RSL Soapbox) The first obvious question on every RSL fans' minds is this: How does Nat Borchers improve RSL and what Timbers void does he fill?
Stumptown Footy) On one level the answer is simple: The Timbers conceded 52 goals last year with the most glaring problem being in central defense. Liam Ridgewell helped stabilize that a little bit, but if the Timbers want to be anything more than okay defensively they needed more. That's where Borchers comes in, and early reviews have been (probably predictably to RSL fans) glowing.
It's clear early on that Borchers is going to be a key figure in the locker room, as well. Along with Ridgewell, Will Johnson, Diego Chara, and Diego Valeri, Borchers further reinforces the leadership in the Timbers' spine.
RSL Soapbox) In my mind, Diego Valeri is one of the best players in MLS. Do you think he could be in the running for MVP this year?
Stumptown Footy) It will be tough this year because he'll be out until May recovering from a torn ACL suffered in the last game of the 2014 season, but he absolutely is one of the premiere players in MLS right now. Last year Valeri joined Robbie Keane and Amado Guevara as the only players in MLS history to log double-digit goals and assists in back-to-back seasons. I think that speaks for itself.
As a little aside, Timbers (and MLS) fans have Javi Morales to thank for the privilege of watching Valeri in MLS on a weekly basis. Not only was Morales part of the inspiration for MLS making a concerted effort to bring more players from Argentina, but Morales vouched for the quality of the league when Valeri called him before he signed in Portland. People always talk about the Beckhams, Donovans, and Henrys when they discuss players who have changed MLS, but Javi also deserves that kind recognition for his play on the field for RSL as well as what he's done for the league off the field.
RSL Soapbox) Rumblings are often overblown and silly, but it was mentioned quite a bit last year that Caleb Porter might be in the hot seat. Is there any truth to that claim and what is expected of him this year?
Stumptown Footy) I don't think Porter is on the hot seat right now. I think he would have been had the team not improved through the course of 2014, but the reality is it would be foolish to look to replace a coach who missed the playoffs by a hair and had his team playing 1.8 points-per-game soccer in the last two months of the season. But while Porter's October credentials are unimpeachable, his March credentials are highly questionable (i.e. in two seasons he hasn't won a single game in March). So while I don't think Porter is on the hot seat right now, if the Timbers limp to another slow start that cripples their ultimate standing in the West, he may be at season's end.
*Questions from Stumptown Footy to RSL Soapbox*
Stumptown Footy) Death, taxes, and RSL's diamond midfield. Those have been the only constants in MLS watchers' lives over the better part of the last decade. Is it true the Claret-and-Cobalt are moving to a 4-3-3, and if so, what do you expect it to look like?
RSL Soapbox) RSL is in fact changing formations and it looks like they will be heavier up front with three strikers that in theory should play well off of each other. I think the reason for that is that RSL has three quality forwards and it would be a disservice to them and the fans to not have them all on the field. Those three are Joao Plata, Alvaro Saborio, and Sebastian Jaime. That is not to say that the diamond is done. Jeff Cassar has stated that he wants teams to not know exactly how to plan for RSL so it's essentially another ace up his sleeve.
Stumptown Footy) There have been a fair number of changes in Salt Lake this offseason with the departures of Chris Wingert, Ned Grabavoy, and Nat Borchers, and return of Jamison Olave. Does 2015 have the feeling of a new era in Sandy?
RSL Soapbox) Even Kyle Beckerman has gone as far as to say this is a new chapter for Salt Lake. For that reason, he turned down a U.S. Men's National Team call-up to stick around and help the new players integrate with the system and with the rest of the team. Change does not go over well with Utah sports fans, and there are definitely arguments to be made for RSL possibly being better had those players been able to stay, but I am of the opinion that this is a high risk high reward situation in which RSL might actually have a stronger starting XI. The reason Insay that is because all indications point to Demar Phillips being a more athletic, offense-minded outside back. Jamison Olave is also much more athletic and speedy than Nat Borchers (not that we won't miss him. We very much will.) and should compliment Chris Schuler well. As for the loss of Ned Grabavoy, this is Luis Gil's year to take a bigger role and really lead the team so it was going to happen sooner or later. All that and I feel like the striker depth is better than ever with three proven scorers and two younger players that are primed to break out.
Stumptown Footy) Who should Timbers fans expect to see step up in the absence of Joao Plata?
RSL Soapbox) Here are two players that will have to assume a bigger role with the absence of the Ecuadorian National Teamer: Sebastian Jaime and Olmes Garcia. All the coaching staff and upper brass have been saying that Jaime is going to surprise everyone, but time will tell. Others have said that Garcia will be a player akin to Fabian (not Fanian, as our typo would have you believe) Castillo of FC Dallas when he completely figures the league out and is at his peak. If they don't pan out, we will have problems.