1-The Timbers were a true force in 2013, Missed barely the playoffs last year and are once again 1 pts away from a playoff spot. What's the major difference between the 2013 team and the years after ? What do the Timbers need to do to be once again a top team in the league ?
In 2013 the Portland Timbers had two things going for them that have not been there in the last two years: first, it sounds crazy to say now, but few teams had played the sort of possession soccer that Caleb Porter's Timbers are built around and first deployed in the 2013 season. Many teams really just had no answer for Portland's high pressure defense and possession heavy offense. Since then, the concept has lost some of its luster as teams have adjusted their play and forced the Timbers to do the same.
Second, the Timbers have been hit by incredibly specific injury bugs for the last two years. The Timbers don't lose a centerback to injury, they lose two centerbacks to injury. The Timbers don't lose a holding midfielder to injury, they lose three holding midfielders to injury. The Timbers don't... well, you get the idea. In 2014 the Timbers cobbled together a healthy defense halfway through the year and went on quite the tear before falling just short of the playoffs. This year the Timbers look like they are approaching a full-strength midfield and attack for the first time in the 2015 season, so the hopes here are that they will once again be able to step their collective game up.
2-Diego Valeri is an awesome player. How much his injury hurt the Timbers this year so far ? Recovering from an ACL is never easy, and we know something about ACL with Adrian Lopez, will he still be effective as he was in the last couple of year ? Or his style of play will change a bit because of the injury ?
The lack of Diego Valeri has been huge for the Timbers so far in 2015. With The Maestro (We had dibs on that nickname in North America, other post-2012 Argentine playmakers in MLS) out of the lineup, the Timbers become significantly more predictable as a team. With him in, the runs from the forwards and wings that go all too often unrewarded could suddenly become a scoring opportunity, or a yard of space could become a long range bomb into the corner of the net, or this could happen.
Seriously, Valeri is very good and the Timbers, despite having a solid collection of talent on hand without him, are made exponentially better by his presence in the attack.
As far as any changes to the game or level of the Timbers' MVP of the last two years, it is still hard to tell at this point. Valeri has only played forty minutes of soccer this season and the rust after his six month layoff was apparent. That being said, he looked to be playing a similar role to what we grew to expect in previous years and in training has been continuously improving as he looks to get back to his full potential. Despite his mild manner with the press, Valeri is a driven player and I find it hard to imagine him accepting anything less than his previous peak.
3-The Timbers are one of the few teams in MLS to have a DP on defense. Do you think it is a good move by the Timbers and how will you rate Ridgewell so far this season ?
Through the first nine games of the season the Timbers have only allowed eight goals, picking up four shutouts in that time period. The team's goals against average so far this year is an impressive 0.89, putting them in a three-way tie for the third most successful defense in the league so far. Ridgewell is, literally and figuratively, at the center of that. Since the start of the 2014 season, the Timbers have essentially remade their defense around Ridgewell, partnering him with Nat Borchers, bringing in Jorge Villafana at left fullback, and giving the right fullback spot to Jamaican youngster and revelation of the season Alvas Powell.
There have been some off performances and some pretty bad gaffs made by this defense in 2015, ones that have resulted in dropped points for the Timbers, but overall their play, Ridgewell's included, has been of a high order.
That being said, is having a centerback designated player a good move? Taken out of context, probably not. MLS teams can find similar talents to Ridgewell for less than designated player money and it is always nice to have once of the DP slots available when a high profile player (that will just end up with Toronto, Seattle, LA, or New York) is rumored to be coming into the league. In context, however, the Timbers needed a good defender to settle their defense for a playoff run in 2014 and anchor it going forward, so they went and got Ridgewell and it almost, almost worked.
Thanks to Will Conwell for his help. You can follow him on twitter @williamconwell .
You can read my answers to his question by following this link.