2012 in Review: Portland Timbers

Over the next three weeks, MLSsoccer.com will take a look back at the 2012 season that was for all 19 clubs in Major League Soccer, starting with Toronto FC and ending with the Supporters' Shield-winning San Jose Earthquakes. You can find the schedule and comprehensive reviews for each team here.

2012 record: 8-16-10 (34 points); 34 GF / 56 GA (-22 GD)

2012 Portland Timbers statistics

Q&A with Timbers GM Gavin Wilkinson

Opta Spotlight: Timbers worse or unlucky?

Armchair Analyst: Can 4-3-3 work?

PORTLAND, Ore. – The Portland Timbers' struggles in their second year in MLS were well-documented over the course of the season.

There were the high expectations after an offseason that saw the club ship their leading scorer from their inaugural season, Kenny Cooper, away in a trade to pave way for the signing of Designated Player Kris Boyd, the Scottish Premier League’s all-time leading scorer.

But things quickly went south as the team struggled to gain traction to start the season, winning just once in their first six games. The complications hit a crescendo at the season’s midway point when head coach John Spencer was fired.

General manager Gavin Wilkinson took over on an interim basis, but results were still few and far between, resulting in the Timbers finishing in eighth place in the Western Conference table.

But with an unlikely Cascadia Cup championship, the team finally winning on the road on Oct. 21 in Vancouver, and improved scoring and possession numbers under Wilkinson’s guidance, there are some reasons for optimism in 2013.

Best Moment of the Year

With the MLS Cup Playoffs long out of the question, the Timbers were able to salvage one piece of hardware from an ultimately disappointing season when they beat playoff-bound Vancouver 1-0 at BC Place on Oct. 21 to win the Cascadia Cup.

A Jack Jewsbury golazo, an MLS Goal of the Year nominee, resulted in the Timbers stealing the supporter-created trophy away from bitter rivals Seattle. The result also happened to be the Timbers' first and only win on the road.

Worst Moment of the Year

There are volumes to chose from here.

But there’s no question that the end of Spencer’s tenure in the Rose City was mostly secured when the team hit rock bottom in a game that didn’t even count in the MLS standings. The Timbers' embarrassing 1-0 loss to amateur side Cal FC in the US Open Cup on May 30 will go down as a date that will live in infamy for Timbers supporters. Vitriolic chants from the passionately loyal Timbers Army were only salt in the wound.

Best Goal

Darlington Nagbe, winner of the 2011 Goal of the Year award, nearly defended his title with similar brilliance March 31 against Real Salt Lake.

Nagbe took a pass from Eric Alexander, volleyed and hit a bullet between two defenders that sliced away from Nick Rimando to the far corner. The strike was voted into the final four in the Goal of the Year tournament and was strikingly similar to his juggling wonder-goal against Kansas City from his rookie season, reaffirming his capability of elite form at any time.

Best Save

Donovan Ricketts wasted little time endearing himself to Timbers fans after he was acquired from Montreal in a trade for fan favorite goalkeeper Troy Perkins after his double save Aug. 19 against the New York Red Bulls.

The lanky ‘keeper first stonewalled a Thierry Henry attempt, diving his left to parry away the Frenchman’s header. Ricketts sprang to his feet just in time to turn back Jan Gunnar Solil’s shot off the rebound with another diving save.

Team MVP

Diego Chará may not put up flashy offensive numbers, but the defensive midfielder makes his presence known with his assiduous work and diligent play in the middle. In his second season in MLS, the dominating Colombian displayed his unwillingness to back down from anyone, exhibited by finishing second in the league in fouls committed. He was also a lineup mainstay, starting in all 28 of the matches he played and logging a career-high 2,473 minutes.

Best Newcomer

It may not have been the year many had hoped for, but there’s no questioning Boyd’s ability around the goal. He led the team with seven goals despite seeing his playing time diminish after Wilkinson took over and missing the final five weeks of the season with an injury. The big striker may have fell victim to the struggles many European players experience in transitioning to MLS.

Offseason needs

1. Find more consistent defensive wings: There was a lot of flux at outside back this year, and it cost the Timbers as they finished third-worst in the league in the goals allowed category. The center back position, however, is seemingly shored up with the highly regarded David Horst and Hanyer Mosquera as the expectant starters in 2013. But more athletic attacking players frequently exploited the wings, leaving the futures of year-end starters Steven Smith and Kosuke Kimura in question, the latter of whom has already been shipped to the New York Red Bulls.

2. Bridge the service gap: No matter the formation Portland employed, there were noticeable gaps in reliable service to whoever played central striker. Boyd and Bright Dike, the two most likely candidates to fill that role on the current roster, need the ball at their feet, and when that didn’t happen they turned into ghosts. Whether this happens by bringing in new personnel or improved chemistry with another year together of the team’s existing players, this should be considered a priority.

3. Keep maturing: There may be something to the fact that the Timbers, one of the league’s youngest sides, do have the talent to field a competitive team in 2013. Portland beat out regional rivals Vancouver and Seattle, both playoff teams, to win the Cascadia Cup. They also posted memorable wins over Supporters’ Shield champions San Jose and Eastern Conference powers Sporting Kansas City. But the Timbers also lost three times to Chivas USA, the only team to finish below Portland in the Western Conference standings.

Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at dcitel@hotmail.com.