PORTLAND, Ore. – The lackluster 2012 Portland Timbers campaign took a much-needed turn toward the positive last week as the club showed signs of life both on the pitch and in the front office. The Rose City squad not only took six points from their two matches during the week but also was also able to land a new leader for the 2013 season. It seems the team has finally found an identity on the offensive attack and were able to record their first clean sheet since May 15th when they beat Colorado 1-0 on Saturday. While a playoff run seems improbable, it may still be too soon to call it quits on this Portland Timbers’ season.
The two wins last week came after interim coach and the Timbers’ much-maligned leader Gavin Wilkinson chose to mix up things on the offensive side of the ball. Wilkinson decided to go with former Notre Dame star, Bright Dike, at the top of the formation in favor of the million-dollar man, Kris Boyd. At first this move seemed to be the last act of a desperate man but while on the trip to the East Coast, things just started to click on offense.
The midfield combination of Sal Zizzo, Darlington Nagbe and Franck Songo’o has been explosive and seems to have turned the once mundane Timbers attack into something unrecognizable. Nagbe became the first Timber to score in three straight matches as the trio, along with Dike, has ran rampant over opposing defenses.
It was a perfect Zizzo cross in the 45th minute of Saturday’s game that was the decider as Dike made a stellar run into the box to slam the ball home. In their win earlier in the week against Cascadian rival Vancouver, Nagbe and Songo’o were the difference as they both connected on impressive goals. For the first time in a long time the Timbers looked like a strong and capable MLS side. To many Timbers fans this came as a surprise because of the yearlong ineptitude by Wilkinson and the club. The Timbers Army will now have to give credit where credit is due, GW pulled the right strings at the right time and the team has never looked better. Still the best move that Wilkinson made wasn’t on the pitch, it came in the form of a replacement for himself.
Sandwiched in between the two crucial wins that pulled the club out of last place in the Western Conference, the Timbers announced a change. On Wednesday came the news that University of Akron and the United States Men’s National Team U-23’s coach, Caleb Porter, will be managing the Timbers during the 2013 season. He is currently coaching his seventh season with the Zips of Akron and has built the program into a collegiate powerhouse. The move also means that Porter and Nagbe will be reunited, which can only help the young player develop into a league wide superstar. Under Porter’s leadership, Nagbe was able to take home the MAC Hermann Trophy, which is given to the nation’s best collegiate soccer player.
The 2009 NSCAA coach of the year couldn’t be more excited to take over the Timbers and is ready for the new challenge, “I know that Merritt and Gavin are committed to long-term success for the Timbers and come December, I will be completely focused and driven to continue building a professional club in which the Timbers supporters, city and organization will be proud of,” said Porter.
On top of his success at Akron, Porter was also quite a soccer player in his day. He was the three-year captain of the Indiana Hoosiers where he was the runner-up of the 1997 Hermann Trophy. He also led his side to four straight conference titles and two College Cup appearances. After his time at Indiana he spent two years in the newly formed MLS before a knee injury sidelined his career and turned him to coaching. Despite his disappointing record with US Men’s U-23’s, most Portland fans see this as a blessing and cannot wait to see what he will bring to the pitch in 2013. Now that the Timbers’ offense has found its legs and the franchise has found its leader, the expectations will be sky-high next season. But what about this season?
The Timbers are currently ten points out of a playoff position with eight games left to play this season. The playoffs seem like a pipedream but if the side can continue to play inspired soccer as they have throughout August, the Timbers may make a glory run to the 2012 postseason. The first step on this path comes Wednesday when they will play Colorado away. The last time Portland traveled to the Rocky Mountain state they headed back to Portland with their tails between their legs after a 3-0 thumping. The squad did just thoroughly defeat Colorado on Saturday and looks to have the energy to succeed that was so sorely missed in the first half of the season. A win over Colorado would be important, not just for the Western Conference standings, but with a humongous Cascadian rivalry game coming on September 15th at Seattle, the club will need all the momentum they can get. If the Timbers are able to get at least four points out of these next two matches, expect a strong postseason push before the season is over.