We’re now two matches in to a six-match preseason, and (possibly because those two friendlies were played off-camera) it almost seems like we have more questions (and fewer answers) about the 2019 Timbers now than we did a week ago. Let’s take a look at some of them, bit by bit.
What’s up with that DP attacker?
A (little over a) week ago, we thought we had two potential targets for the Timbers’ open DP slot: Ezequiel Ponce, and Julian Quinones. Now, of course, we know neither of those names will be wearing green and gold any time soon. In fact, according to the latest reporting from Sam Stejskal and the intrepid Jamie Goldberg, not only is the target’s name not currently public, but they are “higher-profile” than either Ponce or Quinones.
As @Jamiebgoldberg alluded to Monday, hearing that Portland are still pursuing a DP striker. Would be a significant investment. No name yet, but I'm told the target is higher-profile than Julian Quinones or Ezequiel Ponce, both of whom were linked to club this winter.— Sam Stejskal (@samstejskal) February 6, 2019
It’s tough to predict a timeline on this one, as Gavin Wilkinson has repeatedly said this isn’t something they want to rush, and it could be as long as until the summer window. Speaking of strikers, though...
What’s up with Lucas Melano?
Strikers are streaky. We all know that. But in his last 75 minutes, Lucas Melano has scored three goals, two of them reportedly coming from dribbling runs through multiple defenders. Obviously we shouldn’t draw too many conclusions from three goals scored against presumably second-string Costa Rican lineups, but strikers also feed on confidence, and this can only help with that. If, somehow, Melano can build on these early performances and continues this kind of production against full-strength teams, there’s a possibility this could be a breakout year for the Timbers’ five-million dollar man.
Of course, that leads us to...
How will the Timbers find minutes for everyone?
In soccer, as in life, some problems are better to have than others. When half of your starters are out injured before an important playoff match, that’s a bad problem, and thankfully, not one the Timbers have faced for a year and a half or so. Having so many promising young attackers that it will be a challenge to find enough first team minutes for all of them? That’s a good problem to have.
And yet, problems are still problems, and this will be one of the more interesting ones to watch Gio Savarese and his staff solve this year. Young, developing players like Eryk Williamson, Jeremy Ebobisse, Marvin Loria, Foster Langsdorf, Tomas Conechny, Cristhian Paredes, Renzo Zambrano, Marco Farfan, Bill Tuiloma, and to a lesser extent Julio Cascante, Lucas Melano, and Andy Polo, are all going to need first team minutes to continue their development. Ebobisse and Andy Polo are already established starters as of last season, but especially in Ebobisse’s case, will be facing fierce competition for the starting role this year.
The depth chart at the striker position will contain Ebobisse, a new DP, a potentially resurgent Lucas Melano, and Foster Langsdorf, who at this point seems almost destined to spend another year with T2. Meanwhile, the attacking midfield needs to keep Sebastian Blanco and Diego Valeri on the field as much as possible while still finding enough time for Williamson, Loria, Conechny, Polo, the new DP when someone else is playing striker, and Dairon Asprilla.
Savarese frequently makes a point to stress how he believes there should be competition at every role, and has certainly constructed a roster to facilitate that. The next two weeks may give us a hint at how some of those competitions will play out over the upcoming season. Undoubtedly, some of the names mentioned above will spend the majority of their time with T2, but it seems that for the Timbers youth development to be considered successful, at least one of those players must make serious strides with the first team this year.
What about right back?
This winter’s other long(ish) awaited arrival is a right back meant to fill the Alvas Powell-shaped hole in that position’s depth chart. Gavin Wilkinson has said they’re looking for a player who can get forward and contribute to the attack, AKA, someone who has at least relatively similar strengths to Powell.
The latest reporting on that comes again from Jamie Goldberg:
It’s been quiet on the transfer rumor front, but I am hearing from a source that the Timbers right back is nearly finalized. However, it will be a while before any announcement can be made (1/2) #RCTID #MLS— Jamie Goldberg (@Jamiebgoldberg) February 4, 2019
With only three weeks left before the start of the regular season, it goes without saying that the sooner the Timbers can get this player into training, the better.
Next week, the Timbers will be face the Seattle Sounders and the New York Red Bulls in Phoenix in matches that will likely be streamed, and thus give us our first look at the 2019 Timbers. Obviously it’s still mid-preseason, so we’re unlikely to see a true first-choice eleven, but by this point in camp, things will be starting to take shape on the field and there will be at least hints of what we can expect to see on March 2nd in Colorado.