Armchair Analyst: More punch in Portland | #MLSIsBack in 9 Days

I've written this a million times, but just because that's a round number doesn't mean it's a good time to stop. So here's a million-and-one: What Diego Valeri did last year in his MVP season was remarkable. The Argentinean enganche stepped up during the most crucial time of year, put his team on his back, and scored big goal after big goal after big goal after big goal...

He kept doing that until he dragged the Timbers (who'd been caught in a brutal early-summer slump) to the top of the Western Conference, and he did it despite injuries to a number of his most important teammates. The biggest of them? A hamstring strain for fellow Designated Player Fanendo Adi

The big Nigerian hit double-digit goals (10) for the third straight year, but he didn't score after July 5 and didn't play after August 6. Valeri had to fill that gap.

Adi is healthy now and is starting during preseason, and second-year forward Jeremy Ebobisse (who I thought should've gotten more run in Adi's absence) is fighting for minutes as his backup. But in this TAM era, there is a third face in the race:

Samuel Armenteros is arguably the best example of what's possible with smart management of the salary cap and larger salary budget. He's a 27-year-old Swedish international who, just last year, scored 19 goals in the Dutch Eredivisie, and he's neither a DP nor a guaranteed starter.

Relative to the history of the league, that is insane depth. Players with that pedigree were not coming to MLS two years ago on anything less than a DP contract, and most GMs would've had to cook the books to try to fit him into the cap even so. But with the offseason TAM influx, that's just not a concern.

And that means Valeri won't have to be Superman again in 2018. It also means that Adi will have to fight for his job, and that if Ebobisse wants to figure into US Olympic qualifying (which is closer than it appears!), he's going to have to make a big leap past two forwards with international experience and goals in their boots.

It is a new, viciously competitive era, one in which roster slots are at a premium and starting jobs are going to be coveted. Produce or be replaced.

We know Valeri can live up to that pressure. The big question for this year's Timbers is which of his teammates will join him.

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