Commentary

MLS champs take care of their own

By Ridge Mahoney
(@ridgemax)

The defending MLS Cup champion Portland Timbers are following a rather simple formula so far in 2016:

New deals and new players.

In the aftermath of a 2-1 loss in San Jose on Sunday, the Timbers announced they had re-signed forward Fanendo Adi –-- whose 16 goals led the team in 2015 -- using Targeted Allocation Money (TAM), and traded allocation money and an international roster slot to Vancouver for speedy and streaky attacker Darren Mattocks, who joins the ranks of former Akron players re-uniting with head coach Caleb Porter.

“Darren is a versatile attacking player that brings additional MLS and international experience to the club, and we are excited to welcome him to the team,” said Timbers general manager Gavin Wilkinson in a team statement announcing the deal.

The Timbers are taking care of their own while also adding additional elements. Adi’s new deal, which incorporates the use of Target Allocation Money (TAM) to lower his salary-budget charge under the Designated-Player threshold of $457,500, comes in the wake of Portland using the same method to renew the contracts of Diego Chara and Darlington Nagbe.

Other teams have used TAM to bring in new players rather than upgrade current players. Last year, the Timbers did just that to buy down Adi’s contract so it could facilitate a DP deal for Argentine winger Lucas Melano, whose acquisition cost a reported $5 million. By also bumping up the salaries of three players who were essential to its remarkable run in 2015, Portland is working both sides of the ledger.

“It’s refreshing, to be honest with you,” says defender Nat Borchers, who came to Portland in a trade from Real Salt Lake after the 2014 season. “You can use that money in any fashion you want, you can use salary-cap money, in any fashion you want, but to spend it on guys who have got the job done for your club and put the work in and who are great teammates, it’s refreshing to see that.”

With new deals negotiated, the Timbers three DPs are defender Liam Ridgewell, playmaker Diego Valeri, and Melano. On the TAM list are Adi, Chara, and Nagbe.

Mattocks joins Nagbe, defender Zarek Valentin and midfielder Ben Zemanski in the ranks of former Zips and will add some speed to the flanks, where Melano (right) and Dairon Asprilla (left) started against the Quakes.

Standing water in many parts of the Avaya Stadium field caused players to slip and passes to skip or stop abruptly, yet Melano got free several times. One impressive effort produced a shot that rang off the crossbar as Portland controlled the play for significant stretches but failed to score until the 89th minute of a 2-1 defeat.

“Today wasn’t the ideal day for great football,” said Porter after the match. “It was difficult but we put together some decent moments. [Melano] brings pace and is settling in. He’s still got to find goals, that’s important, but he was active and likely and gave them some problems.”

Melano scored just one goal in 13 regular-season appearances after arriving in late July from Lanus though he also registered three assists, and in the playoffs slalomed through several FCD players to deposit the final goal of a 5-3 aggregate victory.

Jack McInerney, another offseason addition, scored the Timbers’ goal after Asprilla, Melano and Adi had all been thwarted by one manner or another. Porter needs scoring options in addition to Adi; he led Portland last year with 16 goals and nobody else notched more than five.

Portland outshot the Quakes, 16-8, and after Melano’s blast off the bar hit the woodwork again when Chara rang the post from a tight angle. A point-blank chance for Adi was thwarted by a desperation block from Clarence Goodson, who raced back more than 40 yards to snuff out the opportunity.

"It's a bit frustrating for us," said Adi in a postgame interview. "We have to be more focused."

Porter said it was the best game for the Timbers, who had beaten Columbus, 2-1, on opening day.

"I don’t think either team looked great,” said Porter. “It was a tough game. The field was probably one of the worst I’ve been on since I’ve been in MLS. That plays into the game but we still had better chances than they did. But that doesn’t matter. It’s soccer and you have to finish your chances and if you don’t, you don’t deserve to win.”

By some metrics, the Quakes were equal to the Timbers last year. Both teams scored 41 goals, conceded 39, and posted 8-3-6 records at home. Portland finished third with 53 points and the Quakes were six points behind in seventh. After an agonizing penalty-kick defeat of Sporting Kansas City in the Knockout Round, Portland rolled all the way to its first MLS Cup title.

In defending that crown this year, Borchers is looking for results that jibe with performances. In San Jose, the Timbers, which two days before the game lost Ridgewell to a hamstring injury that will sideline him for at least a month, fell to a typically poached goal by Chris Wondolowski and a fantastic long-distance strike from Quincy Amarikwa.

Losing to such an incredible goal doesn’t improve the taste of defeat.

“You can’t be pleased at the result,” said Borchers, “but if you look at the game overall, we created some pretty good chances and probably should have scored a couple of goals. But we didn’t defend as well as we needed to. On the first goal, I have to be at the near post to cut out the cross. Those kinds of things we can do better in situations like that.

“We’re just overall hoping the results will be better. We played well most of last year but at times weren’t getting results. It all came to fruition at the end of the season, which is what you want, and I think this year the hope is that the results will be more consistent. We got a lot more confidence by winning the cup.”

3 comments about "MLS champs take care of their own".
  1. Vince Leone, March 16, 2016 at 7:21 p.m.

    The team that plays on grass dealt with the conditions better--what a shock. Portland (and every other MLS team) should play on grass, for the health of the players and other reasons.

  2. Allan Lindh, March 17, 2016 at 2:45 a.m.

    Caleb Porter is a good coach, so is Dom Kinnear. And both teams presented themselves well. Good match on water-logged field. Did SJ really spend all that money on a new stadium and not bother with good drainage???

  3. beautiful game, March 17, 2016 at 11:58 p.m.

    Whenever I hear "he is a versatile player", it means absolutely nothing. If I hear 'this player makes things happen and is consistent" that means something.

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