Coming so close to glory and falling just short is perhaps the most potent agony that can happen in sports. Against some sizeable odds, The Timbers made it all the way to the MLS Cup only to lose 2-0 to the scintillating Atlanta United who completed a remarkable first year as an MLS franchise—it’s only right that we give them an ovation on their phenomenal season. So even if the Timbers didn’t bring home any silverware in the 2018 season, let’s take a look at a few reasons why 2018 should leave Portland with plenty of optimism.
There was a new king on the throne.
After the sudden and jolting departure of Caleb Porter at the end of the 2017 season, the organization was left to search the available replacements and eventually appointed Venezuelan, Giovanni Savarese. After a glittering career of his own that saw him earn 30 caps for the Venezuela national team, Savarese spent four season at the helm of the New York Cosmos of the now-defunct NASL before being given the reigns of the Timbers. His preferred playing style wasn’t exactly clear after pre-season but there were glimpses of real promise. The season itself started poorly—which leads us to our next silver lining…
It looked like it was going to be a looooong season.
The Timbers started 2018 with five away games from which they picked up just two points and understandably brows were starting to sweat. But when the Timbers finally started their home stretch at Providence Park, the tides turned in a big way. The Timbers went on an unbelievable run, going 15 league games unbeaten and climbing the table in the process from dead last to the middle of the pack. On a secondary note—the unbeaten run of 15 games should be a point of pride (the all-time record is 19 held by both Dallas and Columbus).
The front office and ownership do in fact know what they’re doing.
It’s tough to determine if a club is run effectively until its’ back is up against a wall and big decisions have to be made. With the departure of Caleb Porter, The Timbers were forced to find a manager who could pick up where he left off and instead of hiring an out-of-contract manager with MLS experience; they scoured all candidates and recruited Savarese who hadn’t coached at the highest American level yet. The same was true for Porter when he arrived—he had only managed at the college level. It takes a certain level of courage to hand the reigns of an MLS team to a coach who hasn’t proven anything at the highest level but it seems that Timbers Technical Director Gavin Wilkinson has now done just that in back to back hires.
The stars are still shining.
The mid-season departure of Fanendo Adi to FC Cincinnati was a cause for worry but Swede Samuel Armenteros did a nice job of filling the void by contributing eight goals. Diego Valeri had a near-impossible task of replicating his 21-goal season of 2017 but he chipped in with 10 goals and 12 assists while Sebastián Blanco improved on his eight goal and eight assist 2017 season with 10 goals and 11 assists in 2018. Diego Chara continued to cement his place as a club legend and midfield engine in front of a sturdy defensive unit. Jeremy Ebobisse was given a chance and his performances were far more mature than what is usually expected of a 21-year-old. He was rewarded with a first call-up to the US National Team just this week. It would be criminal to not mention Zarek Valentin and his consistent performances at right-back.
The future is bright.
Irrelevant of the success of the 2018 season things are going in the right direction in Portland. The support of the Timber’s Army was typically phenomenal and the playoff tifo featuring Kenny Powers proclaiming, “We’re Back. You’re Welcome.” will have to go down as one of the greatest tifos in MLS history. The expansion of Providence Park is tangible evidence that the club is only moving forward. Thank you Portland and we hope to see you in one of the 25,000 seats for the start of the 2019 season!