By Steven Weldon
Three months ago, the Portland Timbers were devastated. In the shadow of a sold-out raucous crowd at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia, the Atlanta United used two mid-game goals and great defense to ward off the Timbers in the 2018 MLS Cup.
It's hard to swallow a loss in a championship game. As a fan of multiple teams who must say "There's always next year" every season, I can only imagine how hard it was for the Timbers players, staff and front office. They'll have to go back to the drawing board and drum up another successful season for the rabid fan base.
The thing about the Timbers, and largely MLS soccer, is the leagues, its teams and the international leagues are in flux. Many players that made huge impacts a year ago, may sour their final few months and are sent to different locales. That being said, the opening day roster for the Timbers will more than likely look very different come August. Some major moves happening on the subtraction side this offseason were the departure of Defender Liam Ridgewell, who helped the team to their MLS Cup victory in 2015 and played an integral part of the defense over his five seasons with the Timbers. At age 34, his skill and injury frequency became trouble for the club, leading to his contract being terminated.
Another important defender lost this offseason via trade was Alvas Powell. Powell came to the Timbers in 2013 and was also a member of the MLS Cup championship team. He was sent to expansion side FC Cincinnati for $250K in General Allocation Money. He will join former Timbers Forward Fanendo Adi, who was traded mid-season to the yet-to-be-formed club.
All is not lost on the back-line, as a new player coming in can likely fit the big shoes left by both players. Claude Dielna was sent from New England to Portland in a General Allocation Money trade this offseason. He played 28 games in his only season for the Revolution, and will look to be a solid option for the Timbers now.
In more additions for not allowing the ball to go into the goal by the opposing team, the Timbers added Slovenian Goalkeeper Aljaz Ivacic. Ivacic helped his overseas team win their league title in 2017-2018, and will add depth to the goalkeeper core of Jeff Atinella and Steve Clark. However, with both of those players at 30 and 32 respectively, look for the 25-year-old Ivacic to make waves at T2, the second division side, and then possibly move up to the first team later.
Aside from the new players, the core of the team is largely the same. The greatest Portland Timber of all time, Diego Valeri, returns to his post as the anchor of the midfield, as well as Diego Chara, the best central defensive midfielder in Portland Timbers history. David Guzman and Sebastian Blanco, important midfield additions to last season's cup finals run are back.
The Timbers senior squad will rely more on former T2 members this season, the most prominent being Marvin Loria and Renzo Zambrano were signed to the first team in December in preparation for the preseason training from Costa Rica and Tuscon.
With some new faces, the Portland Timbers are still a formidable Western Conference team. We'll see how their form shapes up during the first few months of the season, but this will definitely be a tale of two seasons. Due to the construction of an expansion to Providence Park's west side, the Timbers won't play a home game for three months. The home opener has been pushed all the way back to June 1st, a game against LAFC.
Will the Timbers return home as road warriors, or is this a post-MLS Cup rebuilding year?
Watch the Portland Timbers take on the Colorado Rapids on March 2nd at 3 PM on ROOT Sports.