The Portland Timbers’ offseason has barely begun and already it is just the worst.
But how did it get this bad?
Well, coming into the offseason the Timbers had perhaps their worst finish to a season on the record books since joining MLS; a fact made particularly galling given the high expectations for the team following their 2015 MLS Cup win.
2011 was an expansion year.
2012 was spent looking forward to the arrival of Caleb Porter.
2013 was heartbreaking but optimistic as the Timbers finished on top of the West.
2014 was finished in rampant form with strong new arrivals.
2015 was simply the best.
Despite winning at home all year, the Timbers could not get just one more home win against CD Saprissa last Wednesday, washing out of the CONCACAF Champions League. Then on Sunday, the Timbers had a potential playoff berth within reach and instead of digging deep and finding a way to beat their rivals, the Vancouver Whitecaps, the Timbers collapsed utterly and completely, losing 4-1 in the process and washing out of the playoffs entirely. To put a cap on the week, that 4-1 loss also meant that the Timbers lost out on bringing home the Cascadia Cup for the second time in the MLS era despite what seemed like an unassailable lead in the series coming into the weekend.
Then, of course, came Monday night and the arrests of Jake Gleeson and Liam Ridgewell for DUII. Anger, disappointment, and bitter puns ruled the day.
Well, looks like the Timbers still can’t win on the road.
Things, it appears, have reached their nadir.
[Author’s note: Please let that be true.]
But it was not just the last week that brought us to where we are now.
Looking back, the fear of the offseason started early in the season with a series of news stories surrounding Timbers players.
First Fanendo Adi, the centerpiece of the Timbers’ attack in 2015 and 2016, wanted out and reportedly spent the summer angling for an exit to a more prestigious league as he searched for a way to get minutes with his national team. When the Timbers would not let him go mid-season there was a sigh of relief from Timbers fans, knowing they had one more season with the big forward, but the fact that he would likely be departing after the season introduced a feeling of dread that built over the course of the year and has reached its peak as we approach the winter transfer window that most leagues observe in January.
Second came Nat Borchers’ season ending Achilles tendon injury, putting the veteran defender on the sidelines just as the Timbers were fighting their way past their early season points deficit in late July. Borchers went down injured on July 23rd, the same day that the Timbers lost their first game in over two months, snapping a nine game unbeaten run and losing a key player in the side’s defense. The ability of athletes to recover from a ruptured Achilles tendon has improved by leaps and bounds in recent years, but it is still a long, difficult process and Borchers turns 36 in April, leaving the possibility of his return up in the air at best and giving Timbers fans another thing to fret about at the end of the 2016 season.
Finally, the Timbers’ rock for the last six years, Jack Jewsbury, announced his impending retirement late in the season. Captain Jack was with the Timbers since the start of the MLS era and in his six years with the side he was the player that the Timbers could always count on, earning his way back into the XI in a bevy of different positions and roles. Losing Jewsbury to retirement means losing the heart and soul of this Timbers squad.
So, with all this negativity, what can we look forward to? What can light the way through these dark times?
Get ready for some transfer speculation.
The Timbers have changes that need making over the offseason as they look to revamp the squad going forward and with the potential departure of Fanendo Adi, the side will need to not only bring in a new and impactful No. 9, they will need to build up their squad around this new piece. Since the arrival of Caleb Porter in Portland, the Timbers have constantly evolved in their style of play and whatever new additions the team bring in should once again help the team change their style.
Get ready for the youth movement.
The Timbers were a decidedly veteran team coming into the 2016 season and that bared out over the course of the season with seven players in their 30’s making 20 or more appearances on the season. Just three weeks ago, however, as the Timbers announced the signing of homegrown player Marco Farfan from T2 to the first team, Caleb Porter told the press that the team could be undergoing a “youth movement” over the offseason and could be bringing in two or three players from T2. Since the establishment of the academy, and later T2, the Timbers have said again and again that they hope to have a pipeline to the first team that is regularly adding players that can challenge for minutes. Now, the Timbers seem to be tapping that pipeline for the first time since establishing it and hopefully a group of exciting, young players will be the result.
Get ready for peak Caleb Porter.
If there is one thing that we can say about Caleb Porter, it is that he hates losing. This season, from top to bottom, was a loss. How Porter will respond to 2016 is up in the air, but it seems likely that by the time we next see him, Porter will either be ready to breathe fire on the league, on the press, and on himself as Angry Caleb, or he will be ready to dispassionately break down every aspect of the season as Professor Caleb. Either way, don’t expect another appearance from the Disappointed Caleb that we saw after the match against Vancouver. Porter wants a team that responds to adversity, but how Porter himself responds will be central to the 2017 season.
So, what did I miss about this offseason that is terrible? What could make it great?