Timbers fans are abuzz after Fanendo Adi made the most of his first start for the Timbers last night.
A brace, resulting from good runs, calm finishing, and of course, good service from his teammates, is already generating calls for Portland to sign the young man on loan from FC Copenhagen.
But there are also voices of reason. Some are saying we haven't seen enough of him yet to assume he's the real deal.
But let's put the doubters and fans aside for a moment, and focus on what the young Nigerian actually did last night. To do this, we can't just look at his two goals. We have to look at his complete performance.
Here's a breakdown of what I saw from Adi last night:
Obviously. On his first goal, he seemed to sense which way Kennedy was going to react, and calmly tapped it past him in the opposite direction. On the second goal he was almost too cool. After getting past Kennedy, he took time to regain his balance so he could control his shot. By the time he released the shot, however, there were two defenders that had recovered and gotten between him and goal. But Adi showed awareness and coolness again by finishing with pace in a direction that was impossible for the sprinting defenders to react to. It's a calm, confident attitude towards finishing that we've never seen before on the MLS Timbers.
Promising hold-up play
Adi didn't always win the ball when it was served forward to him, but he did so a decent number of times. Late in the game he became a target for hold up play and he didn't disappoint, though he did surprise. Rather than using his size and strength to hold off defenders, he tended to use his foot skills and some cheeky creativity to avoid defenders and either lay the ball off to a teammate or draw a foul. But MLS players don't know him yet. Chivas did not appear to have been prepared for his foot skills and committed a series of absurd fouls on him late as he played hold-up. Only time will tell how good he can be at hold-up play in MLS, once teams get to know his strengths and weaknesses.
Use your head, use your feet
Adi appears to have excellent foot skills for a big man and is very accurate with his head. His ability to trick defenders with his feet and make consistent, accurate lay-off passes to his teammates did not go unnoticed. His consistency at finding teammates with his head was just as impressive.
Awareness and intelligence
Adi appears to be very good at sensing the space and time he has when he gets the ball. Last night he excelled at staying onside and making well-timed runs into the box.
He lacks bulk
Adi is a tall forward but may be a bit on the skinny side. That doesn't mean he's not strong, but in this last game, he relied more on technique than brute strength to hold the ball up. Will his lack of bulk make it hard for him to get position in the box on set pieces against big, strong MLS defenders? Of course he's young so he'll likely bulk up a bit with time.
He may not be a high-pressure forward
Adi appeared to be more focused on conserving his energy, rather than hounding the Chivas back line. And it was a good thing, because Paparatto's injury forced the Timbers final substitution, meaning Adi had to go the full 90. Nevertheless, the possibility remains that he might just be poor at pressuring, or lack the natural endurance to be able to run like Urruti for 70+ minutes, regardless of how hard he works on his conditioning.
He's not comfortable in the midfield
Adi did a decent job finding teammates the few times he received balls on the buildup. But he looked uncomfortable in that role. There's no telling where he could go with time and practice. He certainly has some foot skills and intelligence, which helps. But it's obvious that for now, he's still a traditional #9 who prefers to stay in front of the midfielders and receive the ball in an advanced position.
In summary, Adi looks like he has tremendous potential. His footskills are excellent for a big man. His awareness and intelligence on the field seem above average for an MLS forward. He's appears to be a calm, clinical finisher.
But time will tell if he can hold his own while taking an MLS-style beating. It seems probable that he may never be a great high-pressure forward. And for now, his comfort zone keeps him mostly out of the midfield, meaning he can't do much to help with buildup play.
And in spite of his promise, Adi does not look like a Caleb Porter style forward. I don't see Porter rearranging his system around Adi. He will likely remain a late substitute and occasional starter unless he starts to prove that he can excel at pressuring opposition backlines and joining the midfield to help with buildup play. Until then, Porter will continue to rely on Maximiliano Urruti, and we'll be left hoping Urruti figures out the offside trap with time.
Adi is likely an excellent pickup to fill a short-term need, but only time will tell if his own personal goals and the Timbers long-term needs will match up for a long-term partnership.