Honors, Awards Show Portland’s Growth

Porter, Valeri, Johnson and Ricketts all honored for 2013 efforts
by Ray Marcham   |   Thursday, December 05, 2013

jJohn Hefti Photography - Darlington Nagbe, Portland Timbers

The past week has been a very good one for the Portland Timbers, even if they aren’t heading to Kansas City for the MLS Cup.

Awards and honors have been rolling in for the club. If nothing else, it has taken a little of the sting off from losing the Western Conference Final to Real Salt Lake almost 2 weeks ago. Not completely, of course, but it has meant that the work that Portland manager Caleb Porter and his players have put in since January has been recognized by those who vote on the MLS awards, including club officials, the media and other players.

The roll call of MLS awards is impressive for a team that seemed lost at this time last year. Of course, no one expected what transpired in 2013, which is a big reason why Porter beat out New York’s Mike Petke for Coach of the Year. One year ago, Porter was still in Ohio, having finished up his tenure at the University of Akron and getting ready to head west. But the Timbers were already getting his stamp, as general manager Gavin Wilkinson was starting to make moves based on Porter’s recommendations.

One of those moves happened on Dec. 3, 2012, just over a year ago. That’s when Will Johnson was traded from RSL to Portland for allocation money. Johnson was seen as expendable by RSL, as they made moves to get under the MLS salary cap.

But by time the preseason was over in February, Johnson had been named the Timbers’ captain by Porter. He went on to have a spectacular season, scoring 11 goals in 35 overall appearances (MLS regular season, playoffs and US Open Cup) establishing himself as one of the premier midfielders in the league and becoming Canada’s captain during the CONCACAF Gold Cup. Though he had a shoulder injury that kept him out for much of August, his impact on the club on his return in September was massive. And, at the end, he was recognized by being named to the midfield on the MLS Best XI.

Not a bad turnaround, indeed.

Diego Valeri was still in Argentina a year ago, playing for Lanus in the Primera División. But the negotiations that would lead to his loan to the Timbers were underway. He made an immediate impact, scoring a spectacular goal on opening night against New York, and went on to become a major key to Portland’s revival. His stunning goals and pinpoint passes leading to goals have made him one of the top players in the entire league. That he played out the final months of the season with an adductor strain and a sports hernia solidified his reputation as a tough player, as well.

Now, Valeri has designated player status with the Timbers, has been chosen for MLS’ Best XI and was the runaway winner of the MLS Newcomer of the Year. He also led MLS in assists. That 2013 could be seen as a successful year for him would be a major understatement.

As for Donovan Ricketts, he was already a Timber, coming in an August trade from Montreal in 2012. He was seen as a goalkeeper on the decline, even though he was less than two years removed from being the 2010 MLS Goalkeeper of the Year for the Los Angeles Galaxy. He had been injured for much of 2011, when the Galaxy won the MLS Cup, and that helped LA decided to trade him to Montreal for allocation money following the 2012 Expansion Draft.

At the time of the trade, the Impact were leading MLS in goals against and Ricketts was near the bottom of MLS in a number of statistical categories. Wilkinson was mocked in a number of quarters, including among Timbers fans, for calling the move “an upgrade”. That the goalkeeper who was traded for Ricketts, Troy Perkins, was a popular player among teammates and fans also worked against Ricketts.

Again, what a difference a year makes. Ricketts led MLS in shutouts with 14, had a goals against average of 0.97 and lost only 4 regular season matches all season. He had career highs in shutouts, saves and minutes played. He returned to the level of elite goalkeepers in MLS, and ended up being honored with his second MLS Goalkeeper of the Year award. The 36-year-old also was named to the MLS Best XI, also for the 2nd time.

Three players in the MLS Best XI. Coach of the Year. Newcomer of the Year. Goalkeeper of the Year. It’s an impressive haul for individual honors for the Timbers, and a far cry from where things stood in Portland a year ago.

But there’s one big team honor the Timbers would love to be playing for on Saturday. And, for 2014, that honor, the MLS Cup, is seen as the next step by management, players and fans. The expectations are high, and the Timbers will be a targeted team all season.

Compared to last year, that’s major change. One that’s likely not minded by the staff at JELD-WEN Field.

NEXT UP: March 8 – Portland Timbers vs. Philadelphia Union, JELD-WEN Field, Portland, Ore. 10:30 PM EST, TV TBA.

Ray MARCHAM

Nationality:
USA
College:
Washington State
Club Domestic:
Portland Timbers
Club Foreign:
Arsenal
Cascadia native and a fan for as long as he can remember, Ray was brought up on the old NASL. Learned to love MLS. Wanted to play like Clive Charles. Then like Tony Adams. Only dreams, of course.
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