regular reader here or in any of the other Timbers focused communities can tell you that. Despite what EA would have us believe, the depth the Timbers have added is staggering. Where last year there was a clear first team player for each and every spot, this year it feels like every position is up for grabs between players of equal quality.
So to say that our expectations are high heading into the 2012 season would be an understatement. Since day one, the FO of the Timbers (and even Merritt Paulson himself) has been quotes as saying that they're here in Portland to win. That's their goal. They want the trophies and they're willing to work to make that happen. It's not so much a goal as it is a belief within the organization and after an impressive first MLS season, the Timbers will certainly be looking to go one step further.
So that leads us to our expectations. Each one of us has put together what we expect the Timbers to accomplish. That's not to say we'll disown them if it doesn't come to pass, but suffice it o say, we've set the bar pretty high:
The Timbers have only been in MLS for a single year. So to expect them to win any trophies is a fairly ambitious and lofty expectation. And yet, here I am, suggesting that very thing, but allow me to clarify a bit before I get stampeded with protests about my ambitions.
When I say trophy, I don't necessarily mean MLS Cup, non to say it can't happen, but I'm thinking a little more broadly. In my mind, for this year there are four trophies worth winning: MLS Cup, Supporters' Shield, US Open Cup and the Cascadia Cup. One of those needs to adorn the Timbers' mantle this year. Of course, the Cascadia Cup would be the easiest to attain given that the Timbers host both of our rivals twice and only play away once for each.
I also expect, at the very least, for the Timbers to make the playoffs. We saw what the team could do last year and we now know the depth of the 2012 squad. For them to miss the play offs again would be very disheartening.
The final icing on the cake would be a CCL berth for the 2013 cup. This one might be a little more challenging to get, but it's also not something I see as impossible, nor do I believe the Timbers would fair unwell in the competition.
This year is the year of high expectations and separating the wheat from the chaff. I fully expect the Portland Timbers to challenge for the playoffs and not just the wildcard spot. I also expect them to win the Cascadia Cup or at least be in the hunt up until the final game like last year. Finally I expect to see a consistent style of play and effort on the field compared to last year.
This year will also be the final year for a some of our original Timbers if they cannot step their game up, I am referring to Kalif Alhassan, Sal Zizzo and even Bright Dike. The reserve games will also be interesting and looking at how well the reserves did last year they will probably be a great game to go see. If the Timbers don't make the playoffs I fully expect a big overhaul in the off season.
Ask any Timbers player, coach, or owner what the Timbers are striving for in 2012 and they will give you the same four words: get to the playoffs. But more than just making the playoffs, the Timbers this year need to prove that they can compete in the less than ideal circumstances in which most matches take place. The times when they're playing on three days rest, with more than a couple of starting players sidelined with injuries or suspensions, and, most importantly, away from home. Even late in 2011 when the Timbers' road form improved, they still lacked the swagger they carry in front of the Timbers Army.
I expect them to find that swagger. The guys who make the starting XI this year won't be the 'young upstarts with something to prove,' or the guys with 'lots of talent primed to break out in the league.' Potential isn't good enough. The guys we see on the field will have competed hard for their starting roles in training, against stiff competition, and validated their efforts by producing on match day.
If all that pans out, the Timbers will make the playoffs, make a deep run at the US Open Cup, and etch a third year into the lefthand column of the plaque affixed to the Cascadia Cup.
My expectations for 2012 are, in a word, high.
I fully expect the Timbers to qualify for the playoffs and to do so handily. Although almost making the playoffs last year was exciting, I would prefer my excitement to come during the playoffs themselves. I also expect the Timbers to show up the Sounders and win at least one playoff series.
I expect Kris Boyd to score in the double digits. I don't know that challenging for the golden boot is realistic this year, but being anything less than the Timbers all time leading goal scorer in MLS by the end of the year would be a disappointment for Boydie (although a break out year for Jorge Perlaza could make that difficult).
I expect Troy Perkins to stand on his head for the team once again. The most underrated man in MLS, Perkins will have to come up big again for the Timbers if he wants to retain the fabulous fan's player of the year belt.
Finally, I expect the Timbers' young guys to step up and contribute. Darlington Nagbe, Kalif Alhassan, and Rodney Wallace have all struggled to find the consistency needed to succeed week in and week out in MLS. However, all three have undeniable talent. If any of the three of them can figure out how to become a regular contributor rather than just provide the occasional flash of brilliance, the Timbers will be in a very good position.
But enough about what we expect. What do you expect out of the upcoming season? Come November where do you want to see the Timbers? Sound off in the comments!