Decision Day for the 2022 MLS season has come and gone, and the field has been officially reduced to 14 teams moving onto the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs. Perhaps sooner than some expected, the final few teams to miss the playoffs have been confirmed and it’s all focus ahead on the offseason.
Here, we'll be covering three questions for every team moving forward. Think of it as an exit interview, if you will. Matt Doyle, as always, has you covered on his preeminent season-in-review for each club (Portland version). Read that, too.
He has gifs. It’s tough to beat gifs.
After a now-typical slow start to the season, the Portland Timbers went on their now-typical hot streak to end the season. Except this time, they came up just short of the playoffs thanks to a 3-1 Decision Day loss at Real Salt Lake, falling just below the line.
It’s the first time they haven’t made the playoffs since 2016. On and off the field, the Timbers are at a crossroads. It’s a pivotal offseason.
On the field, the team seems at a crucial junction. A bridge to a new era wasn’t quite fortified as expected.
After club legend Diego Valeri left and age/injury started to catch up with Sebastian Blanco (who played fewer than 1,900 minutes), in-prime DPs Yimmi Chara and Jaroslaw Niezgoda failed to propel the team forward. Chara and Niezgoda were acquired ahead of the 2020 season. The club had been in search of a new, big-time attacking DP to join the group prior to off-field uncertainty (more on that in a second).
In addition, Eryk Williamson didn’t feature in a must-win Decision Day game, in what Giovanni Savarese called a coaching decision. There are now questions about the midfielder's future, too. Starting center back Larrys Mabiala is 35. Diego Chara is 36. Father Time comes for everyone eventually.
Off the field, longtime general manager Gavin Wilkinson was relieved of his duties after US Soccer released the full findings and recommendations of Sally Q. Yates’ independent investigation into allegations of past abusive behavior and sexual misconduct in women’s professional soccer. Ned Grabavoy remains as technical director and now leads Timbers soccer operations.
Savarese has just one year left on his contract as well. He was the subject of interest from Italian Serie B club Venezia over the summer and is open to the challenge of managing in Europe.
It seems like the future of Niezgoda is elsewhere after falling out of favor. He hasn’t been the same player he was before tearing his ACL in 2020, when he had 7g/1a in just 600 minutes before picking up the injury. If the club facilitates a move for the Polish No. 9, they’ll gain a lot of flexibility.
Portland can already add another DP, as Blanco is below the max-TAM threshold. If two new DPs arrive, one would have to be a Young DP to preserve all three U22 Initiative slots (all three are currently in use).
Again, the plan had been for a significant investment into a Young DP in the attack. Whether or not the off-field questions upend that plan is another question.
Santiago Moreno had a very productive first full season in MLS with 7g/8a while appearing in all 34 games. The U22 Initiative attacker was the most consistent outlet for the team… which had three DPs in attacking spots.
Moreno is a building block as long as he’s in MLS. Whether the Colombian views his future at Portland for the long-term or if he has aspirations for a move to Europe (with requisite interest/offers) remains to be seen.
Aljaz Ivacic was probably the team’s best player this year. The Slovenian goalkeeper is the reason the heading here said “young(er)”, because 28 is obviously not young in soccer, but it was his first chance at starting in this league after being signed four years ago. He was one of the best goalies in the league in 2022.
Colombian fullback Juan David Mosquera and Argentine midfielder David Ayala are the other two U22 Initiative signings. Both are highly rated. Mosquera was signed in the summer, so he didn’t have much time to show his quality. Ayala played under 800 minutes. It’d be wildly unfair to write him off for the future.
If both can prove to be starting-caliber players next year, it’d be huge for this group and answer questions.
- Is Mosquera ready to start? Or will JosecarlosVan Rankin's purchase option get exercised / a new RB gets signed?
- How many new starters will be brought in?
- Will we see more of the 3-4-3 formation next year?