MLS 2018: Timbers gear up for first season of 'Gio Ball'

The era of “Porterland” is over. It’s time for “Gio Ball.”

In the same year the Rose City says farewell to its quirky TV counterpart “Portlandia,” it is adjusting to its first coaching change since Caleb Porter took over prior to the 2013 campaign. In his five seasons, Porter won two Western Conference titles (2013, 2017) as well as the team’s first MLS Cup crown (2015), which gives successor Giovanni Savarese a tall wall to scale.

“We're all learning from him right now,” forward Fanendo Adi told the Oregonianafter a few days of preseason training. “We're trying to figure it out. It's not going to be automatic and we have to be patient with ourselves. It's a process, but that's why we have preseason.”

The hiring of Savarese, 46, quickly quelled much fan angst over Porter’s abrupt departure. A classy and talented forward as a player -- he scored 51 goals in four seasons for the MetroStars and Revolution, and netted 10 in 30 appearances for Venezuela -- groomed him for a successful venture into coaching. In five NASL seasons with the New York Cosmos, he won league titles in 2013, 2015, and 2016, and lost in the 2017 championship game last November.

His Cosmos teams played a fluid, attractive style borne of ownership largesse as well as his philosophies. Timbers majority owner Merritt Paulson is not the spending juggernaut that are a few of his counterparts, yet he’s no cheapskate, either. As a market, Portland may be small but as a soccer team the Timbers are not. It has sold out every home game since joining MLS in 2011.

Last year, the MLS salary list included three Portland players in seven figures (guaranteed compensation): playmaker Diego Valeri ($2.607 million), midfielder Sebastian Blanco ($1.075 million), and forward Lucas Melano ($1.01 million). Melano has gone out on loan. Portland has brought in a striker on loan, Samuel Armentaros from Italian club Benevento, and by racking up five goals in preseason he has put some pressure on Adi to deliver more consistently.

Midfielder Darlington Nagbe departed in a trade to Atlanta and forward Darren Mattocks is now with D.C. United. The midfield mix is more South American with Andy Polo (Peru) and Christian Paredes (Paraguay) and younger, too: their ages add up to 42. Costa Rican defender Julio Cascante, 24, brings some youth and experience to complement veteran Liam Ridgewell, who turns 34 in July.

Yet the new head coach is under the brightest spotlight.

"In this ultra-competitive, cut-throat world of pro soccer, it's pretty rare when you talk to former players, owners, even custodians in the building where they worked, I don't care who you talk to, and you get nothing but positives about someone,” Paulson said. “That's the case with this guy. It really is. He's a special individual. He has a quiet confidence and charisma that's rare, not just in soccer, but in this world.”

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