Can the defense be as reliable for Kwarasey as it was in 2015?
by Matt Hoffman
For a city that prides itself in its uniqueness, there are certain patterns in the Rose City that are unmistakable.
Besides being the city where the housing bubble never truly burst, Portland still shuts down with the smallest dusting of snow. Finally, one pattern that might be troubling for those pining for a MLS Cup repeat is the cyclical nature of goalkeepers in the Rose City: one year champs, the next, chumps.
Troy Perkins came to Portland pegged by Brian Strauss (then with the Sporting News) as one of the worst bargains in MLS. Perkins started off 2011 with some injury concerns but managed to cobble together enough stops to put the Timbers into playoff contention during the team’s initial MLS campaign.
Year two did not go quite so well though there are few that pin all of the troubles on Perkins. Indeed, there was already a palpable amount of vitriol when the trade went down that only intensified after Gavin Wilkinson deemed Donovan Ricketts, who replaced Perkins, to be an “upgrade.”
Wilkinson might not have been popular then (the move was apparently the defining moment of #GWOUT), but he was right as Ricketts would emerge as the 2013 Goalkeeper of the Year.
Like Perkins, the success of year one did not carry over to the following year. Poor defense again being the culprit but the Timbers were happy to be rid of Rickett’s large salary when the Jamaican departed in the expansion draft.
In stepped Adam Kwarasey. While clutch performances leading up to an MLS Cup might be all the validation necessary, Kwarasey enjoyed a very strong first season in Portland finishing among the league leaders in many goalkeeping statistics including being tied with Vancouver’s David Ousted with a league-leading 13 clean sheets.
Of course Kwarasey had something his predecessors did not: aggressive, effective and, above all else, healthy back line that limited Kwarasey’s exposure. Kwarasey was 12th overall in shots faced last year and no one below Kwarasey played anywhere close to the 33 games he started (Nick Rimando came closest with 24).
But it will worth watching to see if those numbers rise especially if the Timbers continue to play what Caleb Porter refers to as the “flipped triangle.” The switch–swapping out a largely defensive player for an attacker in the middle of field–is what vaulted Portland to an unbeaten run that ultimately culminated in winning MLS Cup.
Perhaps the best indicator is Kwarasey himself: he’s has never had a sophomore slump. Once he became his club’s number one, he helped the club to a top-four league finish in each of his final three seasons.
That’s probably the most important statistic of all.
Originally published on Wordpress