After Rodney Wallace tore his ACL in the Portland Timbers' last game of the season last November, Caleb Porter and his technical staff knew they needed to bring in help on the left side of their attack. Up stepped Gastón Fernández, who was brought to Portland with the hopes that an additional playmaker would strengthen an already powerful Timbers attack.
Unlike Wallace, who has spent time as an outside back during his career, Fernández is known almost exclusively for his attacking ability. Although he starts on the left, “La Gata” likes to roam all over the field to create chances for his teammates.
Knowing this, head coach Caleb Porter has been forced to make some tactical changes in order to put his new-look front line in positions to succeed. The results have been underwhelming, so far at least. You can see this by comparing some of the touch maps from last season to this season. These touch maps come courtesy of Opta.
Wallace vs. LA
Valeri vs. LA
Nagbe vs. LA
As a comparison, here’s a look at the touch maps for Valeri, Nagbe, and Fernández from their game against Chicago last Sunday.
Fernández vs. Fire
Valeri vs. Fire
Nagbe vs. Fire
You can see that the three players have been allowed more freedom in terms of their movement compared to last year. Fernández and Nagbe have touches all over the field as opposed to shading predominantly to one side and Valeri's touches drift a little further to the right. It's also clear that Wallace spent more time tracking back toward the final third than Fernández has been asked to do.
So far the results have been a little underwhelming as Porter integrates a new part into the lineup. While Fernández has scored two goals, they're are the only two goals the Timbers have to their name in two home games against non-playoff teams from last season.
Taking full advantage of the skills offered by Valeri, Nagbe and Fernández will be one of Porter’s biggest tasks this season. While Timbers fans may be a little disappointed with the results so far, this is a process that will take months not weeks. It's a task that will continue Saturday night on the road in Colorado (6 pm ET, MLS Live).