Caleb Porter has insisted since the Portland Timbers acquired Fanendo Adi several weeks ago that they knew precisely what they were getting in the 6-foot-4 target man.
He was good in the air. He was physical. He could hold up the ball.
And in his first five games for the Timbers, he’s shown precisely that – and maybe even a bit more. Adi, who is on a short-term loan from FC Copenhagen, has four goals and two assists, with two braces in his only two starts, the latest coming in perhaps Portland’s biggest win of the season in Saturday’s 3-1 victory over Real Salt Lake.
His addition, by Porter’s design, gives Portland three strikers – along with Gastón Fernández and Maximiliano Urruti – who all bring something different to the table. And all three are at the top of their game right now, with Fernandez and Urruti leading the team with six goals and Adi tied for third with his four.
“The great thing right now is we have three strikers that are all performing and are all a little bit different,” Porter said before departing for Salt Lake, where the Timbers had never won in five previous tries. “… It allows me to pick a player based on form, based on the game, the opponent, based on schedule. Adi is a guy that if you start him he’s going to bring pace, power, air play.”
Against RSL, Porter credited Adi’s hold-up play as a big factor in the win. He said it created space for Portland’s talented on-ball attackers Diego Valeri, Darlington Nagbe and Fernandez. And Adi, named MLS Player of the Week on Monday, said he’s happy to do the dirty work, even if it doesn’t always mean getting the goals.
“It hasn’t been easy,” he said of the physical nature of MLS. “It hasn’t been easy at all. It’s a battle. It’s not just me scoring the goals, but it’s the whole team. Without the guys playing fantastic, I wouldn’t be able to get a goal as a striker, so it’s not just about me, it’s about the whole team. We played a nice game.”
Adi has displayed his prowess in the air on a header for his first goal against RSL. And he’s shown he can coolly finish on his other three, polishing off crosses from Jorge Villafaña and Valeri against Chivas and slamming home a rebound from a Nagbe shot against RSL.
“He is on fire,” Timbers captain Will Johnson said. “… The goal where Adi just muscles a guy – you can’t teach that, it’s just instinctive. A big physical guy and the way that he scored that first goal, it just kind of opened them up a little bit, and really it was tough for them to bounce back from that.”
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The only question remaining is whether Portland can keep him in the Rose City.
He has two months remaining on his loan, after which the Timbers can negotiate an extension. And team owner Merritt Paulson gave fans hope that Adi will be in green and gold at least through the end of the season via a tweet at halftime of the RSL game.
@dan_itel two mths left on trial. if he wants to stay here, we will keep him...certainly hope that will be the case— Merritt Paulson (@MerrittPaulson) June 8, 2014
Certainly, leading the Timbers to victory against their nemesis – a club that swept Portland out of the MLS Cup Playoffs with a sweep in the Western Conference Championship series – has already engendered plenty of endearment.
“That’s the essence of the game,” Adi said. “Before we came here, I was told that we’ve never won here and that it’s pretty tough playing against this team, but I just made it a fun joke: ‘Yeah, there’s always a first time, and we’re going to do it this time around.’ It was great that we did it this time around. The whole team played a wonderful game.”
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com.