The case can be made for three players to take up the central striker role for the Portland Timbers: Ryan Johnson, Frederic Piquionne and Jose Adolfo Valencia (El Trencito). Jose Adolfo Valencia might have a bit of a longer path due to his lack of experience, but he's certainly making a name for himself regardless. Who will end up with it, however? That remains to be seen.
Currently, it's kind of a no brainer, right? Ryan Johnson has been with the team since pre-season training camp opened last January. He's since scored a number of goals for the club including the first ever MLS Timbers hat trick in the pre-season against the San Jose Earthquakes, and a late goal against the Montreal Impact's stellar defense a couple weeks ago. For all intents and purposes, Ryan Johnson is our guy up top... for now.
That said, if Ryan wants to keep that spot he's going to have be a bit more consistent than he was at Toronto FC, or the San Jose Earthquakes. Bottom line is that Ryan has always been a decent scorer, but his output has just never exceeded that of an average forward player. With Toronto he scored 7 goals in 31 matches in 2012. That's okay and pretty much what we're used to here in Portland, but it's not exactly "star striker" material.
Piquionne offers a different sort of opportunity. One that is still largely unknown, but could hold a lot of promise in, at the very least, shoring up the striker depth charts for the future. While his goal scoring consistency has pretty much been just as spotty as Ryan's, all of his experience comes are an arguably higher level of soccer. Playing in Ligue 1, then the EPL, then the English Championship, Piquionne has faced off against some very challenging defensive back lines in his day. Piquionne also seems to think his experience will help as well according to a recent article on PortlandTimbers.com:
"I think we have a good group here on this team," he said. "I can help the team from my experience, as well, because I have a lot of experience on professional teams and good teams as well. Even though I'm 34 years old, my legs are good, my body is good, so I can help the team."
The question remains though, as with Ryan, can he be consistent enough to take the starting spot?
Finally, you have the young El Trencito. Valencia was supposed to be the "promised one" last year when brought on as a young DP. Unfortunately, required knee surgery sidelined him for most of the season and he has since become a normal non-DP caliber player. In fact, we've seen very little from him this season, but what we have seen has been impressive.
In some ways, Trencito is much like Bright Dike. He's big, powerful and willing to muscle his way into the box if needed. Perhaps he's not quite as willing to "DIKE SMASH" opponents, but he makes up for it in being a bit more technical as well. His goal in the preseason was an absolute delight to watch, for example. Unfortunately, he's still young, has more to learn, and is prone to youth mistakes, as we saw when he blew a great chance against the Montreal Impact.
Bottom line, the primary spot up top is far from being solidified. My guess is that head coach Caleb Porter is still testing the waters with using Ryan as a starter and then bringing Piquionne and Valencia on as subs. Either of the latter could potentially take it in the end, or not. Still, one thing is clear, three games into this season the starting striker position is still up for grabs.
What do you think of the Timbers' three strikers? Who do you think will win it in the end?