As the reigning MLS Champions, what kinds of pressure do you think the team and Caleb Porter are under to perform? Do you think that the fans are expecting similar results this season?
Expectations in the Rose City are hard to pin down this year. If you were to only look at the end result -- 3rd place in the Western Conference, 5th overall, winner of the MLS Cup -- just about everybody would be happy to make it through the season and finish things up with the exact same result.
The season leading up to that finish, however, was significantly more fraught than the finish implies. The Timbers were below the red line for much of the season, including a dip back below it with only about a month to go, and jostling for position through much of the season. It took an incredible finish to the season and a meteoric fall from the Seattle Sounders to get the Timbers into 3rd in the West.
So, with all that in mind, most in Portland expect that Timbers to do better throughout the 2016 season, not just at the end of the year.
Where 2015 got underway with the Timbers ravaged by injuries, most of the side's key contributors are fit and present for 2016. Liam Ridgewell might be dealing with a series of soft tissue injuries, and new left back Chris Klute is still working his way back from a problematic knee injury rehabilitation, but Diego Valeri is healthy, Darlington Nagbe is playing in a position that fits his unique skillset, and Fanendo Adi is poised to carry forward the tremendous hold-up play and scoring form with which he closed out 2015.
If the Timbers finish the season near the top of the Western Conference again, nobody will be complaining, but Timbers fans would certainly appreciate it if they could manage that feat with a little less drama this time around.
What does the Darren Mattocks acquisition mean for the Timbers attack, and what does it mean for the future of the Cascadia Rivalry?
In the short term Mattocks still has some time to spend on the training pitch before he is truly match fit. Since the birth of his child early in the preseason, Mattocks has not been training with the Vancouver Whitecaps, and even the most rigorous individual training regimen can't compete with the monitoring that the Timbers and other MLS teams deploy.
Still, once he is judged fit to play, Mattocks will provide the Timbers with a different look in the attack: a bench option who can play up top or on either wing and bring significant pace and aerial ability to a match. Whether the Timbers are looking for an attacking surge or a player to keep the opposition honest as they grind out a win, Mattocks definitely brings a different dimension to the pitch than Adi or offseason acquisition Jack McInerney.
Of course, Mattocks stands a good chance of facing his former side, the Whitecaps, as many as three times this year during the regular season and, after rumors of his discontent with the side, it seems likely that he will be motivated to play a big part in those matches.
Still, from a fan's perspective, Mattocks moving from the 'Caps to the Timbers is less of a big deal than Steve Zakuani's trade to Portland in 2014, or Troy Perkins' signing with the Sounders in 2015. The rivalry between the Whitecaps and Timbers, while strong, is remarkably cordial and that seems likely to extend to this move as well. Mattocks may have worn out his welcome with some Whitecaps fans after several years that did not quite live up to the promise of his stellar rookie season, but for the most part he will be welcomed back just like Nat Borchers was by RSL fans (despite scoring a game winner for the Timbers last season).
Lucas Melano showed flashes of brilliance in his appearances for the club last year. What do you hope to see from the young striker in the coming season, and will he be able to live up to expectations of the club?
Getting the most out of Melano will be a complicated balancing act for the Timbers this year. An outrageously fast winger with good foot skills and a willingness to take on defenders one on one, Melano is poised for an outstanding season... If he can keep up his recent strong defensive efforts, pick his head up and find his teammates a little more often, and maybe turn some of the good shots that he has been taking (see his effort of the woodwork against San Jose last week) into good goals that he is scoring.
As a designated player and target of the Timbers' largest transfer fee to date, Melano does have all sorts of expectations placed on him and it can be difficult to sort out which are realistic and which are not, and more importantly which are the expectations that the team has for him and which are projections from the fans.
Melano just turned 23 at the start of March and should now be entering his prime as a player. He can still improve -- and the Timbers believe he will -- but now is the time that he will need to step up his contributions significantly or risk seeing his stock drop off quickly.
Lineup guess, in case you want it: Kwarasey; Valentin, Taylor, Borchers, Powell; Valeri, Chara, Nagbe; Asprilla, Adi, Melano