Before the beginning of the 2013 season, I wrote a piece on reasonable expectations for the Portland Timbers during what looked likely to be a rebuilding year. As it happened, I was aiming far too low with my hope that the Timbers would take some baby steps on the way from being a terrible team to becoming a good one.
The Timbers didn't exactly blow the individual goals out of the water--for example, they did not manage a three-game winning streak until late in 2013, when they won their final regular season match and then went on to beat Seattle twice in the playoffs. Clearly though, they exceeded my rather modest expectations by going on a 15-game unbeaten streak in league play, earning the top spot in the Western Conference, and progressing to the semifinals of both the U.S. Open Cup tournament and the MLS Cup Playoffs.
So where do we set our expectations for this year? There is, of course, the possibility that the Timbers will take a step or two backward. Players like Will Johnson, who had the best year of his career, my not be able to reach the same heights again. Ryan Johnson's departure and Rodney Wallace's injury both represent the loss of a lot of goals that will have to come from somewhere else. And the Western Conference, where seven teams were fighting for five playoff spots until pretty late in the season, doesn't look like it has gotten easier.
It seems like a safe bet though that that is not the mindset that the Timbers are approaching the season with and setting their expectations by. I assume that the team expects to make another step or two forward. With that in mind, here are three of my (unabashedly ambitious but hopefully still reasonable) expectations for the 2014 season.
Win the Cascadia Cup
The Timbers can and should go after bigger accomplishments than winning a regional rivalry cup, but with four of six Cascadia games at home this year, the Timbers really should be able to bring the cup back where it belongs. In addition, good results against the Seattle Sounders and the Vancouver Whitecaps will mean taking points away from likely Western Conference playoff contenders, so winning Cascadia will help the Timbers on their way to winning the West (and the league).
Move to the CONCACAF Champions League Knock-Out Round
The Timbers will begin CCL group stage play near the end of the 2014 season. They'll play four games against the two other teams in their group and the top team in each group will move on. I want to see the Timbers be that top team. In the knock-out rounds the competition will get a lot stiffer, because at that point the Timbers could come up against the Mexican clubs that have dominated the tournament in recent years. CCL rules mean they won't meet those clubs in the group stage though, and while it may not be easy and it's certainly not a given, the Timbers should be able to come out on top of their group.
Win a Trophy
In this case, I'm not counting the Cascadia Cup. The Timbers came pretty close to three major trophies last year, finishing third in the Supporters' Shield race and making in to the semifinals in competition for both the U.S. Open Cup and the MLS Cup. On paper, the 2014 Portland Timbers look capable of winning one of those and it's pretty clear that's what they're aiming for.
What do you think the Timbers can accomplish in 2014?