Both the Portland Thorns and the Portland Timbers have officially reached the offseason. The teams had similar seasons in retrospect. They each won an untraditional title — the Verizon Community Shield and the MLS is Back Tournament — and they both saw the rise of new talent and were reminded of the class of players who have been in Portland for years. Overall, both teams had successful seasons despite being bounced from knockout tournaments earlier than they had hoped.
To mark the end of the Thorns and Timbers’ strange seasons, I have put together a combined Best XI. In the eleven, there are six Timbers and five Thorns represented. The Portland Timbers played 28 matches and won one trophy and the Thorns played 10 matches and also won one title.
The eleven will line-up in Thorns coach Mark Parson’s preferred 4-4-2 with a diamond midfield.
Goalkeeper: Britt Eckerstrom
Portland has been blessed with a surplus of game-changing goalkeepers. The Timbers’ Steve Clark had a good year. He made a few big mistakes early in the season but recovered well and was extremely reliable all season long. But the Thorns’ keepers Bella Bixby and Britt Eckerstrom were excellent this year. They not only made the difference in matches; they were game-winners, a title usually reserved for clutch attackers.
Bixby was the Thorns’ big revelation of the season before her injury at the end of the group stage of the Challenge Cup. And in came Britt Eckerstom, who secures the goalkeeper position in Portland’s Best XI.
Eckerstrom’s performance against the North Carolina Courage alone would have probably been enough to get her on this list. Once she got between the sticks there was almost no beating her. In the Fall Series, Eckerstrom continued her great form and was ultimately the keeper who helped the Thorns win the Verizon Community Sheild.
In the six matches Eckerstrom was in goal, she only allowed four goals and made big saves game in and game out. Mark Parsons is going to have a lot to think about when all three of his goalkeepers are healthy.
Fullback: Jorge Villafaña
Jorge Villafaña was one of the Timbers’ best players this season and had his best-ever season in MLS. He tallied a career-high five assists. Villafaña also scored two goals for the Timbers. He scored an important goal on Decision Day against LAFC to help the Timbers maintain a home playoff match and he scored what looked to be the game-winner against FC Dallas in their first-round playoff match.
Unfortunately, the Timbers lost the match and Villafaña missed the decisive penalty. But all season he was a crucial cog in both attack and defense. There is no question that Villafaña was the Timbers’ best fullback this season and he deserves all the recognition in the world for his resurgent season.
Fullback: Meghan Klingenberg
I know they are both left backs but that is the fun about Best XI’s: They don’t actually have to play on the pitch. There was no other answer — Meghan Klingenberg and Jorge Villafaña deserve to be on this list.
Klingenberg started all but one game between the two NWSL competitions. She provided an assist in the Challenge Cup and an assist in the Fall Series, helping Lindsey Horan score a diving header that would later be dubbed the play of the tournament. Klingenberg also provided an assist with a brilliant pass to Sophia Smith for Smith’s first-ever Thorns goal.
Klingenberg, like Villafaña, was good going forward but was also a rock at the back of the defense. She will also be given the duty of firing up this Best XI because nobody gives a pregame speech quite like Kling.
Center back: Dario Zuparic
Zuparic was the Timbers’ most consistent center back all season long. He got a red card early in the MLS is Back Tournament but quickly turned things around. Zuparic became the leader of the backline. He covered for the fullbacks and he covered for his center back partner.
Zuparic was tough to beat one-on-one and was confident and controlled when he was forced into sliding challenges. He also put the MLS is Back Tournament Final on ice. Zuparic got his foot on a Jermey Ebobisse redirected shot and fired the Timbers to the title.
Center back: Emily Menges
Menges appeared in all but one of Portland Thorns matches this season. She adjusted to multiple center back partners due to injury and rotations, but she was always at the top of her game. Menges and Kelli Hubly partnered together in the center of defense and performed heroically to keep the North Carolina Courage out of the back of the net in the knockout rounds of the Challenge Cup.
Menges was the most consistent center back in terms of appearances and performance for the Thorns this season, which should be no surprise to Thorns fans who have seen her shutting down attackers for six years.
Holding Mid: Diego Chara
Who else? El Padrino was always going to slot into this Best XI. Even MLS voters had to recognize how great he was this season by putting him in the MLS Best XI. This was Chara’s first-ever appearance on MLS’s Best XI and it is a crime that it has taken this long. But hey, at least they came to their senses.
Chara did what Chara always does: He ran the game with and without the ball. If the other team counter-attacked, Chara was there to break it up and start the Timbers’ attack. If he couldn’t get to the ball he would commit a tactical foul and follow it up with his signature smile. I wish we all could’ve seen that signature smile when he was told be finally made it in the MLS Best XI. Hopefully, we can make El Padrino smile a little more by putting him in the Stumptown Best XI.
Box-to-Box Mid: Eryk Williamson
Williamson was the Timbers’ revelation of the season. He seemingly came out of nowhere when he burst on the scene in the MLS is Back Tournament and he quickly became undroppable.
Williamson became the perfect complement to Chara. He was able to put in crucial tackles and he also drove at defenses with the ball at his feet. Williamson’s most memorable match this season came in Seattle. He sprinted through the defense and received a flicked pass from Diego Valeri. Williamson calmly steered the ball around the keeper and into the back of the net for his first Timbers goal. But Williamson wasn’t finished. He slid a through ball to Felipe Mora, who scored the winner in the 83rd minute of the match.
Williamson was integral to the Timbers this season. It was evident how important he was when he was forced off against Dallas in the last match of the season. Williamson will be back and he will continue to get better, which is exciting because he was really, really good this season.
Box-to-Box Mid: Lindsey Horan
The Great Horan was as important as ever to the Portland Thorns this season. She scored a goal in each competition and, after recovering from injury, provided three assists in the Fall Series.
Horan makes the Thorns tick. She is one of the best two-way midfielders in the world and she repeatedly showed why that is. She dictates play on and off the ball. Her range of passing opens up defenses and her ability to win duels closes the gaps in defense.
It is a no-brainer that Horan has to slide into the Best XI. When she was injured the Thorns missed her calming presence in midfield and her ability to unlock tight defenses. When she returned, she made her presence felt and ultimately helped lead the Thorns to the Verizon Community Shield title.
Attacking Mid: Diego Valeri
The 34-year-old Argentine has aged like a fine wine. He became one of three players to ever register 80 goals and 80 assists in MLS. He also provided his 100th assist in the league with a delicate pass to Villafaña to open the scoring in the playoff match against FC Dallas.
Valeri scored eight goals, tied for the team high with Ebobisse. The midfield maestro also provide seven assists. He was named the MLS is Back Final Man of the Match, initiating both Timbers goals with his set-piece service. El Maestro was nothing short of magic this season.
Forward: Christine Sinclair
The all time leading international goal scorer is used to being included in these kind of lists. But this is not a retrospective pick. Sinclair was class once again and showed that she still has that finishing touch.
Some were worried about that finishing touch during the Challenge Cup. She didn’t record an assist or a goal in the cup and only registered one shot on target. That narrative was flipped on its head come the Fall Series. Sinclair scored six goals in four matches. Four of these goals came against the Thorns’ Tacoma-based rivals OL Reign.
In the first meeting between the sides, Sinclair knocked in a hat trick. The third goal resulted from some beautiful footwork to split the defense before she fired into the back of the net.
Forward: Jeremy Ebobisse
The Timbers Army’s 2020 Supporters’ Player of the Year, Jeremy Ebobisse rounds out our Best XI. Ebobisse was great this season regardless of where he played. Giovanni Saverese could play him as a lone striker, one of two strikers, or a winger, but no matter where he was on the pitch he always contributed.
Ebobisse notched eight goals — none of which came from the penalty spot — while adding two assists. It is a shame Ebobisse missed the last few matches due to the concussion he suffered. He is a difference maker and the Timbers missed Ebobisse especially as the injuries started to stack up. It was great to see him return and get some minutes against FC Dallas.
Ebobisse has racked up 19 goals in the past two seasons and you get the feeling that the 23 year old has found his feet in MLS and will be a game-changer for years to come.
Here is how the Portland Timbers and Thorns Combined Best XI lines up. It is an impressive squad that is solid defensively, has enough creativity in midfield to unlock any defense, and the clinical strikers to finish off all those chances. I don’t think that there is another combined XI that could handle Portland’s Best XI.