With the start of the 2018 MLS season closing in, the Portland Timbers feel refreshed. There's a new coach in Giovani Savarese, a bucketload of new, mainly young players to complement the core that finished first in the Western Conference last year, and a competition for starting jobs across the lineup.
Along with those position battles, there's plenty for Savarese to figure out in the coming weeks — including how he wants his team to play, and in what formation. With a five-game road trip on deck to start the season, he'll be building under pressure. It should be a fun ride.
Here are the expectations, hopes, and fears for each of the 2018 Portland Timbers.
#1 — JEFF ATTINELLA
The Expectation: I think Attinella was the slight — maybe not so slight, depending on who you ask — favorite to win the goalkeeping job over Jake Gleeson when everyone reported in January. Attinella is a steady goalkeeper, fundamentally sound, and though you don't expect spectacular saves from him, he certainly came up with a couple of those in big moments in 2017.
The Hope: Attinella has had a good reputation around the league for years, and we saw why late last year. The Timbers' defense took a huge step forward when he got on the field, and Porter never considered going back to Gleeson. If Attinella is that goalkeeper this year, Portland will be set at the position.
The Fear: Attinella's ceiling is much lower than Gleeson's, and while he was good when he stepped into the lineup, he wasn't quite good enough to shut down the competition before it could start in camp. If he can't win the job, his chance to be an everyday MLS starter is probably gone.
#90 — JAKE GLEESON
The Expectation: Much of it depends on who Savarese decides to start, but the book on Gleeson is defined: great shot-stopping, poor decision-maker, poor distributor, inconsistent. If he gets the starting nod, he needs some confidence and some competent defense in front of him.
The Hope: That Gleeson wins the job, to start with, and then plays the lights out. He's capable of it, and for all the time the Timbers have invested in his development, it would on some level feel like the optimal outcome.
The Fear: If Attinella wins the job, plays well, and stays healthy, Gleeson isn't going to see the field — which, at this point in his career, would be a nightmare. Gleeson will be 28 in June, and there aren't a lot of 28-year-old backups who go on to great careers. The clock is ticking.
Kendall McIntosh, who had some big moments with T2 last year, is third choice. Thus far, his trajectory has been promising.
#5 — VYTAS
The Expectation: Vytas enters the season penciled in as the starter at left back, where he'll be looking to shake off the knocks and inconsistency that held him back in 2017. The hamstring injury he picked up on Saturday is not particularly auspicious.
The Hope: Vytas is a really useful player going forward and an excellent locker room presence, and he could benefit in a big way from Savarese's pressing look. The higher his starting position is, the better he plays.
The Fear: Vytas is about two steps away at any given moment from losing his job to Marco Farfan, and once that transition takes place, it isn't going to reverse himself. Vytas' defending, especially deep and against direct wing play, is an ongoing area of concern.
#24 — LIAM RIDGEWELL
The Expectation: That, at least for one more year, Ridgewell will be one of the first names on the team sheet and the quarterback of the defense — and, equally, that he'll miss time injured.
The Hope: Clearly, Ridgewell is nearing the end. His body is breaking down. That said, the Timbers were markedly better last year when he was in the lineup. If he can manage to play 25 games and play them sharply, it'll have been a good last ride.
The Fear: That Ridgewell is past it physically, and — more damningly — checked out mentally. Physically, Ridgewell is barely hanging on. He's a canny defender and a good competitor, but if he loses another step he's going to struggle much as Nat Borchers did in 2016. But Borchers' commitment to taking care of his body and playing through pain was unwavering. Is Ridgewell's?
#33 — LARRYS MABIALA
The Expectation: Mabiala was excellent when he arrived in Portland last summer. He's a big center back who can move, which is a fairly rare and immensely valuable combination. He's a surefire starter.
The Hope: With all of the question marks around Ridgewell, this in many ways feels like Mabiala's defense. If he plays as well as he did last year, he could be one of the team's most important players. It wouldn't hurt if he could become a real set piece threat.
The Fear: Mabiala is by all appearances a highly competent player, but the sample size is still fairly low. He's not as aggressive a defender as someone like Roy Miller or Borchers was, and he likely needs a partner who wants to attack the ball on the ground.
#2 — ALVAS POWELL
The Expectation: With a good preseason in the books, Powell has established himself as a starter. He should tackle hard, win a lot of battles defensively, and use his pace to get forward and make things happen.
The Hope: That Powell gets in shape mentally. Last season should have been a wakeup call — he was benched for months at a time, including once before a Seattle game, and played his fewest minutes since 2014 — and seemed fairly lost in the middle of the year. If he stays hungry and engaged, he'll be fine. Otherwise...
The Fear: You land here. Porter over the years would put Powell back in the team when he was down and his play didn't necessarily warrant it, such was his faith in Powell's promise. With Savarese now in charge, it might be a different story.
#16 — ZAREK VALENTIN
The Expectation: You could have gotten pretty good odds two years ago on Caleb Porter outlasting Zarek Valentin in Portland, and yet here we are: Porter is gone, and Valentin is secure as an ultra-dependable, upbeat, gamer of a right back.
The Hope: Valentin was better on average than Powell was last season, and much of it had to do with his ability to get the ball to the right players at the right moments. It sounds funny to say about a fullback with average pace, but Valentin is capable of changing games. Just ask Diego Valeri.
The Fear: The reason Valentin got so many minutes in 2017 is that Powell was checked out for most of the year. If Powell stays healthy and plays like he did in the final month, however, Valentin isn't going to see the field.
#18 — JULIO CASCANTE
The Expectation: Cascante likely isn't a starter off the bat, but he's the most promising young center back the Timbers have signed in years and is almost certainly going to factor into this season in a big way.
The Hope: Cascante had a strong preseason, and there's no reason why the Timbers would want to hold him back if he's ready to start now. If he can establish a partnership with Mabiala, specifically, the Timbers could be set at center back for the next several years.
The Fear: Cascante will be making a big step up in coming to MLS from Saprissa, and he'll be doing it without the international experience that Miller or David Guzman had when they made the jump. It's possible that there will be an adjustment period, or that he needs time to mature.
#25 — BILL TUILOMA
The Expectation: Tuiloma was signed in the middle of last season, but never saw the field. That could change this year, as he appears to be fourth in line at center back — a position where the Timbers went five deep last year.
The Hope: Tuiloma has a strong résumé and is plenty versatile. If he gets thrown in at some point and shows he can handle the league, he could make himself valuable as a backup at multiple positions and just about bid Lawrence Olum's Timbers career farewell.
The Fear: Tuiloma is reportedly on a one-year deal, so he has to make his mark relatively soon. If he's back with T2, even after a strong preseason and with the ability to move elsewhere, will he stay engaged?
#32 — MARCO FARFAN
The Expectation: After bursting onto the scene with a string of standout performances last spring, Farfan is here to stay: he's likely going to be in the team on March 4, and on a lot of days after that.
The Hope: Farfan has the kind of pace that Vytas would kill for, and depending how fast Savarese wants to play, he might be the better fit in the lineup.
The Fear: Powell didn't really find his feet in MLS until he bulked up to where he could hang physically. At 19, is Farfan there yet? He changed his diet and shed some weight in the offseason, but we'll find out where he is soon enough.
Modou Jadama revitalizes the Timbers' connection to The Gambia. He featured for Tusla Roughnecks in the USL last year, and is a prospect for the future. Chance Myers is likely about to be amnestied, and even if he sticks around, he might have a tough time eclipsing the 44 minutes he played last season.
Then there's Roy Miller, who is still under contract and with the team, but out until at least the late summer working his way back from a ruptured Achilles tendon suffered on the last practice play of 2017. Here's hoping he recovers well.
#20 — DAVID GUZMAN
The Expectation: Guzman is likely going to be a starter at the World Cup, and the Timbers need him to more or less what he did last year: shield the back four, get after it defensively, and move the ball with precision.
The Hope: That Guzman plays much more like he did in the first half of last year — when he was extremely effective defensively and inventive on the ball — than he did in the second half, when his productivity defensively fell off and he got sloppy in possession.
The Fear: Guzman really hasn't had a great six months, and he didn't have a great preseason. The Timbers have a couple of options in central midfield that they didn't have last year, and I don't think Guzman's place in the team is unassailable. He needs to lock in.
#21 — DIEGO CHARA
The Expectation: There was plenty of talk this winter about a succession plan for Diego Chara, which is fine, but here's the thing: Chara can't be replaced. We've seen that every time he's been out of the lineup in the last couple of years, but it's even more obvious than that. He's an athletic marvel, and a Timbers institution.
The Hope: That Chara shows no ill effects from the broken foot and plays at the level he was at last season. Savarese also need to get him up the field — when his point of contact was in the attacking half last year, the Timbers' offense was suffocating.
The Fear: This franchise is living in constant fear of the day Chara or Diego Valeri breaks down, and Chara's injury has everyone on heightened alert.
#10 — SEBASTIAN BLANCO
The Expectation: Blanco had a really solid first season in MLS in 2017, playing some really skillful soccer, connecting exceptionally well with his compatriot Valeri, and providing the Timbers with an incisive, hard-edged presence on the wing. More of the same is expected this year.
The Hope: That, with a year in the U.S. and MLS under his belt, Blanco can up his numbers and get to double-digit goals and assists. The Timbers are also going to need him to pick up some shuttling duties in deeper areas of midfield with Darlington Nagbe gone.
The Fear: Blanco is so technical and competitive that you don't see many fluctuations in his form game-to-game. He can be petulant, though, which proved costly a couple of times last year.
#27 — DAIRON ASPRILLA
The Expectation: Asprilla is going to be a big part of what the Timbers do this season, either as a starter or a primary attacking option off the bench. 2017 was Asprilla's best pro season, and there's a lot to build on heading into this year.
The Hope: Asprilla at full tilt is downright scary. He can strike the ball harder than just about anyone else on the team outside of Valeri, is a terror in the air, and will absolutely run himself into the ground. If he can be that player more often than not, there's no reason he shouldn't be first-choice in Nagbe's lineup spot.
The Fear: Asprilla's decision-making process can still be incredibly slow, and he doesn't have the vision or spacial feel for the game that you prefer in complimentary players. Asprilla needs minutes to improve, and if he's behind Andy Polo and doesn't get those minutes, his progress could stagnate.
#11 — ANDY POLO
The Expectation: Polo was brought in as Nagbe's most direct replacement, and he's expected to be a key contributor this year and for years to come. An emerging Peruvian national teamer, this is very much the type of the player that clubs across MLS have started to buy en masse in the last year and change.
The Hope: Polo can absolutely burn, and if he acclimates quickly to MLS, he'll give the Timbers' attack a dimension it didn't have last year. He's not going to carry the ball like Nagbe did, but if he has a good year, he'll exceed Nagbe's production.
The Fear: Polo is young — just 23 — and still fairly raw. The transition to MLS could be difficult, and it's worth asking the question whether the physicality of the league — something that Asprilla figured out last year and Lucas Melano never did — will difficult for Polo to navigate.
#8 — DIEGO VALERI
The Expectation: Valeri is a larger-than-life figure: the reigning MVP, the face of the club, and a 20-goal scorer last season. At worst, he's a top-five player in MLS. The Timbers expect him to decide games.
The Hope: That he finally gets the armband, for one. The hope really is that Valeri has to shoulder less of the load this season. He can carry this team, as we saw for months on end last year, but he could also use some help.
The Fear: Valeri is going to be great, of course, so long as he's healthy. The only concern might be that his goalscoring numbers drop significantly, which — depending on a number of factors — may or may not be fine.
#22 — CRISTHIAN PAREDES
The Expectation: It didn't grab a ton of headlines across the league, but acquiring a 19-year-old Paraguay international from Club America is a pretty, pretty good move. Parades should contribute immediately, either as a straight up center mid with some real zeal getting forward or as cover for Guzman as a six.
The Hope: If he looks the part and the Timbers make his purchase official, Parades could be a foundational piece. He's got the tools, both technically and physically.
The Fear: There's an element of the unknown in bringing any new player to MLS, but especially a player as young as Paredes who you are planning to play right away. Paredes hasn't gotten a lot of game-time in the last year, and has played just more than 30 professional club games in total. There are bound to be growing pains.
#14 — ANDRE FLORES
The Expectation: Flores is a direct carryover from Savarese's Cosmos days, and he's a player the Timbers are happy to have landed. He'll be a natural backup for Diego Valeri, with the ability to slide further back in central midfield if need be.
The Hope: Flores is a composed, technical player with a ton of experience, and he has an inventive streak. Savarese is comfortable with him, and he should be in the mix for substantial minuets off the bench.
The Fear: Flores is Ned Grabavoy small, which isn't necessarily a death knell, but doesn't bode all that well for a player making his MLS debut at 27. Will he be able to impact physical games, especially in the center of the park?
#13 — LAWRENCE OLUM
The Expectation: Olum played an ungodly amount of minutes last year — the most of his MLS career — and he did so by staying healthy and largely playing within himself. He's back this year as depth.
The Hope: Olum was mostly serviceable as a center back last year, and he was certainly durable. A similar campaign, one that does no harm, would be fine.
The Fear: There is no way Olum can be allowed to play in midfield. At this point in his career, he simply doesn't have the legs. If he's out there as a six, he's just taking up space. He's not that much better at center back either. He should only see the field as a last resort.
#23 — JACK BARMBY
The Expectation: Barmby has been on this team for a fairly long time now, and while he's got some very raw talent, he's likely fourth on the wing depth chart with Victor Arbolda hot on his heels.
The Hope: Any sign of real improvement. Anything. Barmby has made no identifiable strides in any part of his game over the last two years, and he's reaching an age where he has to start showing something beyond an ability to hit the ball hard.
The Fear: Barmby isn't going to play unless he figures a lot out very quickly, so he's a low-risk player. That said, when he's gotten into games over the last couple of years, his lack of soccer IQ has been devastating.
#19 — VICTOR ARBOLEDA
The Expectation: The Colombian winger turned plenty of heads with his hair-on-fire start against Dallas in Tucson a week ago Wednesday, and for good reason: Arboleda can fly, and with a season in the first-team under his belt, he could be ready to contribute this year.
The Hope: Arboleda has all kinds of pop, and he can absolutely be an impact player off the bench and in spot starts if he commits to defending hard and doesn't try to overplay. If he can consistently make gameday rosters, he's going to be in a really good spot.
The Fear: Arboleda had precious few opportunities to get on the field in 2017, and you worry about him again getting lost at the bottom of the depth chart. He needs first-team minutes.
Nabbing Eryk Williamson from DC United was a big coup for the Timbers, who now have another high-profile bonafide US youth international player to go alongside Jeremy Ebobisse. Williamson will likely feature most for T2 this season, but he could at some point get a first-team look.
#9 — FANENDO ADI
The Expectation: Expectations aren't what they were at this time last year. Adi hasn't played a competitive game in seven months, he looked rusty in preseason, and everyone is talking about his would-be backup. But Adi should be the focal point of the Timbers attack — the center of gravity.
The Hope: At his best, Adi is a force of nature. There was no better holdup player in the league in 2016 and early 2017, and if Adi that guy again this year, he can score 20 goals.
The Fear: Adi can be mercurial, and he goes through his dry runs. If Sam Armenteros is as good as advertised, Adi's margin for error might be smaller than its been since early 2015 — and if he's taken out of the lineup, or not scoring, will he stay positive and engaged?
#99 — SAMUEL ARMENTEROS
The Expectation: 95 goals.
Really, though, Armenteros' preseason goals have raised expectations. The Swede just a year removed from scoring 19 goals in the Eredivise, and we've already seen why: he's a smart finisher, and a handful to stop when he gets moving. He should be the club's most productive backup striker since Maxi Urruti.
The Hope: If you can score 19 in the Netherlands, it's more than conceivable that you can score 19 in MLS. Armenteros' production will depend on how many minutes he gets, but the hope for the Timbers is that he can push Adi every step of the way this year.
The Fear: Armenteros is small — just 5'10 — and it's tough to make it longterm in a one-striker system without size. Urruti may very well not be a good comparator, but he'd disappear against the league's biggest, best center backs. In year one in the league, can Armenteros figure out how to produce game in and game out?
#17 — JEREMY EBOBISSE
The Expectation: He didn't exactly light the world on fire, but Ebobisse showed plenty in his rookie year: a good feel for the game, some pace, and some poise. More minutes, more goals, and more appearances in the national team setup would make this season a success.
The Hope: That Ebobisse makes himself matter. Last season, he didn't do that — he showed promise, but his play never demanded he be on the field. It merely suggested it. Behind two proven strikers this year, not just one, Ebobisse needs to take a big step forward to insert himself into the conversation.
The Fear: That Ebobisse gets lost this year. He's likely going to be behind two proven, veteran strikers in a one-striker system, and that's not a place any young player particularly wants to be. Unless he gets more chances to play than he did in 2017, it's going to be a tough year developmentally.
Portland native and Timbers academy product Foster Langsdorf signed for the club in January after a tremendously successful college career at Stanford. He's another exciting prospect whom Cameron Knowles will work with at T2 this year.