A Timbers Guide is an on-going series ranking the best Timbers players in the MLS era at their respective positions. You can read about the Timbers strikers
The Portland Timbers, in the MLS era, have done very well for themselves when it comes to signing midfielders. The most remarkable thing about their midfield signings is how long the players on this list have played for the Timbers. Rodney Wallace, Darlington Nagbe, Diego Chara and Jack Jewsbury have all been with the Timbers since their inaugural season in 2011. The Porter era, spanning from 2013-2015, has been even more consistent with the Johnson/Chara/Valeri combination suiting up for a majority of the games. However, injuries have wreaked havoc on the Timbers’ midfield early in 2015. Arguably, the team should have done more to compensate for a weakness they had months to plan for, but there are very good reasons trust the combination of Jack Jewsbury, Diego Chara, and Gaston Fernandez.
There isn’t a stat for midfielders that you can weigh as heavily as you do goals for strikers. Therefore, the analysis of what player goes where in our rankings will be far more subjective than our last Timbers Guide. We will look at the stats cumulatively for each player to paint a picture of their contribution but we will not penalize a player for having a specific role within the team. For Example: Diego Chara typically plays a deep center defensive mid position so we aren’t going to penalize him for having a low goal output. Conversely, we won’t be valuing his 86.2 passing percentage nearly as much as we will for a player like Darlington Nagbe, taking into account degree of difficulty with the understanding that there is a difference between attacking passes and maintenance passes.
How He Was Acquired:
Does Kalif deserve to be on this list? Do you love the Timbers? If yes, then I think we can all agree that remembering Kalif is worth our time. Kalif was signed from the Ghana first division in 2010. He played in 8 games and scored twice for the then USL Timbers.
Kalif scored a game winning goal in stoppage time of the first game of his career. The goal prompted John Strong to say it was the best Timbers goal he’s ever seen. In 2011, Kalif pitched in 6 assists at the age of 20 and won the Timbers Young Player of the Year Award. He had talent you could dream on. An ability to split defenders and see passes only elite players see, but his weaknesses were more screams than whispers. Kalif attempted 58 shots (including blocked shots) without scoring in 2011; more than any other player. In the 2012 opener, Kalif showed the potential everyone had been waiting for. He dominated the right flank and pitched in an assist to Kris Boyd on the day. Unfortunately, Kalif went missing for most of the rest of 2012. He battled injuries all season and struggled to stay on the pitch. Prior to being fired, John Spencer voiced his doubts about Khalif’s commitment to the game. Though it should be noted that his treatment of Alhassan was cited as at least one reason for Spencer’s mid season sacking in 2012.
“One source told
MLSsoccer.com that Spencer would threaten Timbers players they wouldn’t get paid because they played so poorly on the road, while another said Spencer was verbally abusive to Ghananian midfielder Kalif Alahassan, and that rebuilding the 22-year-old’s confidence has become a top priority for the club since Spencer left.”
Caleb Porter was able to get the most out of Alhassan in 2013. He played 30 games while chipping in 3 goals and 3 assists. Kalif progressed in his tactical awareness, increased his defensive strength and found balance between taking on defenders and not disrupting the flow in the buildup. Unfortunately, Kalif only played 509 minutes in 2014 and the Timbers declined his option heading into the 2015 season.
Going into 2013,
Stumptown Footy preached patience for Kalif for at least one more year. Considering Kalif not only survived the Spencer/Porter transition but continued on with the team through 2014 with a decent raise in salary from $70,000.00 in 2011 to $120,000.00, Kalif did capitalize on some of that talent he possessed, it’s not his fault we always wanted more.
Talent that can’t be denied and results far too diverse and varied, Alhassan personified the transition from USL to MLS.
Year (s): 2014-2015
How He Was Acquired:
Gaston was purchased from Estudiantes de La Plata for a reported $500,000 transfer fee.
Merritt also tweeted out something along the lines of “no one can score like him.” Which was fun.
Gaston Fernandez is from Lanus, the same town that birthed demigod Diego Valeri. Whereas Valeri has taken the city and the locker room by storm with his pope-like social skills, La Gata lives up to his name as the brooding Dylan McKay, never as lonely as when surrounded by people. I found this in the comment section of SBI:
Gaston has certainly had his share of controversy in Portland as well. In 2014, Gaston and Will Johnson engaged in a very visible battle over PK’s, and his subbing off and subsequent long slow walk off the field has become a weekly topic of conversation. However, Gaston’s current run of form has proven once again, that winning cures all.
At his best Gaston is a Diego Valeri-lite midfielder with the versatility to play center mid, center attacking mid and withdrawn striker. At his worst he is a bit of tweener, pushing too far forward as a midfielder and not ruthless enough as a finisher to play alone up top.
Gaston said when he was signed that he wanted to make an impact. No doubt bouncing around South America and being suspended by FIFA for a breach of contract had Gaston searching for some stability. He’s done exactly what he’s set out to do, scoring, creating chances and providing depth for a team that desperately needs it.
Year (s): 2011-2015
How He Was Acquired: The Timbers traded Dax McCarty and a 4th round pick in the 2011 MLS Superdraft for Rodney Wallace and allocation money.
At the ripe old age of 22, Rodney Wallace had already accumulated 4,041 minutes with DC United when the Timbers traded for him prior to the 2011 season. Rodney struggled with defending at the left back position despite playing 1,973 minutes there in 2011. He could play man defense but he often found himself out of position on counter attacks and generally appeared unsettled. It became increasingly clear that Wallace wasn’t a defender,clear to nearly everyone but John Spencer. Then in September of 2011, Rodney Wallace was called up to the Costa Rican national team. Playing against Jurgen Klinsmann and the USMNT, Wallace was subbed on at left mid. Then this happened:
Rodney continued started the first five games of 2012 at leftback. After a relatively mild injury to the ankle, Wallace went missing for most of the 2012 season, only reappearing for consecutive starts in the last five games of the season– presumably the time when Caleb Porter started having input on the team’s roster. If you are a Timbers fan you may have selectively forgotten this moment in Timbers history. Rodney finished off the season with five consecutive starts, three in the midfield.
2013 would be a banner year for Mr. Wallace setting career highs in goals (7) and assists (6). He logged 1972 minutes and was selected by his peers as an MLS all star. Rodney scored three game winning goals including goals against Seattle, Sporting KC, and his former team, DC United. He also became the first Timbers player to record three assists in a game against Colorado. His season ended on a sour note tearing the ACL in his right knee and fracturing his tibia in the final game of the season.
Rodney Wallace spent the first half of 2014 establishing his physical and mental resilience, and rehabbing from this major injury. He returned with a vengeance scoring five goals and recording one assist in 1058 minutes. His effort would win him Comeback Player of the Year.
Rodney Wallace is perpetually on the cusp of being replaced, yet he rises to the challenge every single year. With MLS adding the new
core player rule, and nearly doubling the minimum salary level, Rodney will have to step up his game again. I believe he will. I believe in Rodney Wallace.
Year (s): 2011-2015
How He Was Acquired:
Prior to the 2011 season Jack Jewsbury asked to be traded from Kansas City to a team where he could have a bigger impact. He was traded to the Timbers for allocation money.
Jack Jewsbury is an American Fucking Hero. Jack was the Timbers captain in 2011 and 2012, assisting in the development of Rodney Wallace and Darlington Nagbe. His first year with the Timbers was magical. After spending 2010 as a super sub for the Kansas City Wizards, Jack rejuvenated his career with 7 goals and 8 assists earning him an All-Star selection, the first ever by a Timber. He put numbers on the board with dead ball accuracy, creating more chances from set pieces than from the run of play.
In 2012, Jack relinquished his set piece taking duties and didn’t join the attack as much as he had the year before. His versatility was on display as the Jack-at-right-back experiment was birthed.
Jack was also heavily involved with both the brightest moment of the season and the worst moment in Timbers history. The former being the game winning goal he scored against Vancouver to bring home the Cascadia Cup. The latter occurred following the now infamous Cal FC loss when a capo called for Jack’s jersey. For those of you that don’t know, the request was a reference to Ultra culture and one specific instance in which the Genoa Ultra’s barricaded the stadium exits and refused to let the players leave until they gave up all their jerseys, implying the players were unfit to wear them. Jack, clearly upset by the suggestion, reportedly had something to say to the Capo.
When we talk about Jack, we often invoke expressions of loyalty between players and clubs, but rarely do we have the full context of what that means. I’m glad Jack took offense, I’m glad he went home and said “Yes” to the inevitable thought, “Is it worth it?” That’s why he’s he will always be our captain.
After 2700 minutes with 3 goals and 4 assists in 2012, the common sentiment going into 2013 was keep him at a lower cost and fewer minutes. He would actually get a raise from $189,750 in 2012 to $194,750 in 2013 but his numbers did drop by about 500 minutes. He played the majority of the season at right back where he provided the steady hand the team needed in one of their best MLS seasons. He also chipped in an assist in Timbers 2-1 playoff road win against Seattle. Legend.
Jack did actually take a pay cut in 2014, down to $132,500. He started the majority of his 16 games early in the season, before he eventually lost minutes to Alvas Powell. On July 28th 2014, he played in his 300th MLS game.
The Legend has returned to a utility role in 2015. In true Jewsbury fashion he’s played a bigger role than anyone could have expected, with game winners vs. Colorado and San Jose. Proving the doubters wrong again and again, with seemingly endless grit, is why Jack Jewsbury is an American hero.
5 years ago:
Year (s): 2011-2015
How He Was Acquired:
Diego Chara was purchased during the 2011 season from Colombian team Tolima. Reports at the time pegged the transfer fee at two million dollars, however Gavin Wilkinson denied those reports. He was the Timbers’ first Designated Player because of the amount of his transfer fee but never earned a salary over the designated player threshold.
Diego Chara’s arrival immediately improved the Timbers’ midfield that was trotting out James Marcelin, Adam Moffat, and Peter Lowry alongside Jack Jewsbury. Chara would start twenty-seven games in 2011, scoring his first goal within the first two minutes of the 2-1 victory over Vancouver. Months later he continued to terrorize Vancouver by chipping in a game winning assist to Kenny Cooper for a 1-0 victory at BC Place. He settled in and found his favorite restaurant,
Applebees. Hopefully Diego has found a better spot in the three years since that article was published.
In 2012 Diego Chara established himself as one of the most consistent Timbers players, starting 28 games, including 27 straight. He went the full 90 in all but three of his appearances. Establishing himself as a reckless and tenacious ball winner, Diego tallied 72 fouls, good for 2nd in MLS. His efforts earned him both the Players’ and Supporters’ Player of the Year awards.
Chara thrived under Porterball in 2013, the emphasis on winning the ball and almost instantaneously creating the attack perfectly suited Chara’s strengths. Further, a partnership with Will Johnson freed Chara up to take chances on offense and defense. He started 31 matches, played the full 90 in all but 2, including 18 straight matches. Diego started all four of the clubs’ playoff matches while recording the go ahead assist in the road win against Seattle.
Last year was much of the same for the most consistent Timber as Chara once again started 31 matches. On his 28th birthday he scored a brace against Seattle which still puts Chara-like smiles on the faces of everyone who thinks of it.
Diego Chara is a relentless defensive midfielder who has allowed the Timbers to add more numbers to the attack than they could ever hope to do without him. He is one of the best signings of the 2011-2012 era and one of the best Timbers of all time.
Year (s): 2013-2015
How He Was Acquired:
The Timbers traded allocation money to Real Salt Lake for Will Johnson in December of 2012. Real Salt Lake needed to free up salary cap money so they sent Will Johnson, Jamison Olave and Fabian Espindola packing. Luis Gil was cited as a potential reason for why Johnson was expendable. The Timbers also parted ways with Eric Brunner and Kosuke Kimura while acquiring Michael Harrington in a flurry of moves surrounding the Johnson acquisition.
Will Johnson has the jump on Diego Chara for two reasons. First, he’s a two way player. His offensive performance in 2013 was nothing short of remarkable and when Johnson is in form in the attack, the Timbers can look unstoppable. The second, is Johnson’s record as captain from 2013-2015. Some bristle at the importance of the armband, and while I tend to agree, no one represents what a captain should be more than Will Johnson. He has a freakish ability to say the exact right thing at the exact right time bridging the gap between the front office and the supporters, the fans and the players, the young players and the veterans. When we look back on Will Johnson’s tenure in Portland, we are going to remember a player who epitomized class and did more to help the surrounding component pieces than anyone else. Oh Captain, My Captain, we are fortunate to have you to lead us to victory.
In 2013, Will Johnson had a career year unloading with 9 goals and chipping in 5 assists, he played the full 90 in all of his 28 starts and was selected by Peter Vermes for the 2013 All Star team. He scored a game winner goal from a set piece against San Jose. That game featured known douchebag Alan Gordan’s anti-gay slur; Johnson would promptly informed him that he would be missing the
next three games per MLS discriminatory policy. Perhaps a small gesture in the grand scheme of things but considering the zeitgeist at the time and the ongoing struggle for equal rights. Being able to live through Johnson with his rage, sense of justice and his ultimate victory, was a special moment for everyone.
Johnson would injure his shoulder August 7th in the US Open Cup semifinal. He would miss the next month and the Timbers would go 1-2-1 without him. A stretch that would include a heart breaking equalizer by Real Salt Lake in stoppage time and a 4-2 dismantling at the hands of the same team a few weeks later. When he returned, the Timbers destroyed Toronto 4-0, he led the Timbers to their first playoff berth and scored in back to back games. He was the Timbers Supporters Player of the Year in 2013.
He was also booked with a yellow for dissent in this hilarious incident:
Will Johnson signed a multiyear extension with Timbers in March of 2014. It would be a trying year for both our captain and the team. There is a story I overheard about Will Johnson as a kid. A fellow soccer mom commented that Will was different than the other kids, not necessarily because he loved to play or loved to win but because he hated to lose. When Porter gave Johnson the armband he made a comment somewhere along the lines of, great players, great leaders are a little grumpy from day to day. In 2013, Johnson’s antics, that sometimes border on hysterics, symbolized the tenacity of a champion but during the struggle of the 2014 it could at times come off as a lack of composure.
Johnson’s GP90 dropped from .32 to .21 and his AP90 dropped from .18 to .07. Despite his drop in offensive production (primarily due to added defensive responsibilities) Johnson set a career high in minutes played and made his second consecutive all-star appearance.
Tragedy struck in Toronto as Will Johnson fractured tibia and fibula in the first seven seconds of the match. It was a huge blow to the Timbers’ late season surge to a playoff spot and may have ultimately shut the door on their chances altogether. They would go up 2-0 only to lose 3-2. Hindsight is hindsight, but it’s hard not to think that with a healthy Will Johnson, we wouldn’t have found a way to take home points from that game and thus making the playoffs as one of the hottest teams in MLS.
Johnson’s return to the team in 2015 has been a godsend. He has been the lynchpin in the Timbers’ recent run of incredible form. As a leader of men, Johnson doesn’t kiss the badge, he is the badge, he bleeds green and gold for us.
Will Johnson the man, the myth, the legend:
Year (s): 2011-2015
How He Was Acquired:
Darlington Nagbe was selected 2nd overall in the 2011 Superdraft, a draft in which he was widely considered the top talent. Prior to the draft, the Oregonian posted an article claiming there was a “rumor” that Nagbe didn’t want to play in Vancouver. When Vancouver selected 17 year old Omar Salgado, The Timbers representatives raced to the podium to drop Nagbe’s name in order to maximize the amount of time for which they would experience boundless happiness. MLSsoccer.com named Nagbe the
#3 Superdraft pick of all time in 2014.
If Will Johnson is the Han Solo of the Timbers franchise, Darlington Nagbe is Luke Skywalker. Drafted #2 overall in the Timbers first ever MLS SuperDraft he is the Timbers’ first investment, the first professional player introduced to supporters to nurture, grow and love. Now in his fifth professional season, Nagbe has rewarded the city with hard work, consistency, and continued growth as a player. Despite Darlington’s growth, his potential always leads one to believe he has more to give. The discussion of whether or not he will get there– whether that be a legitimate scoring threat or a player in the USMNT– is the ever unfolding narrative of Portland’s prodigal son.
Darlington Nagbe absolutely exploded onto the scene in 2011 as his first score, one of the greatest Timbers goals of all time, wetted the appetite of Timbers fans all around. Watch and re-live:
It would be Goal of the Year in 2011, and the expectations of how great Darlington Nagbe could be reached insane levels. Nagbe logged 1,651 minutes and contributed with 2 goals and 3 assists. It was a successful rookie campaign for Nagbe, but there were missteps. John Spencer tinkered with Darlington, he wanted him to be a CAM but played him at forward then reluctantly began to play him on the wing.
2012 was written into the stars as Darlington Nagbe’s breakout year. It likely would have been too, had the Timbers not imploded, fired John Spencer mid-season, and installed an out-of-his-depths Gavin Wilkinson. Nagbe finished the season with 6 goals and 1 assist.
When Caleb Porter was hired ahead of the 2013 season, his relationship with Darlington at Akron was cited as a reason for optimism that Nagbe could go from good to great. With 9 goals, 4 assists, 1.4 key passes per game, and continuing his dominance on the dribble, Nagbe continued to progress as a player. To put his season in perspective, Nags was named the
#1 player under 24 by MLSsoccer.com. He also added one to the mantle of incredible goals with this Mad Nagbe selection:
He was also nominated for Goal of the Year in 2013, again, with this ridiculous strike:
The Timbers’ slow start in 2014 fell unevenly weighted on Nagbe’s shoulders. With Diego Valeri rounding into form early in the season and the Timbers unable to put goals on the scoreboard, Nagbe appeared to press. He wouldn’t open his account until the very last game of the season, scoring on a deflection against FC Dallas. But, he did set career highs in assists (7), key passes (1.8 PG), successful dribbles (2.8 PG), and passing percentage (87%).
Nagbe’s goal production is a continued source of discussion around the kombucha cooler in Portland. 2-6-9-1 is a series of numbers in which one is hardpressed to find correlation or aberration. In regards to goals, 2015 has been much like 2014 as Nagbe’s GP90 has risen from .03 in 2014 to .06 in 2015. As great as a player as Nagbe is, and he is, goals are the missing part of his game. It’s simple, if he is able to take those Golazo’s and turn them into a consistent scoring threat, he will go from a very, very good player to a great player; he will go from a Portland Timbers legend to a potential USMNT legend.
Regardless of goal output, Darlington Nagbe, resting on his current plateau, is the 2nd greatest player to ever play for the Portland Timbers.
Year (s): 2013-2015
How He Was Acquired:
In October of 2012, Diego Valeri and his family were victims of a carjacking by gunpoint; by January of 2013 he was on plane headed to Portland. The Timbers, looking for a number 10, first sought out USMNT player Mix Diskerud who was nearly signed before he balked at the idea of being owned by MLS and not being a Designated Player. Merritt Paulson tweeted something along the lines of “Oh well, our other option might be better anyways.” He was, and it highlights a lesson that USMNT fans don’t want to hear; there is no need overpay for name recognition. The Timbers signed Diego Valeri on loan from Lanus with an option to buy. They would buy him eight months later for a reported 3 million dollars.
Here is a non-controversial statement: Diego Valeri is the greatest player to ever suit up for the Portland Timbers. The truth of that statement has never really wavered; in his first game he introduced himself to Portland with this equalizer against New York:
The goal was nominated for Goal of the Year and the love affair between Portland and the “Maestro” began. He became the first player to score double digit goals for the Timbers in 2013. He led the league in assists with 13. He was named MLS’ Newcomer of the Year. He was named to the All-Star team. From July 13-Aug. 21 he was involved in 9 straight goals by scoring 2 and assisting on 7.
The only thing that could mark Diego Valeri in 2013? A sports hernia. Down the stretch Valeri’s minutes were limited and his effectiveness slightly diminished by a sports hernia he played through. He would have successful surgery in the offseason, but recovery limited his preseason.
Valeri would make it back for the first game of 2014 to start his historic campaign. He surpassed his own records scoring 11 goals and 14 assists while leading the team in minutes played. He would go on to win Player’s Player of Year and Supporters Player of the year. He was named to the All-Star team and recorded the game winning assist against Bayern Munich.
Diego would tear his ACL in the last game of the regular season against FC Dallas. The city rained tears for eight straight days. His absence contributed to the team’s slow start in 2015. In true Valeri fashion he scored a screamer in his return to the starting lineup to bury the Montreal Impact:
A great player’s brain goes on autopilot during moments of
brilliance. Beauty for them arrives as a naturally occurring expression of their existence. Valeri sees passes and flicks that no one else can comprehend, knowing where every player on the pitch is, like they are somehow an extension of himself; just neural connections on Valeri’s own subconscious map. This is the definition of what is beautiful about soccer.
His calling is special, his calling is different, his calling is created and designed for one purpose, to win trophies. His legacy will be defined so.
Best Moment: see future trophies.
No disrespect to the USMNT, but maximum disrespect to Clint Dempsey: I was watching this game because of Rodney Wallace. When he lined up at left mid I was happy, when he scored I lost my mind. (back)
avoiding names to avoid inadvertent shaming (back)
Italian hooligans (back)
There is reason to believe that Diego Valeri is making much more than the reported numbers of his contract. (back)