How Good is the Portland Timbers Roster in 2021?

By Ben Morris in Soccer
| April 8, 2021 9:18 am PDT

Despite winning the MLS is Back Tournament, it is difficult to class Portland’s 2020 campaign as a success. The Oregon outfit ended up crashing out of the playoffs at the first hurdle, finishing the year on a sour note.

It is no secret that Portland was extremely unlucky on the injury front last term. The Timbers lost not one, but two Designated Players midway through the season, with Sebastian Blanco and Jaroslaw Niezgoda picking up long-term injuries.

Still, as he enters his fourth season as head coach at Providence Park, Giovanni Savarese will be confident that the 2021 Portland Timbers roster can challenge for silverware this year.

In this post, I take an in-depth look at the Portland Timbers roster ahead of the 2021 MLS season, discussing the club’s offseason transfers, injury problems, and more.

The 2021 Portland Timbers Roster

Before we assess the club’s offseason transfers, let’s take a look at the 2021 Portland Timbers roster in full.

PORTLAND TIMBERS ROSTER IN 2021
Goalkeepers Defenders Midfielders Forwards
Steve Clark Dario Zuparic Eryk Williamson Sebastian Blanco (DP)
Jeff Attinella Bill Tuiloma Cristhian Paredes Blake Bodily
Aljaz Ivacic Larrys Mabiala Diego Chara Yimmi Chara (DP)
Hunter Sulte Zac McGraw Renzo Zambrano Andy Polo
Claudio Bravo Diego Valeri (C) Marvin Loria
Ismaila Jome Dairon Asprilla
Josecarlos van Rankin Felipe Mora
Pablo Bonilla Jaroslaw Niezgoda (DP)
Jeremy Ebobisse

Who Starts in Goal This Year?

Veteran goalkeeper Steve Clark looks set to start the season between the sticks for Portland. Slovenia international Aljaz Ivacic played a couple of matches last term, although a lengthy injury is likely to keep him on the sidelines for a few more months.

Despite finishing third in the Western Conference last year, the Timbers finished the campaign with the worst defensive record in the top six. When Ivacic returns to fitness, expect him to take Clark’s place.

Can the Timbers Fix Their Defensive Problems?

Claudio Bravo, Josecarlos van Rankin, and Ismaila Jome have been brought in to give Savarese more backline options. But with defenders like Marco Farfan, Julio Cascante, and Jorge Villafana moving in the opposite direction, it could take time to resolve Portland’s defensive issues.

On a brighter note, Dario Zuparic and Larrys Mabiala began to forge a formidable center-back partnership last season. If they can pick up where they left off in 2020, the Timbers shouldn’t concede as many goals this year.

Portland Possesses Midfield Quality

Portland’s 2021 roster may look light in the midfield department, at least in terms of options. But the options that Savarese has are among the best in Major League Soccer.

Like a fine wine, the evergreen Diego Valeri just keeps on getting better with age. After contributing nine goals and eight assists last year, the 34-year-old now sits on 96 goals and 76 assists in 274 appearances for the Timbers.

Youngsters such as Eryk Williamson and Cristhian Paredes further enhanced their glowing reputations last term, while Diego Chara was named in the 2020 MLS Best XI for his troubles.

In my eyes, the 2021 Portland Timbers roster boasts an ideal midfield balance.

Who Does Savarese Choose in Attack?

Losing one Designated Player to injury is hard enough, but the Timbers will start the 2021 MLS season with two attacking DPs on the treatment table – Sebastian Blanco and Jaroslaw Niezgoda.

Blanco is nearing a return from an ACL injury that struck him down back in September, although it is unclear when Niezgoda will make a comeback. With Jeremy Ebobisse also struggling for fitness, Felipe Mora will need to step up this year.

Having said that, guys like Yimmy Chara, Marvin Loria, and Andy Polo offer different dimensions, meaning the Timbers’ roster for the 2021 MLS season isn’t short on attacking options.

Evaluating Portland’s Offseason Transfers

The Timbers may have lost some key defensive players, but Savarese has also added some notable names to the 2021 Portland roster. Below, I discuss the club’s offseason business.

Incoming Players

  • Claudio Bravo – CA Banfield ($1.6m)
  • Felipe Mora – UNAM Pumas ($1.1m)
  • Josecarlos van Rankin – Chivas (Loan)
  • Ismaila Jome – Austin Bold (Free)

With a series of injuries hitting the forward department, it was imperative that Portland turned Mora’s loan deal into a permanent move. The Chile international bagged seven goals and three assists in MLS last season – and he will be expected to do even better this year.

Jome and van Rankin add depth to the Timbers’ full-back areas, while Bravo is almost certainly a guaranteed starter at left-back.

Bravo – who has six Argentina U23 caps to his name – joins Portland from Primera Division side Banfield. He could prove to be the perfect replacement for Villafana.

Outgoing Players

  • Marco Farfan – Los Angeles FC ($0.3m)
  • Julio Cascante – Austin FC ($0.3m)
  • Tomas Conechny – Maldonado (Free)
  • Jorge Villafana – LA Galaxy (Free)
  • Jorge Gonzalez – Louisville City (Loan)
  • Andres Flores – (Released)
  • Chris Duvall – (Released)

Portland chose not to renew the contracts of Andres Flores and Chris Duvall at the end of the previous campaign, with Jorge Gonzalez heading to Louisville on loan for the year.

Farfan and Villafana featured prominently for the Timbers last term, so they may be missed. However, the Oregon outfit isn’t likely to miss players such as Cascante and Conechny, who were on the periphery of the squad for a while.

All in all, I think the Timbers will be satisfied with their offseason transfers this year.

Can the Timbers Cope Without Their Injured Stars?

Averaging exactly two goals per game during the 2020 regular season, the Timbers were the highest scorers in the West last year. Just imagine what they could have achieved if their main strikers were fit for the entire campaign!

As you can see from the table below, Blanco notched up eight goal involvements in seven MLS is Back matches, before being struck down after just six regular-season games.

SEBASTIAN BLANCO BEFORE INJURY LAST SEASON
Competition Games Goals Assists
MLS is Back 7 3 5
Regular Season 6 1 1
Overall 13 4 6

Niezgoda lasted a little longer than Blanco, although he failed to complete the season, too. The Polish DP bagged four goals and one assist in his final five appearances and looked set to play a key role in the playoffs, but he went off after just 12 minutes against Vancouver.

JAROSLAW NIEZGODA BEFORE INJURY LAST SEASON
Competition Games Goals Assists
MLS is Back 7 2 1
Regular Season 14 6 1
Overall 21 8 2

Thankfully, Portland possesses enough attacking firepower to deal with the absence of Blanco and Niezgoda. Although Ebobisse is also set for a spell on the sidelines, the permanent signing of Mora gives Savarese relief in the forward department.

With Blanco close to a comeback, it shouldn’t be long before the 2021 Portland Timbers roster is close to full strength.

Closing Thoughts on the Portland Timbers Roster in 2021

2020 started brightly for Portland, with the MLS is Back triumph pointing towards a successful year. But failing to go deep into the postseason ultimately felt like a failure for the club.

However, there is no reason why the 2021 Portland Timbers roster can’t achieve success.

Of course, starting the new campaign without Blanco and Niezgoda is not ideal. But when the Designated Players return to full fitness, the Timbers have the potential to be one of the strongest teams in Major League Soccer this year.

That’s why they find themselves among the bookmakers’ 2021 MLS Cup favorites.

In my opinion, Portland’s midfield is probably the most dynamic in MLS. At 34, Valeri is still one of the best players in the league, while the likes of Williamson and Paredes are only going to improve.

If the Timbers can fix their defensive problems, they will almost certainly improve on last season’s efforts.

If you’re looking for more content like this, make sure you check out my other MLS roster analysis posts.

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