Timbers' injuries likely to have longer impact
As foreshadowing goes, Jan. 30 provided a painful projection of a major theme of the 2017 Portland Timbers season.
During a training camp practice at Tucson, Arizona, Gbenga Arokoyo — a player projected to start alongside Liam Ridgewell in the middle of Portland's defense — suffered a season-ending Achilles tendon rupture.
Fast forward to Nov. 4. In the final moments of what turned out to be the 2017 Timbers' final training session, Roy Miller — whose acquisition proved critical to filling the gap left by various injuries — crumpled to the turf with a ruptured Achilles tendon.
Those two injuries were devastating for the men who suffered them, and were cruel bookends for a season that at several points was brimming with real MLS championship promise.
After those title aspirations came crashing down on Sunday with an unexpected 2-1 home loss to a determined (if hardly dynamic) Houston Dynamo club, the wound was too fresh for any real perspective. But coach Caleb Porter tried.
"(Injuries) definitely derailed us. But moving forward we don't need to make a lot of changes. I think we can still get better in a few spots. We won't hesitate to continue to add pieces. No doubt we will add some pieces to get even better," Porter said moments after Sunday's playoff exit. "We've rebuilt our depth. We've rebuilt our core. We've added some quality in some spots, and moving forward we are going to come back better than ever."
The injuries that derailed the 2017 season will impact this offseason, too.
From replenishing the depth at center back to determining the long-term physical reliability of captain Ridgewell and striker Fanendo Adi, Porter, President of Soccer Gavin Wilkinson and owner Merritt Paulson will have plenty to chew on in the coming weeks.
Even with Adi missing the final 12 games (including playoffs), Portland survived thanks to a magical season from Diego Valeri. Valeri scored 21 of Portland's 60 regular-season goals, and the Timbers were the top scoring team in the Western Conference despite getting only 15 goals from forwards (not counting the four penalty kicks earned by Darren Mattocks). That is not a formula for sustained success.
For his part, Valeri deserves to be rewarded with the MLS MVP award for leading the Timbers to the top of the West. With 11 assists, Valeri became the second player in the 22 MLS seasons to score 20 goals and add at least 10 assists.
Told of Porter's bullish comments about the 2018 Timbers, Valeri was in no mood to take a longer view in the aftermath of elimination.
"I'm just thinking about this game and the way they won it with almost nothing. ... We have to do better next year," Valeri said. "It's really hard to swallow. I just want to rest. The feeling is that you want a game next week, to have revenge. But we have to wait and rest and see what we can improve."