So we have come to the final installment of our postseason grades: the strikers and the front office. On Tuesday we laid the ground rules and assessed the goalkeepers and backline. On Wednesday we dove deep into the Timbers midfield and wingers.
But now it's time for the men up front both on the field and off.
Fanendo Adi, A-: After a frustrating spring and early summer, many questioned whether Adi was long for the Timbers. And yet, by regular season's end, Adi had shattered the MLS club record for goals in a season and put an otherwise struggling attack on his back. Just as important, however, as the season went along Adi began dominating physically and became an elite number nine in MLS. Throughout much of the Timbers' push in the fall, Portland's attacking play primary went through the big man's best-in-MLS holdup play. And it's no coincidence that the Timbers scored 18 goals in their final 8 games. If, as Adi's strong finish to the season indicates, the Nigerian striker is just now starting to come into his own (which, at 25 years old, would be right on schedule), Adi could be an elite striker for the Timbers for the foreseeable future.
Maxi Urruti, C: Coming into 2015, many wondered whether Adi or Urruti would step forward as the Timbers' primary option up top. Well, that race to the top of the depth chart turned out not to be close. Despite making the same number of appearances and starts as he did in 2014 (albeit with a modest decrease in minutes played), Urruti's production dropped significantly while Adi's ballooned. Urruti saved himself from a completely lost season with a season-saving goal in the 118th minute equalizer against Sporting Kansas City in the knockout round, but at this point we can no longer call Urruti Option 1b to Adi's Option 1a. And ultimately a genuinely backup role wasn’t viable for Urruti in light of his high salary number for the Timbers.
Michael Seaton, INC: Nominally part of the first-team roster after his deadline-day acquisition, the Timbers rolled the dice on the Jamaican youngster to see what he could contribute at the T2 and, eventually, first-team level. That determination, however, will be made in 2016 and, with any luck, beyond.
Finally, the bosses: Caleb Porter and Gavin Wilkinson.
As usual, from the outside it is difficult to fairly assess exactly who gets credit for what, as Porter certainly has a significant hand in technical decisions. Accordingly, instead of grades specifically assigned to the individuals, it's probably best to think of Porter's grade as an assessment of how the Timbers did in 2015 from an on-field management perspective and Wilkinson's grade as an assessment of how the year went on the technical side.
Caleb Porter, A-: The Timbers' late-season run was the third consecutive appearance of Porter's fall magic, as each of his three Timbers teams have played far and away their best football in the month of October and, as it was this year, November and December. And while Porter's autumn surge arrived a little bit later in 2015 than it has in previous years - leading, admittedly, to some nervous moments down the stretch - it was also more pronounced and fruitful than any of the two previous years.
Before the Timbers righted the ship in October, however, things were touch-and-go. Some of the team's troubles, however, weren't altogether attributable to Porter. The coach, after all, can't put the ball in the net for his players. Still, it's hard not to point to Porter's more conservative tactical approach in this third season to explain at least some of the Timbers' dramatic goalscoring (as well as, to be fair, goal-conceding) dip in 2015. Even then, however, the Timbers dominated a lot of games in which they didn't find the result, something that was largely attributable to chronic difficulties in ripening half chances into full ones (something that a coach bears some responsibility for) and finishing (something that largely comes down to the players on the field).
On the whole, therefore, 2015 was a very good, but not-quite-perfect third season for Porter. The Timbers' late-season surge and MLS Cup victory, of course, had a significant effect on his grade, without which Porter likely would have been on the hot seat. The Timbers' late-season form looming large on Porter's assessment, however, isn't altogether surprising considering his consistent ability to get his team playing their best down the stretch is unquestionably among his biggest strengths as a coach.
Gavin Wilkinson, A-: The year started in borderline-spectacular fashion for Wilkinson and the technical team, as they used some roster-rules gymnastics to protect all of the Timbers' major pieces in the expansion draft, sold Jose Valencia at a considerable profit, exercised Alvas Powell's almost too-good-to-be-true option, and completed their major offseason moves by the end of December. And the acquisitions of Adam Kwarasey and Nat Borchers (the latter of whom cost the Timbers only marginally more in allocation money than they received in exchange for Michael Harrington) unquestionably lie on the spectrum of good-to-excellent. On the other hand, the Timbers' two 2015 flyers - Jeanderson and Ishmael Yartey - didn't pan out. That, though, is just sort of the nature of flyers.
But the Timbers' decision to go young with their other major moves probably hurt them during periods of the season in which they were looking (at times desperately) for somebody to step up in the attack. While Melano and Dairon Asprilla seem likely to bear more fruit for the Timbers in the future than they did in 2015 (as was always the reasonable expectation), there were times when Portland would have benefitted from using the resources expended to acquire Asprilla and Melano on more seasoned hands.
For two reasons, however, it's hard to come down too hard on the Timbers' decision to go young with a couple of their biggest acquisitions. First, the Timbers had a lot of firepower returning from a 2014 team that scored goals virtually at will. But for significant dips in the goalscoring production rate of Maxi Urruti, Rodney Wallace, and Diego Valeri, the Timbers could have easily absorbed the expected first-year turbulence from Asprilla and Melano. Had that been so, the moves would have been brilliant; the Timbers would essentially have their offseason impact additions already on the roster. With the benefit of hindsight, however, the decision to place a lot of chips on high profile but youthful players clearly cost the Timbers some points this season.
The second point, however, is that all is well that ends well. Simply put, the decision to go young looks a lot better after the strong finish to 2015 and the MLS Cup victory than it did during the depths of September. Indeed, much of that feeling of having next year’s major moves already on the roster currently exists.
Thus, on the whole, 2015 has to be considered a very solid year for the Timbers' technical staff. Ultimately, it’s the technical staff’s job to pull whatever strings are necessary to give the coaching staff a team that can win. There is no question now that the technical staff succeeded in doing so this year.