Looking back over the off season it was easy to see where the Portland Timbers needed to be bolstered in order to survive the already very tough 2012 season: the defense. It was a constant headline throughout the sports media/press that the Timbers' defense was simply not where it should be and maintained as the preeminent weak spot for the team. We were all hoping that, heading into 2012, the defense would be less of an issue. Unfortunately, that just doesn't seem to be the case.
The first four games of the season and the first month as a whole paints a fairly grim picture of the Timbers' chances this season. Granted, and luckily, it's not indicative of the season as a whole, but where they're at right is not what we were hoping for. Additionally, how they got there is fairly appalling. In each game they've played this year they've been the first to give up a goal. They even beat a record while doing it when the New England Revolution scored on them within 30 seconds. Embarrassing, to say the least, and it really all boils down to the defense.
The Problem: Despite the great start against the Philadelphia Union (which looking back might have been due to all the excitement of the home opener) Rodney Wallace has consistently been the weak spot on the field. In fact, even our own player ratings show that he has been deteriorating rapidly since that first game. While he started on initially with a solid 8, since then he's managed to get a 3, 2, 3 in that order.
We've heard it all before though, Rodney Wallace is simply too focused on attacking and not enough on defending. It shows time and again when he allows a player a player to pass him or he's hovering too far up the pitch to be truly effective. I'm not sure if this is the way he's being trained during practice (it might be) but it's clearly not working.
I won't bring up his handball as a fault against Real Salt Lake because, honestly, it looked like a complete accident. His hand was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.
The Solution: Tough to say this early in the season, but I think we all know who we're looking at when we say Rodney Wallace needs to come out: Mike Chabala. Chabala was not without his own ire from last season, but I, personally, was far more impressed with him when he came in during last summer than I have ever really been of Wallace.
The simple fact of it is that Chabala is more defensively minded, albeit at the cost of attack. But when you keep going down a goal first, I think it's time to prioritize.
The Problem: This one is easy... over half the Timbers' defensive backline is out with serious injuries. Between David Horst's pre-season hip surgery, Futty Danso's broken foot, and now Hanyer Mosquera's concussion/broken nose the center back defensive position is left with Eric Brunner and rookie Andrew Jean-Baptiste which, unfortunately, hasn't been working out as well as we could hope.
Coming into this season, we all thought Eric Brunner was going be our breakout center back star, or I did at least. He hasn't yet though and I'm not sure why. He has great skill in the backline and we saw flickers of what he could be late last season (and even this season!). However, his inconsistencies are starting to add up.
Also, and this is completely just a side note, but I get the feeling Brunner is distracted by something else right now. From my interviews, observations at training and, indeed, the game itself he just doesn't seem to be in the right state of mind. Probably just my imagination, but I do wonder.
The Solution: Another easy one... get our center backs match fit once again! Without those three center backs being healthy there is no competition for spots and when there's no competition one can easily let things slip and not worry about it effecting their chances at getting into the starting 11. Granted it's not an easy solution and it's entirely based on time, but it's the only one we've got.
I was really excited when the Timbers added Hanyer Mosquera to the team. A Colombian in every part of the field was exciting and I was hoping to see some of the South American flair added to our defense. Unfortunately, after going down with a few injuries already I'm left wondering if he'll ever be a consistent player on the field.
The Problem: This is a little tougher than the last two fields as Lovel Palmer, while not great, has been serviceable to date. Not that there's no room or improvement. In fact, I think the Timbers should be on the look out for a new right winger this summer unless things dramatically change (mediocrity is never enough). Still, I don't know who we would slot into that position instead.
Palmer hasn't had a great season, but, by and large, he has been better defensively and at maintaining a decent balance more so than his left wing partner Rodney Wallace.
The Solution: And here's why the Palmer situation is tough to assess... because who is the solution to him? Many fans are quick to jump to Steve Purdy, but I'm not so sure. Many of you who would like to see him start probably aren't remembering his form in the first half of last season along side Jeremy Hall. Suffice it to say, neither were particularly great right back wingers. Now, granted, that was a long time ago and Purdy has had all sorts of international experience tacked on and an extra year so maybe he has gotten better. I'm just not as convinced as I am about the left back position.
Love Palmer? Steve Purdy? I can't say.
So there is the Timbers' backline in a nutshell. Problems in each area and few options to go around.
What would you do? Or what problems do you see that I missed? Sound off in the comments!