In 2011 the Portland Timbers joined Major League Soccer (MLS). Their inaugural season was very exciting, with the team in the playoff chase up to the very end. The final playoff qualifier was the 10th place New York Red Bulls, finishing with 46 points. With 42 points and in 12th place, the Timbers were only 4 points behind (one win and one tie).
For 2012 there will be another first-year expansion team, the Montreal Impact. Each existing MLS team can place 11 of their players on their “protected list”, with the remainder available for Montreal to potentially select. The Portland Timbers have a roster with 28 players. The challenge is this: Who should the Timbers protect?
I’m a believer that a strong defense is key to winning in soccer, which starts with a good Goalkeeper. Troy Perkins was better than just “good” this season. In fact, his 9 shoutouts ranked him tied for the 4th highest in the league. I don’t think very many people would be surprised with Perkins as my first pick to protect. 21-year-old Jake Gleeson, another Goalkeeper, as my second pick may cause more discussion. At 30 years of age I think Perkins may only have another year or two as a starter. Gleeson will then be ready to take over for many years into the future.
Next I want Defenders, four of them. Eric Brunner and Mamadou “Futty” Danso performed well in the middle this season. An added bonus is that, at 6’4″ and 6’3″ respectively, they both are excellent targets for scoring “header” goals in our set pieces (the two combined for 6 goals in 2011). On the outside I like defenders who can push the ball forward, both with footspeed and accurate passes; and if the opportunity is available put their shots on goal. Mike Chabala (mid-season trade from Houston) and Rodney Wallace impressed me most. It’s not easy picking who to protect. I would have liked David Horst and Lovel Palmer too, but you only get 11 total.
Obviously you have to score goals to win and Forwards are expect to do just that, so let’s go there next. Kenny Cooper, with experience in both Europe and MLS play, was signed to Portland’s second highest salary (Troy Perkins is #1); and he led the team with 8 goals scored in 2011. However, I’m protecting two other guys that I like. Jorge Perlaza scored 6 goals this year, has the speed to outrun most opponents, and I believe he will only get better with more experience in Portland. My other pick is Bright Dike, who was injured and didn’t play with the team until late in the season. When Dike did play he brought an energy level and power that is hard to ignore. At 6’1″ and 220 pounds, running at full speed, I don’t think very many defenders will want to get in his way. I’m willing to gamble that the Montreal Impact will not select a player with Cooper’s salary requirements, in which case we would have all three players back for the 2012 season.
We still have the Midfielders to protect and again I would like four at this position. In the middle I feel pretty safe in selecting 2011 Team Captain Jack Jewsbury and Diego Chara. On the outside I like the youngster, 21-year old Kalif Alhassan. I know some people feel Kalif shoots too often and too wildly (58 shots with 0 goals), but he has good ball handling skills and finished second on the team with 6 assists. In 2012 Kalif will be another year older, more mature, and the Timbers’ coaches will have had another year to work with him. I like James Marcelin and Sal Zizzo too, but again, you only get to protect 11.
That’s 11 protected players, forming a nucleus for the upcoming MLS season. Let’s recap:
Goalkeepers (2): Troy Perkins and Jake Gleeson
Defenders (4): Eric Brunner, “Futty” Danso, Mike Chabala, and Rodney Wallace
Forwards (2): Jorge Perlaza and Bright Dike
Midfielders (4): Jack Jewsbury, Diego Chara, Kalif Alhassan, and ???
Uh oh, I’ve used up my 11 picks and only have 3 Midfielders. This could be a problem.
Actually it’s okay, because the Portland Timbers first pick in the 2011 SuperDraft, 21-year-old phenom Darlington Nagbe, is automatically protected as a “Generation Adidas” player. Darlington has amazing ball handling (footling?) skills and is fun to watch. Plus, he can be a dangerous Forward as well.
There you have it. One fan’s opinion of who the Portland Timbers should protect. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this and, like me, are looking forward to the 2012 Timbers season.
Sources: portlandtimbers.com and mlssoccer.com