This year's Portland Timbers team had it all. They were superbly built—balanced, deep, cohesive, and, by the last day of the season, there wasn't a club on the continent that could hang with them.

As a result, these Timbers' player grades for the 2015 season are unusually high across the board.


#12, Adam Kwarasey: A-

Kwarasey made something of a slow start to life in Portland, rarely distinguishing himself in the Timbers' troubling start to the season. But the Ghanian's play improved in the summer, and then again in the fall, and then again in the winter, to the point where few goalkeepers in the league were better.

Kwarasey, who won MLS Save of the Year for this stop on Real Salt Lake's Luke Mullholland, actually has plenty in common with Portland's last goalkeeper, Donovan Ricketts. Both were prone to the occasional blunder, questionable in the air, but, crucially, excellent shot-stoppers. All in all, it was a terrific year one from Kwarasey.

And his performance in the Wild Card game against Sporting Kansas City? It was probably the most important—and most heroic—in club history.

#90, Jake Gleeson: B+

In five season with the Timbers, Jake Gleeson has never been or been anointed the first team's starting goalkeeper. And yet, his stay in Portland is set to continue—Gleeson signed a new deal which will keep him with the club for the foreseeable future.

It's a highly unusual situation. What most everyone can agree upon is that Gleeson is a good player. He was solid as the backstop of a T2 team that never quite found its footing in USL this year, and looked more than comfortable when thrown into action in the MLS playoffs against Vancouver

The Timbers will most likely bring in another goalkeeper and loan Gleeson back to T2 for the bulk of the 2016 season, but, at some point, you have to believe that Gleeson will want a shot at being an everyday #1 at with an MLS club.

#33, Andrew Weber: D

2015 was a rough year for Andrew Weber. The journeyman goalkeeper only played in one MLS game—letting in three goals as the Timbers were routed in Philadelphia—and, by the time things were getting serious, he'd been replaced by Gleeson as the backup.

As the third-stringer, Weber was only included in one match-day squad down the stretch. After having his option declined, Weber faces an uncertain future in professional soccer.


#19, Jorge Villafaña: A

Jorge Villafaña's meteoric rise was of the major reasons why the Timbers won MLS Cup.

When they acquired him two years ago, Villafaña was an afterthought in a trade centered around Steve Zakuani and Andrew Jean-Baptiste. Now, exits Portland for Mexico's Liga MX after a 2015 season in which he was MLS' best left-back—and arguably its best one v. one defender.

Villafaña's playoff scalps included best XI selections Fabian Castillo and Ethan Finley, and he was solid going forward as well—rarely spectacular, but always reliable. The Timbers will dearly miss Sueño's defense, but they'll also miss his heart. For a player who has spent his career scraping to rise to challenge after challenge, it's fitting that Villafaña departs at his MLS apex for the next hurdle at Santos Laguna.

#7, Nat Borchers: A

When the Timbers traded for Nat Borchers last November, they thought they were getting a player who would settle the center-back position next to Liam Ridgewell.

But from the get-go Borchers did much more than that. In what may just have been the best season of his long career, the Pueblo native broke the MLS record for blocks in a single season, scored several absolutely massive goals, and, despite never wearing the armband, led the championship charge. Watching Borchers take relish in the art of defending was an absolute pleasure. Watching Borchers take relish in the art of defending in Portland all but ripped apart his former club, and former Timbers rival, Real Salt Lake.

Several of Borchers' moments this year—his season-saving block on Blas Perez, his game-winner at RSL, and his salute to the Timbers Army after scoring in the shootout against Sporting KC, for instance—were almost too good to be true. In just one season, Borchers established himself as a Timbers legend for all time.

#24, Liam Ridgewell: A-

Ridgewell has lived the American dream. From obscure Premier League player to millionaire and beloved MLS Cup-winning captain.

Reliability also describes Ridgewell's game. He's a fairly slick center-back, influenced by his younger days as a fullback. Comfortable on the ball, mobile, and adept at reading the game. He's not physically overpowering, and had a bad case of yips in front of goal all year, but his role in shaping the culture of this team was as big as anyone's.

As a result, Ridgewell got the armband with Will Johnson out of action, and between his columns for the Daily Mail, his Twitter account, his fantastic speech at the victory rally, and his famous celebration, he deserves his place in Timbers lore.

#2, Alvas Powell: B

Powell is growing up and making strides. He was well worth his place in Portland's championship-winning defense, bulking up and playing tougher than ever did in 2014. Powell's incredible athleticism and powers of recovery placed him near the top of the league in tackles won.

Offensively, Powell was still usually a liability—unable or unwilling to get wide and cross the ball. He needs to make major strides in his recognition of certain situations on both sides of the ball. It makes sense, then, that Powell's best performance of the season was in the first leg of the Vancouver series when he was instructed to curtail his forward movement and play more conservatively. When he keeps the game simple, he does well.

Leaving the Jamaica Gold Cup camp because he wasn't getting playing time is indicative of a player who still has some growing up to do, but there's absolutely no doubt that Powell's future is as bright as its ever been.

#23, Norberto Paparatto: A-

After an extremely trying debut season in America, Norberto Paparatto reclaimed much of his reputation with a sterling 2015. He played sparingly in relief of Borchers and Ridgewell, but Paparatto looked more than comfortable when called upon.

He's the Timbers' best player in the air—by far—and the fact that he hasn't scored a league goal for the club is somewhat shocking considering how many attacking corners he wins. Though he still struggled for pace at times, the Argentinian usually compensated physically.

The Timbers are doing their level best to bring Papa back. He's among the best backup center-backs in the league—and if the Dallas series was any indication, you need three to win a championship.

#20, Taylor Peay: A-

George Fochive's breakout campaign happened on a bigger scale, but Taylor Peay established himself as a player with a huge MLS future in 2014. Factoring into the first team throughout the latter part of the year, Peay played his part in several league games—culminating in a standout performance at LA in October in Portland's famous 5-2 win.

He's behind Powell at right back, but Peay's versatility across the back-line is a plus. He may spend time with T2, but the Timbers will look to get him first-team minutes in 2016.

#15, Jeanderson: D-

This was a swing and a miss for Gavin Wilkinson. Tapping into the lower divisions of Brazilian soccer for the first time, Jeanderson was supposed to compete with Villafaña for minutes at left-back. Instead, he fell out of the first-team picture by the end of the spring and was instead used mainly as a winger on T2.

Jeanderson will be able to say he was along for the ride on the way to MLS Cup, but he simply wasn't a good enough player to cut it in MLS. He'll most likely return to Brazil for next season.


#21, Diego Chara: A

When asked about an especially outrageous performance from Diego Chara after the 2014 home finale, Caleb Porter smiled and asked, "Does Chara ever have a bad game?"

The answer, of course, is no. But Chara struggled at times playing with a central midfield partner, in part because his instinctual, churning brand of disruption was hard to compliment. So while much of the Timbers' move to an inverted 4-3-3 was about Darlington Nagbe, it was about Chara as well.

Porter knew that there wasn't a player in the league better equipped physically to play the back-end of the midfield triangle, and, with increased responsibility, Chara's form from October onward was his best of the season. He even chipped in a couple of goals along the way to the title.

#4, Will Johnson: B-

"Show me a hero, and I'll write you a tragedy," was F. Scott Fitzgerald's line, and while calling what happened to Will Johnson down the stretch this year tragic might be a bridge too far, it certainly rings true right about now.

Starting in 2013, no one did more to build the winning culture and fighting spirit of Caleb Porter's team than Johnson—and had Portland won the title this year or last, there's no one it would have meant more to. But injuries kill like nothing else in sports, and Johnson's inability to make himself vital again after his leg-break last year meant that he watched his team win a title from the sidelines.

Johnson was a casualty of several things—Jack Jewsbury rolling back the years, the formation change, and the injury—and it wasn't that he played badly when he was involved. It was just that Johnson was robbed of much of the box-to-box dynamism that he's made his career on. He was usually effective, especially defensively, just in smaller doses.

The only real bittersweetness in this championship is Johnson's role. He'll move on—probably to Chicago or Toronto—and throw himself into a new challenge.

#13, Jack Jewsbury: A-

This wasn't supposed to be Jewsbury's year—again—but thanks to the rash of central midfield injuries which characterized the first part of the season, the old captain moved back to his old position and played some of his most important minutes for the Timbers.

The level of trust that Porter had in Jewsbury was remarkable—he played him, at 34 years old, as the single pivot in playoff games, and used him ahead of Johnson with Johnson at full health. Jewsbury was especially strong at the very beginning and end of the campaign, playing with poise, gritting his teeth, and expertly blending into the furniture of games—a couple of stoppage time game-winners didn't hurt either.

Jewsbury defines the well-worn soccer term "piano carrier." His steadying hand set up the piano players to make this a special season. He deserved his contract extension, and should come into 2016 as the #2 central midfielder.

#5, George Fochive: B

George Fochive made his first MLS start on opening day, and looked like he'd been around for years. Fochive's breakout campaign was a win for the club's scouting and coaching staffs—two departments that have come in for criticism at various points over the last few years.

Fochive continued to play well when called upon, save for a few hiccups, and he clearly has a future as an MLS #6. He needs to improve his distribution and feel for the game with the ball, but defensively he has all the tools. Often excelling next to Jewsbury, Fochive's best game came at Seattle in the league's biggest derby. His emergence only means good things for the Timbers going forward.

#8, Diego Valeri: B+

As he'd tell you, this year was a tough ride for El Maestro. His challenges in working his way back from a major injury—an ACL tear suffered on the last day of last season—weren't as well-documented as Will Johnson's, but they were there.

Valeri was rarely at his best during the regular season, but when the playoffs rolled around, he was as good as he ever was in 2013 or '14. His influence in the postseason was huge—he had four assists and a goal in five games, and only got better as the tournament progressed. It was Valeri who got Fanendo Adi going again at the end of the year, often pulling defenses apart with little else than his mind.

The culmination was that surreal goal in the first thirty seconds in Columbus. A week before that, with Ridgewell out of the lineup, Valeri captained Portland to the Western Conference Championship. Valeri is still very much in his prime, and we should see more of his best next season.

#6, Darlington Nagbe: A-

Even in his most barren stretches, Darlington Nagbe was always the Timbers' most talented player. When Caleb Porter said he wouldn't look out of place at a Barcelona training session in a November profile, hardly anyone batted an eyelash.

Nagbe's rise this fall was a long time coming, and it was all about finding his natural position—which, as we've learned, is in central midfield. There were stretches at the end of the season in which he was absolutely dominant, and his defensive work was, somewhat out of the blue, one of the main reasons the inverted 4-3-3 was successful.

Nagbe is now firmly in the US national team picture, and, barring injury, is a mortal lock to be at the next World Cup. He should be able to put together the type of consistently productive season he didn't have this year or last in 2016, and the only fear is that at some point some big European club is going to come calling.

#22, Rodney Wallace: B

Right up until the end of September, this season was bordering on disastrous for Rodney Wallace. The Timbers' longest-tenured player was a non-factor early in the year, dealing with various knocks and featuring only sparingly in the starting lineup.

He looked to be a player devoid of confidence and on his way out of the club. But, not coincidentally, Portland's surge towards to the title happened just as Wallace battled his way back from obscurity with his typically high work-rate, tough two-way play, and opportunistic attacking contributions.

He's not exceptionally talented, or exceptional in any one area of the game, but Wallace remains extremely valuable to the Timbers. With a new fullback, probably Chris Klute starting in 2016, Wallace's defensive chops on the left-hand side of the formation will be vital. Here's hoping the Timbers can re-sign him.

#11, Dairon Asprilla: B-

Asprilla worked in fits and starts this year—coming out of camp strong and winning an opening day starting spot, playing some of his best soccer in June, then getting hurt and fading into obscurity before reemerging for the playoffs.

Asprilla has plenty of raw potential. He's got some power and pace, and is capable of the occasional flash of brilliance. But, especially in comparison to someone like Wallace, it's clear that Asprilla hasn't quite figured out his game—what he needs to do to be successful on a week-in week-out basis. It was a good sign that he worked his way back into favor and into the team after struggling in a summer in which he once featured with T2.

Most foreigners improve drastically in their second year in the league—i.e. Paparatto—and Asprilla figures to see plenty of the field in 2016.

#26, Lucas Melano: C

Let's be clear: Lucas Melano was terrible this year. He frequently looked like a gazelle who had was just being introduced to soccer for the first time. He was abysmal in front of goal—where, thanks to his speed he found himself frequently—didn't play tough enough, and was often found wanting defensively.

All that said, the skills are obviously there. Melano can burn, and that was an element Portland didn't have until he arrived in the summer. Down the stretch, Melano came up with enough important plays—especially, of course, that West-clinching goal in Dallas—to make that potential tell. There should be more big moments as Melano adapts to MLS.

We'll see in 2016 whether Melano is truly worth the exorbitant fee the Timbers paid for him, but whatever happens next year, his contributions to this year's championship won't be forgotten.

#17, Michael Nanchoff: D+

Nanchoff was in the first-team picture at the beginning of the year, when he had a 90th minute shot to beat RSL on opening day cleared off the line, but he was soon a non-factor due to injuries and reinforcements.

Nanchoff clearly isn't part of Caleb Porter's plans, but, as Darlington Nagbe's best friend, he'd be worth keeping around as something of a mascot. Anything to make Nagbe happy.


#9, Fanendo Adi: A-

Fanendo Adi had been driving Timbers fans crazy for more than a year when he started taking some serious abuse from fans in the Timbers Army over the summer. Adi had shown flashes—last fall, this spring—but he was prone to long droughts and could be found painfully short on confidence. As a consequence, he could never quite put away Maxi Urruti and make the striker role his own.

But that all changed at the end of the season. Adi has always been big, but he started playing big—physically dominating center-backs and setting the table for an attack that suddenly found itself down the stretch. His demolition job on Vancouver's mammoth Kendall Waston at Vancouver in the playoffs was the best performance by a Timbers #9 in club history.

Adi has made great strides with his feet, both in finishing and in passing, and he was well worth his club-record eighteen goals scored. It hasn't been an easy road, but in Adi, Portland has one of the best strikers in a striker's league.

#37, Maxi Urruti: C

Urruti is a serviceable player. Nothing more, nothing less. If used right, he can be effective. Problems arose for Urruti and the Timbers when the team asked the Argentinian to be the main man up top.

Urruti was very rarely able to hold the ball up or bring teammates into the game, and he couldn't effect matches in which he wasn't getting chances. He's not an MLS starter, and if FC Dallas thinks that's what they're getting in him, they're going to be very disappointed.

That said, Urruti is a finisher. He was born to score goals, and score goals he did. When the Timbers needed him most against Sporting Kansas City, he delivered. 2014 might have been a career year in terms of production, but in terms of impact, there's no matching what he did this year.


Gaston Fernandez was always somewhat frustrated by his role in Portland. But after a miserable start to this season, he redeemed himself with an outstanding month of June before seeing the writing on the wall and returning to Argentina. La Gata was very much a well-liked member of the locker-room, missed especially by the Argentinian contingent, and he'll receive a championship ring.

Ishmael Yartey was awful in some big spots in the spring, but he did have one great touch: The assist on Jack Jewsbury's wild stoppage time winner in Colorado in May.

It was a rough transition to professional soccer for Nick Besler, who never found his footing with T2. Expect him to return to Portland next year, but if he struggles again, his future MLS prospects could be in trouble.

Ben Zemanski's ACL tear in 2015's first game at Providence Park seemed to set the tone for the season. Instead, Zemanski worked his way back to health as his team won the Cup. The Timbers, losing Will Johnson, are banking that he'll be back to his 2014 best next year.