Read all of our 2023 season guidelines for every MLS team eliminated from the postseason here.
Just like last year, this season ended with the Portland Timbers having a chance to make the playoffs on a decisive day, but lost and entered the offseason under a cloud of doubt.
It’s been a roller coaster of a season, with interim Miles Joseph leading the club on a strong run after long-time head coach Gio Savarese was fired in the summer, ultimately remaining undefeated.
The short version: With a head coaching search and plenty of roster flexibility, Portland is one of the most exciting MLS teams to watch this season.
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Head Coach: Miles Joseph (interim, through 2023) Head Football Officer: Ned Grabavoy (through 2022)
Club record signing Evander has had a strong debut season. He got off to a slow start but picked up as the season went on and finished in the 84th percentile or better, 10th out of 10 in MLS for free kicks, shots and shot creation. Compared to center fielders (and he rarely plays deep), those numbers are up to the 95th percentile or better.
Evander is a building block, and a big one. Eric Williamson is one when healthy, but after suffering a similar knee injury in 2021, he suffered another season-ending ACL injury this year. Argentine midfielder David Ayala is a talented midfielder on the rise. Diego Chara, 37, continues to beat father time for another year.
Colombian winger Santi Moreno finished the season on a high note with three goals and two assists in his last nine games. It was a big part of his strong form towards the end of the season. Anthony, an inspired U-22 winger who joined in the summer, is highly regarded around the club and his profile will suit Mourinho well.
Fullbacks Juan David Mosquera and Claudio Bravo have defensive flaws, but are talented, modern fullbacks and both are starting in this league (and Mosquera has a lot of potential). Center back Zach McGraw has proven to be a first class player in this league as well.
There will be a lot of changes, but the Timbers are starting from a strong core.
Despite spending money on all four starting spots and goalies in recent years, defense remains a problem. Larrys Mabiala, once the top-ranked back in this league, only started nine and completed 36. Miguel Araujo made only two starts in summer. The club hopes it is the long-term answer to plugging the backline.
Yimi Chara once again battled the injury, but when he was fit, he looked more passenger than DP. He has contributed four goals in 739 minutes. The Timbers didn’t get enough production from Chara in his four years with the club (30 assists in 102 games).
The biggest disappointment, again, was the injuries. Williamson and Ayala both missed most of the season. Sebastian Blanco has only started two games. Felipe Mora returned from injury and made eight appearances. Jaroslaw Nizgoda was ineffective in 659 minutes before another season-ending injury.
Sometimes when a club faces an annual injury crisis, an internal audit should be conducted on how to improve this situation. It could still be bad luck or injury-prone players, but it’s a strange season for Portland to have two season-ending injuries to starters.
What can change?
Portland doesn’t need to be innovative to unlock more flexibility. Jaroslaw Nizgoda and Sebastian Blanco are out of contract, while Diron Asprilla, Larris Mabiala, Frank Boley and Brian Acosta have a choice of clubs.
That means one DP (Nizgoda), one top-TAM salary (Blanco) and the team’s sixth-highest salary (Acosta) could all come off the books. It’s a ton of flexibility. Yimi Chara’s contract has a year left, but he may be fired, according to the team’s plan. If that’s the case, it’s safe to assume there are two DP slots open (since Nizgoda isn’t coming back).
I expect a big offseason for Portland to take the opportunity to reorder the roster around Evander, Moreno and others. DP is the highest target going forward. A new starting goalkeeper as well.
Sources with knowledge of the talks claim centre-back Dario Zuparic has requested a trade. Goalkeeper Aljaz Ivacic has already requested a trade and is suspended for the final three games of the season. There could be more exits in a summer of change for the Timbers.
They are nearing the end of their head coaching search and will have a new head coach for the first time since 2018, when Savarese took over (and led the team to an MLS Cup appearance).
At Providence Park, Portland has one of the strongest home crowds in the league. They are one of the biggest spenders in the league, currently seventh in DP spending (transfer fees + wages), which is a good investment indicator.
But the academy has not yet offered much to the first team.
Name the head coach
The Timbers will appoint a head coach in the next few weeks, according to sources familiar with the club’s plans. The Athletic previously reported on the process, which included candidates including Phil Neville, Robin Fraser, Dom Torter, interim Myles Joseph, a Liga MX-based manager and others.
Portland had continuity and success over the past decade under Caleb Porter and then Savarese. Hopefully this is another long-term hire.
DP sign ahead
A pressing issue on the pitch this season has been the revolving door at centre-forward. No player has scored in double figures this season.
Mora may return looking strong after returning from injury, but the club are still in the market for a DP striker. With so many roster assets open and just a $10 million payout for Evander, expectations are high.
Continue to improve the defense
Is Araujo the answer at center back? He was thrown into his first start in a 5-0 loss to Houston in which Savarese lost his job and was completely unsettled. Was it him or the situation? The Peru international has a strong profile and will get full preparation to prepare.
While both Bravo and Mesjira are talented and like to move forward, the next head coach needs to find a better balance when it comes to not getting torn up in transition.
(Top photos: Getty Images)