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The state of the Timbers in 2022

A look at the Timbers’ terrible opening three months of the MLS season.

MLS: Philadelphia Union at Portland Timbers Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

I’ve wanted to write about the state of the Portland Timbers for a while now, but I haven’t been able to find the words to describe how I feel about the team. I think I have now.

Before I start, I need to preface this: I love the Portland Timbers with all of my heart, and I always will. I grew up 20 minutes from the stadium, and I’ve been a regular at Providence Park since it was called Jeld-Wen Field.

I’ve suffered through the John Spencer, Kenny Cooper, Kris Boyd, and interim Gavin Wilkinson eras, but right now the conclusion I have come to is this: they are not good. In fact, they’re about as poor as I have seen them in the 11 years that I have supported the club. To be completely honest, it feels like a chore having to watch them right now.

The viewing-fatigue boils down to a lot of things. The fight and passion from the players is few and far between, the team looks to be out of ideas in attack and defense every time they take the pitch, and the off-field controversies have tanked the atmosphere at the games. And what sucks is that none of that looks to be changing any time soon.

The Timbers are flatter than a soda that has been left on an end table for a few days— and I don’t know how that changes. There are good player on the roster, but they cannot string together consistent performances. There are good coaches on the coaching staff, but they cannot seem to get the best out of the players at their disposal on a consistent basis. Have there been injuries? Most definitely: Felipe Mora, Sebastian Blanco, Claudio Bravo, Larrys Mabiala, Dario Zuparic, Eryk Williamson, Jaroslaw Niezgoda, and George Fochive have all missed significant time through injury.

But that cannot and should not be the excuse for how disorganized the team has looked as a whole this season.

MLS: Portland Timbers at Inter Miami CF Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

Here are some facts about the Portland Timbers in 2022:

  • With more than a third of the season played thus far the Timbers find themselves in 12th place in the Western Conference on 15 points, a record better than only five of the 28 clubs in MLS.
  • Bill Tuiloma, a center defender, leads the team in scoring with five goals through 15 games. Jeremy Ebobisse, the striker they were playing out of position on the left wing before trading him to San Jose last season, currently leads the league with nine goals.
  • The Timbers have a goal difference of -4, which would look a lot worse but for the aberration that was the 7-2 win against SKC. Only four teams have conceded more goals in MLS play this season than the Timbers (25).
  • The Timbers are tied for the second-fewest wins (3) in MLS play in 2022 and have only kept three clean sheets all season.
  • The Timbers are tied with the Chicago Fire for the most red cards in MLS at four, with all of them being brandished to outside backs (Josecarlos Van Rankin has two, Bonilla and Bravo both have one).
  • The Timbers have the fifth-worst accurate shooting percentage in MLS at 31.5 percent and have only scored 21 goals (again, looks a lot worse without the SKC result).

I’m sure there are more statistics that illustrate how much the team has struggled this season, but I think you all get the point.

I’m genuinely perplexed as to how a team can make it to MLS Cup and then go on to start the next season as poorly as the Timbers have this year, especially considering how little turnover there was when it comes to the roster and coaching staff.

Sure, losing your captain and club legend in the offseason is a big blow in terms of leadership and locker room cohesion, but on the pitch, Valeri was clearly on the decline. He only started 10 games last year, scoring twice and picking up three assists in 29 total appearances. Not exactly earth-shaking figures.

MLS: Conference Finals-Real Salt Lake at Portland Timbers Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

Steve Clark was the other notable departure from last season’s Timbers squad and one of the more consistent performers in that team. And while I can concede that going from Clark to Ivacic is a downgrade, the stats suggest that it isn’t as much of a monumental shift as some people on Twitter have suggested.

The most glaring difference is Clark’s save percentage of 74.6% in 2021 and Ivacic’s save percentage of 64.2% this season. Other than that, the drop-off in stats has been there, but it’s been minimal:

  • Goals conceded average per game: Clark 1.29 in 2021, Ivacic 1.71 in 2022.
  • Pass percentage: Clark 67.9% in 2021, Ivacic 62.3% in 2022.
  • Clean sheets: Clark seven in 24 games in 2021, Ivacic three in 15 games in 2022.
  • Penalties: Clark faced six and conceded six in 2021, Ivacic has faced two and saved one in 2022.

It is also worth noting that defending and keeping clean sheets is a collective effort that the entire defense is responsible for, and lineup stability plays a massive role in the confidence a backline plays with. In 2022, Ivacic has had nine different starting defenses in front of him in the 14 games he has started thus far, and has had to play down a man in four of those 14 games.

Aside from Clark and Valeri the only other first-team departures in the offseason were Renzo Zambrano and Andy Polo, who both combined to play just 773 minutes over the entire season. But despite relatively few subtractions the team looks to be in need of some serious refreshment, and simply put, the signings over the last few transfer windows haven’t made enough of an impact.

Since December 2020 the Timbers’ first team arrivals are as follows: Felipe Mora (permanently signed after one season on loan), Claudio Bravo, Josecarlos Van Rankin (on loan), Ismaila Jome (didn’t make a single appearance after rupturing his achilles), Santiago Moreno, George Fochive, David Ayala, David Bingham, Tega Ikoba, Justin Rasmussen, Diego Gutierrez, Justin vom Steeg, and Nathan Fogaça.

Out of those 13 players only Mora, Bravo, Van Rankin, Moreno, and Fochive have made more than 10 appearances for the club, and I’d go as far as to say that only Mora and Bravo have performed consistently enough to start for the Timbers.

So outside of those five, Portland’s transfers are:

  • Two backup left-backs: SuperDraft pick in Rasmussen and a veteran in Jome who unfortunately didn’t get to play a single minute for the first team.
  • A young backup defensive midfielder: A 19 year old kid in Ayala who has looked like exactly that— a 19 year old kid.
  • Two backup goalkeepers: Bingham and vom Steeg.
  • Three young backup forwards: Ikoba, Nathan, and Gutierrez, all of whom were intended to play major minutes for T2, but have been thrust into the first team out of necessity due to various injuries up top.

Essentially, the above has been the succession plan for departed players Ebobisse, Valeri, Clark, Jorge Villafana, Marco Farfan, Julio Cascante, Polo and Zambrano. And that succession plan is not working at all.

Having said that, the secondary transfer window for MLS clubs opens on July 7 and runs through August 4 this year, and the Timbers probably have to make some signings to turn things around.

Van Rankin’s initial loan expires this summer, but the Timbers have an option to extend the loan through the rest of the season, and a further option to make his signing permanent should they choose to do so. For my money, it’s time to part ways with him and find a long-term solution to a right-back position that has been a huge problem for the last few years.

I also think the Timbers need an out-and-out #10 that can regularly create goals and assists from the middle of the park. Blanco and Yimmi Chara have taken turns playing behind the lone-striker this season and I think both are outstanding options to have at your disposal. But if we’re being brutally honest, the Timbers haven’t had a consistent chance-creator in the CAM spot since Valeri’s eight goal, seven assist season in 2020.

That’s partially down to the fluid attacking system Savarese employs, which sees the attacking players swap positions frequently throughout games. But again, the Timbers have been at their best over the years when Valeri was pulling the strings through the middle.

I’ve used about 1,400 words to describe what hasn’t gone well for the Timbers so far in 2022, and with good reason. But there is a silver lining: There are still 19 more games to play this year.

We’re no strangers to slow starts that turn into big-time finishes in the Rose City, and results can always turn around no matter how poorly they begin.

Felipe Mora is back in full training and looks poised to return to action in the near future, which will be a massive boost for a Timbers attack that hasn’t yet gotten going. Eryk Williamson’s hamstring injury sustained against the Philadelphia Union doesn’t seem to be as serious as first thought, and Savarese also expects him to return following the international break. Get those two, Bravo and Niezgoda healthy, and mix in a couple first-team signings in the summer, and I think results will start to change.

It has been a very rough time for PTFC fans recently, and only time will tell whether or not the Timbers right the ship. But I’ve seen it happen before and I know it can happen again. And throughout it all one thing is for certain: I’m Rose City ‘Til I Die.