The season is about to begin for the Portland Timbers, so it behooves us to take a look at their opposition for 2017. On Tuesday we went over the East, now it is time to look a little closer to home with a quick rundown of the Western Conference.
Home on March 3rd, Away on June 21st
Finish last year: N/A
Former Timbers: Jermaine Taylor, Miguel Ibarra (drafted but not signed)
Players to Watch: Kevin Molino is the fulcrum of the Minnesota attack. Head coach Adrian Heath is counting on the 26-year-old attacking winger to have a career year; if he does Minnesota might be pretty good in their first season in the league, but if he can’t top last year’s 11 goals and 8 assists then it is hard to see anyone else on the Loons’ roster stepping up.
Away on March 12th, Home on August 6th
Finish last year: 3rd place in the Western Conference
Former Timbers: Brian Rowe (was on the bench as a pool keeper)
Players to Watch: Giovanni Dos Santos will be hugely important for the Galaxy, but it will be Jelle Van Damme who will be the biggest predictor of how the Galaxy will fare in 2017. If the Galaxy’s keystone center back can continue his defensive dominance then the Galaxy should be able to make things work despite a new coach, a weirdly unproven attack, and a truck load of injuries coming into the season. 2017 could be another year of Van Damme locking down the back, or he could be poised for a Kendall Waston-like descent into red cards and ineffectiveness.
Home on March 18th, Away on July 29th
Finish last year: 10th place in the Western Conference
Former Timbers: Eric Alexander
Players to Watch: The Dynamo don’t have much going on in the midfield (Sorry, Ricardo Clarke) or on defense (Sorry, A.J. DeLaGarza), but they do boast a group of young forwards, any of whom could have a break out year now that Will Bruin has departed for Seattle. Mauro Manotas, Alberth Elis, and Romell Quioto are all intriguing, but Erick Torres is set for a make or break season; he could be a train-wreck or he could get his scoring touch back and pour it on. Either way, the forwards are where it is at for this less than inspiring Dynamo side.
Sporting Kansas City
Home on April 15th, Away on July 1st
Finish last year: 5th place in the Western Conference
Former Timbers: None
Players to Watch: One of the regular offseason critiques of Sporting has been that they lack diversity in their established goal scorers, which is a convoluted way of saying that if Dom Dwyer ain’t scoring then neither is SKC. Now, that would make Dwyer the man to watch, but instead let’s take a hard zag and look at new addition Latif Blessing. A terror up top from the Ghanaian first division, Blessing seems likely to be Dwyer’s understudy and could prove instrumental to SKC.
Home on April 22nd, Away on July 23rd, Home on October 22nd
Finish last year: 8th place in the Western Conference
Former Timbers: None
Players to Watch: Kekuta Manneh is the key to this side as they look to get back in the playoff picture in 2017 and he also just so happens to be one of the less aggravating players that the ‘Caps have on offer, making this selection a no-brainer. The other real possibility here is Portland-local Eric Hurtado, who will probably be relegated to the bench until the usual mid to late-season Whitecaps meltdown, at which point he will work his way back into the starting lineup.
Away on April 29th, Home on June 10th
Finish last year: 1st place in the Western Conference
Former Timbers: Maximiliano Urruti
Players to Watch: Dallas is full of fun attacking players, but the most important piece to their success is probably center back Matt Hedges. The big man at the back has been a consistently excellent defender for the Supporters Shield winners and is a big part of allowing the players in front of him to do what they do.
San Jose Earthquakes
Away on May 6th, Home on June 2nd, Away on September 30th
Finish last year: 9th place in the Western Conference
Former Timbers: None
Players to Watch: None
Away on May 27th, Home on June 25th, Away on August 27th
Finish last year: 4th place in the Western Conference
Former Timbers: None
Players to Watch: While Nicolas Lodeiro will continue to be very, very good this season barring a very unexpected fall-off in production, the players that could make or break this season for Seattle are new additions Will Bruin and Harry Shipp. The pair of workman-like MLS attackers come into the Seattle roster in similar circumstances to Jack McInerney and Ned Grabavoy last season: veterans of the league looking for a new home. The Sounders brass has talked specifically about the lessons learned from the Timbers and their post-Cup hangover, so it will be interesting to see if Seattle are able to avoid following in the their footsteps on this as well.
Away on June 18th, Home on August 23rd
Finish last year: 2nd place in the Western Conference
Former Timbers: Alan Gordon
Players to Watch: The Rapids are banking on their defense maintaining the absurd level of quality that they were able to put out in 2016, which is going to be a hard act to follow. Much of the onus for that will fall on Designated Player keeper Tim Howard, but as a 37-year-old with a recent spate of injuries under his belt, it remains to be seen if he can keep it up for a full year.
Real Salt Lake
Home on July 19th, Away on September 16th
Finish last year: 6th place in the Western Conference
Former Timbers: David Horst
Players to Watch: Real Salt Lake may have cut loose Javier Morales in less-than-ideal circumstances, but Nick Rimando and Kyle Beckerman are still central to the team and will need to stave off their eventual decline for at least one more season if RSL is going to make a run into the playoffs. There are some new faces around Rio Tinto who could make an impact, but as we saw in the Timbers preseason tournament, the side is disorganized without Beckerman and in need of the game-changing saves that Rimando brings to the table.
What teams are you looking forward to the Timbers’ playing? Who do you think will step up this year? Let us know in the comments.