Now that the Timbers have a compliment of 30 players total we can sort of assume that the team is going to settle down a bit and look towards building for their starting 11 in March. I know, I know the hot rumor is that a third DP will be coming soon as a true #9 striker. But even without him we can sort of piece together how the squad will look in this upcoming season as compared to last year.
So let's take a look starting from the back:
I think this one is pretty easy to figure out. Troy Perkins was recently resigned for the express intent of keeping him on as our first starting keeper. I don't expect that to change for the 2012 season because, well, he's a great keeper. Sure the Timbers were scored on more often than I'd have liked last season, but many of those goals can be attributed to a failing backline.
That said, looking at the hierarchy of the goalkeepers I think it's safe to say Jake Gleeson deserves his promoted spot up to #2 keeper. We sort of saw this happening last year with Adin Brown injured and I think he could be a great development for the future of the team, a future #1 keeper, if you will.No telling who the third keeper will be just yet. I know the Timbers selected Doug Herrick in the 2012 Supplemental Draft, but there's currently no indication that he'll be signed on as a permanent player and we don't know if he'll stick around. My guess is that he'll be at training and the Timbers will decide from there if he's needed.
The back line is one that hasn't seen enough change, in my opinion. Yes, the Timbers recently brought on Hanyer Mosquera which will hopefully keep the backline a big stronger in the center, but the back left and right positions still leave me a little uneasy. Mike Chabala and Lovel Palmer each had there up and down moments last season. Maybe it was just them still trying to gel with a team after coming on mid-season, I don't know. All I know is that our back wings are probably the weakest areas currently on the team.
Maybe we should give Chris Taylor (remember him?) a chance at the left-back position and see what he's made of? He played an active roll the in the Timbers reserve side for the 2011 season.
In any case here's how I see the defensive backline in 2012:
Mike Chabala, Hanyer Mosquera, Eric Brunner, Lovel Palmer
Barring any sort of player movement, of course.
I think Mosquera will easily fill Futty Danso's roll in the backline. Not that we don't like Futty here on SF, it's just that I see him out as a starter before Eric Brunner.
Andrew Jean-Baptiste, of course, will probably be used sparingly for 2012 to keep his minutes low and keep him from graduating in 2013. He is a project for the Timbers and a future starter, but not this year.
This is the most difficult area to place three or four players, and I'm going to do each in case head coach John Spencer wants to play a 4-4-2 or a 4-3-3.
I think there are a couple of obvious positions that we'll see filled in 2012. Diego Chara, for one, will be there in the center of the midfield. His performance during the second half of the season in 2011 can't be ignored. I also believe we'll see Kalif Alhassan just as much in 2012 as we did in 2011. Despite not scoring any goals (and boy did he try!) he still performed as a midfielder should by getting the ball up and getting around defenses.
The other two positions? I'm not quite so sure.
Jack Jewsbury would be a solid prediction, but his latter seasonal performance didn't do him any good last year and he's also getting a bit older in a team that very obviously values youth. I'll go ahead and tentatively say he'll be a regular starter this year, but I'm going to leave open the possibility that he plays a less significant role this year. Also, if Spencer does go 4-3-3 then I think he'll be pushed out entirely.
The last spot is up in the air between Darlington Nagbe and Sal Zizzo. I think Nagbe will win out in the end as he has the skill and the head for the game whereas Zizzo is mostly just speed. Also, since Nagbe will most certainly graduate in 2013 from Generation Adidas it makes no sense for the Timbers to play him to the maximum amount.
So for a 4-4-2 my prediction is:
Khalif Alhassan, Jack Jewsbury, Diego Chara, Darlington Nagbe
And for a 4-3-3:
Khalif Alhassan, Diego Chara, Darlington Nagbe
I know some of you are looking at that and saying that it's the exact same set up we saw last year. You're right! The Timbers have not signed any big midfielders this off season and I don't think they will. The foundation for a great midfield is already there it just needs to mature.
Eric Alexander will, obviously, stay on the bench and I think newcomer Brendan King will mostly be in reserves for the season barring any injuries.
Finally, let's take a look at the top. Two or three players will be the focus of the Timbers attacking squad and I think it could look radically different from what we were used to seeing in 2011. Let's face it, the lack of goals coming from Kenny Cooper and Jorge Perlaza last year was kind of a disappointment. For 2012 we need to mix things up.
First, obviously the two big pick ups were Jose Adolfo Valencia and Brent Richards, the latter being a homegrown player. So will either make the starting 11? Absolutely.
Honestly, I believe on March 12th we'll see Valencia taking one of the top spots as opposed to Richards. He's a DP, the Timbers actively sought him out and he's got a great heritage. I think he'll come into training camp on Monday and light the place up. He's also a fairly big player. Maybe not as stocky as Bright Dike, but just as tall at 6'1". This will help fill the role vacated by Kenny Cooper.
As for who he is paired up with? I'm gonna say Jorge Perlaza for a few reasons. First, his speed is obviously a big factor and you always want a speedy striker up top to make those important runs beating the offsides trap. Second, his Colombian playing style will go hand-in-hand with Valencia. Finally, he has the experience in MLS that no other Timbers striker has right now. Dike and Eddie Johnson did not see nearly as many minutes as Perlaza and I believe that experience will help Valencia adjust.
Now if we're looking at a 4-3-3 position it gets a bit more interesting. Who fills that third spot? Well we know that Spencer and Merritt Paulson were impressed by Brent Richards so it could be him. I also would like to see Bright Dike given more of a role up front. Valencia might be as tall, but Dike is big and physical. We saw in a couple of instances last season where he used his strength to muscle into the opposing team's backline.
Here's my my picks for the forwards for a 4-4-2:
Jose Adolfo Valencia, Jorge Perlaza
Jose Adolfo Valencia, Jorge Perlaza, Bright Dike
So with all that said here are my final predictions!
Lovel Palmer---Eric Brunner---Hanyer Mosquera---Mike Chabala
Darlington Nagbe--Diego Chara--Jack Jewsbury--Khalif Alhassan
---------------Jorge Perlaza-------------Jose Adolfo Valencia-------------
Lovel Palmer---Eric Brunner---Hanyer Mosquera---Mike Chabala
-----Darlington Nagbe-------Diego Chara-------Khalif Alhassan-----
---------------Bright Dike----Jorge Perlaza----Jose Adolfo Valencia--
What do you think? Changes? Suggestions? Complete reworking?
Sound off in the comments!