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How Felipe Mora’s return from injury impacts the Timbers’ attack

After an injury-decimated first half of the year, can the return of Felipe Mora and co. jump-start the Timbers season?

MLS: MLS Cup-New York City FC vs Portland Timbers Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

After a much-needed three-week break from MLS play, the Portland Timbers (3-6-6) are set to welcome their top striker Felipe Mora back to the pitch for the first time since MLS Cup on Dec. 11, 2021, after the Chilean forward spent the first 15 games of the season recovering from a lingering knee injury.

Actually, Giovanni Savarese will have the entirety of his roster (apart from Diego Gutierrez, who had foot surgery earlier this season) available for selection for the first time this season when the Timbers travel down to Carson, California to take on the LA Galaxy (you can find Sam’s preview of the game here).

Yes, you read that correctly: the Timbers are healthy again.

Claudio Bravo, Eryk Williamson, Jaroslaw Niezgoda, are the other big names returning for the Timbers, as are Blake Bodily and George Fochive. And that clean bill of health has me excited for what this team can accomplish down the home-stretch of a season that hasn’t gone according to plan. But the player whose return most excites me is Felipe Mora.

It’s fair to say the Timbers’ attack hasn’t lived up to expectations this year. Through their opening 15 games the Timbers have scored just 21 goals, seven of which coming in the blowout win against Sporting Kansas City on May 14. Nathan’s debut brace that game represents the last time a Timbers forward scored a goal this season: Niezgoda (who has been injured) hasn’t scored since May 7, and Yimmi Chara and Dairon Asprilla haven’t scored since April 9(!!!).

But I’ve got a feeling Mora’s talismanic play at #9 will be the catalyst that unlocks the Timbers’ attack moving forward. Think back to last season, and how Blanco’s return buoyed the Timbers’ charge to MLS Cup.

Mora’s 16 goal-involvements in 2021 led all Timbers, scoring a team-high 11 goals in 29 games and assisting an additional five. He also scored twice in the playoffs, including the iconic game-tying goal in the final seconds of MLS Cup that forced extra time.

Mora’s goals and assists speak for themselves, but his all-around style of play as a striker is what makes him such an asset to the team. Here are some additional stats compared to those of Niezgoda, who has played the bulk of the minutes at striker for the Timbers this season:

  • Successful pass percentage: Mora 81.1 percent in 2021, Niezgoda 71.9 percent in 2022.
  • Total scoring attempts: Mora 65 (2.24 per game), 26 on-target in 2021, Niezgoda 13 (1.18 per game), 5 on target in 2022.
  • Total attacking assists: Mora 26 (0.89 per game) in 2021, Niezgoda 8 (0.72 per game) in 2022.
  • Fouls suffered: Mora 41 in 2021, Niezgoda 4 in 2022.
  • Accurate shooting percentage: Mora 40 percent in 2021, Niezgoda 38.5 percent in 2022.
  • Accurate forward zone passes: Mora 304 (10.5 per game) in 2021, Niezgoda (7.7 per game) in 2022.
  • Assists per 90 minutes: Mora 0.22 in 2021, Niezgoda 0 in 2022.
  • Goals per 90 minutes: Mora 0.49 in 2021, Niezgoda 0.32 in 2022.

Essentially, Felipe Mora outperforms Niezgoda in just about every attacking and passing statistic measurable, which in my opinion, has been one of the major reasons the Timbers frontline hasn’t produced enough this year. Felipe Mora is much more involved in buildup play, drawing free-kicks, and bringing teammates into the attack via his hold-up play and coming deep to receive the ball. Niezgoda on the other hand, is at his most effective finishing off moves as a poacher in the box.

The problem that Timbers, and Niezgoda in particular, have run into in 2022 is an overall lack of service that has stemmed from largely disjointed buildup play. Thankfully this is exactly where Mora shines, which can only be a good thing for the Timbers as they enter the latter-half of the season.

To pump the breaks a little, I want to make it clear that I don’t think fixing the attack is as simple as inserting Mora back into the starting XI and saying ‘job done.’ We don’t know where Mora is at in terms of fitness, and it’s more than likely that he isn’t ready to start games at this point in his recovery.

Having said that, I still think he’ll have a major impact on how the Timbers play in the remaining 19 games this season. If Mora can stay healthy and find the form he displayed last season, we can project his 2021 stats to those remaining fixtures with some basic math (dividing 19 games by the 29 Mora played in 2021, and multiplying that number by his goal and assist tallies in 2021) and predict him to create about seven goals and three assists.

If he gets anywhere around those numbers it would be a massive boost for the Timbers, and I think Mora is more than capable of achieving them. Of course time will tell, but I’m more than excited about Mora’s return to action.