33 goals in 69 appearances. 26 goals since the start of the 2015 season. Fanendo Adi has consistently been one of the best forwards in the MLS since his arrival in 2014. The young Nigerian fits in so well with the surrounding pieces; offering a large target for the skill players like Darlington Nagbe and Diego Valeri to find and combine with, while also offering wingers like the Rodney Wallace of old and the Lucas Melano of new a target on their whipped in crosses. His skill set has fit in so well with the Portland Timbers and with his hamstring injury that he picked up on Sunday against New York City FC, the team could be forced to adapt and change their attack without him.
The primary piece that Fanendo Adi brings to the Portland Timbers' attack is his ability to hold up the ball and allow for the midfielders and wingers to make their runs off of him. We have seen this ability numerous times, including his lay off for one of the most iconic goals in Timbers history, Will Johnson's volley against the Vancouver Whitecaps.
While Valeri sent the ball long to the top of the box, Adi shielded off Whitecaps center back Andy O'Brien while settling the ball with his chest and a deft volley touch. While doing all of this, Adi has the awareness to see Johnson breaking in behind his man, allowing for Adi to flick the ball into the space and right into the path of the onrushing midfielder for the volleyed goal. Not to be outdone, Adi also assisted in setting up a quality Valeri goal against the Colorado Rapids in 2014 with similar holdup play. Once again holding off his defender, Adi provided a quality flick towards the Argentinian for him to volley past the Rapids' goalie.
Plays like this illustrate Adi's ability and awareness of the space surrounding him on top of the box, not only creating chances for himself, but for other Timbers as well.
Pairing with Adi's hold up play, his runs in and around the box are truly excellent; he knows where to find space and when to move into it. Numerous times, we have seen the forward score goals by accelerating one or two steps past his man so that players can find him. A perfect example of this is his goal against Seattle, finishing off a cross from Rodney Wallace.
If you track Adi's run, he initially starts matched up against the Sounders' Chad Marshall but begins to peel off, finding himself on the back shoulder of the other center back, Zach Scott. This type of movement is a nightmare for defenders; it is remarkably difficult to keep track of both the ball and the man in situations like this. Adi is aware of the difficulty and uses it to his advantage, getting on the end of a perfectly placed ball from Wallace.
Adi's smart movement can be seen also in the second goal he scored last year against the New England Revolution, icing the victory for the Timbers.
As Adi sees Alvas Powell making the overlapping run, he accelerates into the box and finds the hole between the center back pairing of Jose Goncalves and Andrew Farrell. Adi recognizes that there is a space to exploit there and with the well-placed cross from Powell and the incredible finish from the forward, the Timbers' lead was doubled. Awareness around the box is something that few strikers have and it is what makes him so dangerous and such an assist to the team.
With Fanendo Adi's injury to his hamstring, if he is forced to miss the match, the most obvious fit for the Timbers would be to replace him with Jack McInerney, a forward for forward switch. The two players have different playing styles though with McInerney relying a bit more on the service being supplied to him for his clinical finishing as opposed to Adi's combination play. If that is the case, it is easy to imagine that the Timbers will look to get the ball into wide spaces with the pace of Lucas Melano and creativity of Darlington Nagbe and Diego Valeri. The other potential option is to play Melano in the center of the pitch and see if he can use his speed to get in behind the Whitecaps defense pairing of Kendall Waston and Tim Parker. It will be an interesting development to watch, especially with the Timbers looking to avoid a four-game losing streak.