‘Twas the night before Christmas,
And all through the Park,
After the longest season,
The halls were all dark.
Except something was amiss,
One light shining fair,
It was but the reflection,
Of new silverware.
The champagne has been guzzled,
The mics have been dropped,
In wild celebration,
Of a league they topped.
But what presents can there be,
For a club now crowned?
What could they possibly need,
The Cup-bound and down?
Of course the answer resides,
In trophies yet won;
And holes the Timbers must fill,
Before camp's begun.
With the holiday season in full swing, it’s time to hand out gifts to several members of the Timbers organization as the page turns from their triumphant 2015 campaign to the challenge of building on their success in 2016. Getting something for every player, however, is far too much for one writer. Accordingly, if you see somebody in need of a present and have a gift in mind, go ahead and leave it for them in the comments.
Darlington Nagbe: Statistical career highs - Nagbe’s finish to 2015 may have provided the blueprint for how to maximize his impact in the team. But here’s the thing: At some point it will make sense for Nagbe to go to Europe and ply his trade at a higher level than in MLS. With additional appearances with the U.S. National Team upcoming, a season in which Nagbe started filling up the stat sheet with the Timbers would certainly catch the eye of clubs abroad and draw attention to Nagbe’s considerable impact that doesn’t show up in the boxscore.
Diego Valeri: An understudy - The Timbers have a lot of games to play in 2016, and with Valeri turning 30 in May the Timbers would be smart to find somebody to do the bulk of the U.S. Open Cup and CONCACAF Champions League group stage heavy lifting at the 10. There’s little reason to think Valeri will start to hit the decline any time soon, but he is at the stage of his career in which the Timbers should be a little bit more diligent about managing his workload.
Adam Kwarasey: A repeat of 2015 from Liam Ridgewell and Nat Borchers - Kwarasey had a good season in 2015 that was, at least in part, a result of having a pretty easy time of things behind the best centerback tandem in MLS. Another year of excellence from Ridgewell and Borchers would suit the cucumber-cool keeper just fine, and let him firmly plant his roots in Portland before changes come to the backline in front of him.
George Fochive: A nice, long, uninterrupted spell running the show at T2 in the spring - It’s not that Fochive isn’t good enough to make the first-team 18. He is. But at this stage of his development Fochive needs to work on his distribution and tactical acumen if he wants to be the successor to either Diego Chara or Darlington Nagbe in the center of the park for the Timbers. Spending March, April, and May honing these skills at T2 would serve Fochive very well before returning to the first team for USOC, CCL, and MLS squad rotation in the summer and fall.
Andy Thoma: A breakout training camp - The first-team backup left back spot remains open and, although the odds-on favorite to fill that hole is not yet on the roster, the Timbers would love it if Thoma made enough of an impression in camp to seize that spot. If Thoma can show he’s ready to be one turned ankle away from first-team MLS action, the Timbers will be able to save some salary-cap room and keep an additional senior-roster spot open.
Caleb Porter: A win in March - Or better yet, multiple wins in March. The Timbers have an MLS Cup in their possession. The next major trophy to covet, therefore, is Supporters Shield. And if the Timbers want to make a serious run at rounding out their MLS-elite resume in 2016, Porter can’t afford a fourth consecutive slow start.
Merritt Paulson: Big plans for Providence Park - The Timbers have never had greater stature in Portland than they do right now. Paulson and the Timbers should seize this moment to make Providence Park a true cathedral of American soccer -- one that both national teams would make a regular pilgrimage to and would allow the Timbers to grow their place within Portland even further -- by finding a way to expand Providence Park’s capacity beyond 30,000 and install a grass surface. To call this a difficult task would be an understatement, as the obstacles that lie in the way of such ambitions are myriad and range from the practical to the political. It may even be impossible. But the Timbers have never had a better chance of overcoming those obstacles than they have right now.