A trip to the MLS Cup final made Gio Savarese’s debut season at the club a successful one that they will aim to build off of in 2019
Patience paid off for the 2018 Portland Timbers.
Giovanni Savarese had big shoes to fill when he stepped into the head coaching role, replacing Caleb Porter, who had led the Timbers to the MLS Cup title in 2015. And things started somewhat slow, as they began the year winless in five games.
But things picked up after that slow start as Savarese guided the Timbers on a 15-game unbeaten run, winning 10 of those contests. And after another four-game dip in form, the Timbers were solid the rest of the way and made the playoffs by six points.
The playoffs went nearly perfectly, beating FC Dallas in the knockout round, bouncing Cascadia rivals the Seattle Sounders in the conference semi-final and then taking out Sporting KC to make MLS Cup.
Though a 2-0 defeat to Atlanta United meant Savarese couldn’t end his debut season with the ultimate prize, it still was a season to remember for the Timbers – one they’ll look to build upon in 2019.
Their start won’t be easy – the Timbers don’t play a home match until June 1 – so don’t be shocked if there are struggles in the first half. But if they can get through that brutal start in OK shape, Savarese’s men will be well equipped to finish strong with a home-loaded second half of the season.
2018 finish: Fifth in the Western Conference (15-10-9), Lost in MLS Cup final
A five-game winless start and four straight losses in August flanked a 15-match unbeaten run.
Portland again found their strong form in the playoffs, knocking out both top seeds in the Western Conference before falling to Atlanta on the road in the MLS Cup final.
Liam Ridgewell spent four and half seasons with the Timbers, but he and the club mutually agreed to part ways in January. The 34-year-old center back is the one player who started the MLS Cup final who does not return for 2019.
Fullback Alvas Powell is one of the other bigger names to depart, as the 24-year-old Jamaica international was dealt to expansion side FC Cincinnati. He started 24 games for the Timbers last season.
Lawrence Olum, who made 18 starts last season, had his option declined, as did former No.1 goalkeeper Jake Gleeson.
Veteran Roy Miller and former Manchester United and Leicester City midfielder Jack Bamby were not brought back, though neither featured in a game last season for the Timbers. Victor Arboleda, who played one game last season, also had his option declined.
With arguably the two biggest subtractions on the defence, it should be no surprise that the Timbers biggest additions were also along the back line.
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The club signed right back Jorge Moreira from River Plate on loan with an option to buy as the 29-year-old looks to get his career back on track after serious injury.
The Timbers also picked up former New England Revolution captain Claude Dielna in a trade after the center back fell out of favor under Revs boss Brad Friedel.
Goalkeeper Aljaz Ivacic has been brought in from Olimpija Ljubljana though he may end up on loan with Timbers 2 with Jeff Attinella and Steve Clark already on the roster.
Marvin Loria and Renzo Zambrano have been signed from the USL.
Portland have been linked with a Designated Player at striker, but no deal has been struck yet.
Goalkeepers: Jeff Attinella, Steve Clark, Aljaz Ivacic, Kendall McIntosh
Defenders: Julio Cascante, Claude Dielna, Marco Farfan, Lennart Hein, Modou Jadama, Larrys Mabiala, Jorge Moreira, Bill Tuiloma, Zarek Valentin, Jorge Villafaña
Midfielders: Dairon Asprilla, Sebastián Blanco, Diego Chara, Tomás Conechny, Andrés Flores, David Guzmán, Marvin Loría, Cristhian Paredes, Andy Polo, Diego Valeri, Eryk Williamson, Renzo Zambrano
Forwards: Jeremy Ebobisse, Foster Langsdorf, Lucas Melano, Ryan Sierakowski
Attinella will be the No.1, and he’ll have an altered backline to command. While Jorge Villafana will start at left back, and while Zarek Valentin may keep at right back initially, the club brought Moreira in to win the job.
The centerback situation is the greatest question heading into the situation. Replacing Ridgewell will fall on Bill Tuiloma and Dielna. The winner of that competition will pair with Larry Mabiala in the heart of defense.
The midfield should be relatively stable with 2017 MVP Diego Valeri to lead the attack, Diego Chara to shield the defense with David Guzman beside him in a holding role. Andy Polo and Sebastian Blanco will round out the attacking midfield spots.
Jeremy Ebobisse came on strong at the end of the season and spent the playoffs as the starter up top. He’ll likely begin the season there as well, but the Timbers have been linked with Designated Player candidates at striker this winter – so that could change in the future.