1) Last week, I came up with a Timbers Best XI judged by the entirety of a player’s time with the Timbers. You could call it the Career Bext XI.
This week, let’s make a Best XI based on a player’s peak performance. You don’t need tenure to make this team. You can make it on the basis of a single great season.
Or hell, you know what? Let’s get even smaller than that. Did someone have an amazing month? He’s got a shot at making this team.
What about an amazing game? Remember that time in 2015 when Ishmael Yartey came on as a substitute, played two minutes, and got a game-winning assist? Why not put that guy on our Best XI? After all, he’s averaging 34 assists a year. And if we break it down by assists per minute, I think Yartey would get, like, I dunno, a million? Does a million assists sound right? I’m no soccer expert, but that sounds like a guy I’d want on my team.
2) Here’s my lineup. Last week’s Career Best XI played a 4-2-3-1, but the Peak Best XI – or the Portland Peaks, if you will – is lining up in a 4-3-3, for entirely Nagbe-related reasons.
Not bad, eh? I’d go to war with that team. Would you go to war with that team?
Let’s break it down.
3) The front three.
- Samuel Armenteros, May 19 to May 26, 2018.
I was tempted to go with the record-breaking first five games of Brian Fernandez’s MLS career, but was worried he might cause trouble in my dream team’s locker room. So instead, I’m going with Armenteros. During the two week stretch I’ve chosen, Armenteros scored 3 goals and was awarded MLS Goal of the Week both weeks.
I’m on the record as Fanendo Adi’s biggest fan, but this version of Armenteros was a monster. According to the math, over a full season, he’d score 51 goals and win MLS Goal of the Week every. Single. Week.
- Sebastian Blanco, September 22 to November 29, 2018.
In his final four starts of the 2018 regular season, Sebastian Blanco scored four goals. Then in the playoffs, he scored three more, including this golazo, whose awesomeness was exceeded only by its clutchiness.
He just kicks. #CelebrateThanks
- Dairon Asprilla, any and all playoff games.
Over the course of his MLS career, Dairon Asprilla has played 4165 regular season minutes and scored seven goals. That’s an average of 0.15 goals per 90 minutes, which is fine for a center back, but horrendous for an attacker.
Why on earth would any team keep him on their roster? Because in the playoffs, Asprilla’s a goddamn buzzsaw. In 783 career playoff minutes, he’s scored four goals, or an average of 0.46 goals per 90 minutes. Over the course of a 2700 minute season, that’s around 20 goals. Think the Portland Peaks could use 20 goals from their... lemme check... from their fourth attacking option? Yeah, me, too.
4) The midfield.
- Diego Valeri, July 29 to September 24, 2017.
Midway through the summer of 2017, Fanendo Adi went down with a season-ending injury and the Timbers desperately needed someone to step up. All Diego Valeri did in response was to win MLS Player of the Year. During the two-month stretch I’ve chosen, he scored ten goals over nine straight games, which at the time, set a new league record.
Valeri’s always been good, but during this stretch, he was a god among men.
- Darlington Nagbe, October to December, 2015
Nagbe’s the reason this team lines up in a 4-3-3. During Caleb Porter’s time coaching the Timbers, he almost exclusively played a 4-2-3-1, but in October 2015, that changed. He moved Nagbe from a position that never quite suited him – the wing – to a position that seemed tailor-made for him – the six. Instead of trying to be an attacker, Nagbe could do what God put him on Earth to do: maintain possession in the middle of the field no matter how many defenders were on him.
The result? Three straight wins to finish the season, then a run through the playoffs that ended with an MLS Cup victory. The Portland Peaks could probably play any formation and succeed, but I’m going with a 4-3-3, with Nagbe driving defenders crazy at the six.
- Diego Chara, 2017.
It was tough choosing a peak for Chara, since one of the things that makes him great is his consistency. You could choose literally any year, any month, or any game, and he’d be at his peak. But since this Best XI requires me to choose, I went with 2017, solely because that was the year he did this.
Godalmightydamn, if there’s been a better cushioned header in the entire history of soccer, I haven’t seen it. And if MLS would get their heads out of their asses and include the entirety of a goal, rather than just the finish, that woulda won MLS Goal of the Year. Yes, I’m still bitter.
5) The defense.
- Jorge Villafaña, 2015
- Liam Ridgewell, 2015
- Nat Borchers, 2015
- Jorge Moreira, 2019
- Donovan Ricketts, 2013
The farther back on the field you go, the tougher it is to choose. After all, attackers score goals. If you pick the period where they scored the most goals, you’ll probably be fine. But defenders, how do you choose their peak? If you pick a period where they scored a few goals, you’re not really rewarding them for defense. And anyway, we’ve got enough goalscorers up front, we don’t need any in the back. What we need is a brick wall.
Three of my back four are from the same season, 2015. That was the year we won MLS Cup, obviously, and the key to our success was our defense. Jorge Villafaña was at the peak of his powers, Liam Ridgewell played a career-best 32 games, and Nat Borchers came over from Real Salt Lake, had an instant connection with Ridgy, and led us to what I consider our best defensive year ever.
I could continue the 2015 theme by including Alvas Powell at right back, but I’m going with 2019 Jorge Moreira instead. Morge’s a little more consistent game-to-game than Powell was, offering a bit more offense, while never ignoring his defense. If he can keep this up a few more years, he’ll eventually bump Alvas from my Career Best XI.
I was super-tempted to put 2015 Adam Kwarasey between the sticks, for all the same reasons as Villafaña, Ridgy, and Borchers, but in the end, couldn’t get past the fact that 2013 Donovan Ricketts was named MLS Goalkeeper of the Year. The man was an absolute beast that year, as this video reminds us.
6) So there you go. A Best XI based not on a player’s career with the Timbers, but his peak.
My calculations might be a tiny bit off, but over a full MLS season, the math says this team would go 34-0-0 and score five million goals while surrendering just two. After winning MLS Cup 17-0 over whothefuckcares, they would then become the first non-European club to be invited to play in the UEFA Champions League. Rather than make their opponents travel all the way to Oregon for games, the team would just play their home games at Bexleyheath Academy, because that’s where Liam Ridgewell went to high school. In the final, the Peaks would beat Barcelona 11-0, with Diego Valeri scoring four goals and adding five assists. After the game, Lionel Messi would announce his retirement from competitive soccer, saying “If I can’t be Diego Valeri – and to be clear, I can’t – then what’s the point?”
So what do you think of my team? Would you choose anyone different? Let me know down in the comments.