Portland Timbers

Portland Timbers 2022 MLS season preview: Tactics, predicted XI, predictions

Chris Smith
The Timbers lost MLS Cup in heartbreaking fashion last year. | Image: Matthew Burt.
The Timbers lost MLS Cup in heartbreaking fashion last year. | Image: Matthew Burt. /

After losing the MLS Cup in heartbreaking fashion last season, the Portland Timbers are looking to go one better in 2022.

Giovanni Savarese's side are one of the most reliable in MLS, always in contention for major honors and battling at the top of the Western Conference.

But the pack is looking strong this year and the Timbers will have to up their level even further continue their success.

So, here's everything you need to know about the Portland Timbers ahead of the new MLS season, including tactics, key players, and predictions.

How did Portland Timbers perform in 2021?

The Timbers were a little inconsistent during the 2021 regular-season, only putting together one serious unbeaten streak - eight games (seven wins) from the end of August to the start of October. They even endured a three-game losing streak near the end.

But three consecutive wins to close things out ensured Portland finished fourth in the West, conceding 52 goals in 34 games but also scoring 56. They were hella fun!

In the Playoffs, the Timbers cruised past Minnesota United 3-1 at home, before beating the Colorado Rapids 1-0 away from home in Major League Soccer's first-ever Thanksgiving match. A routine 2-0 win over Real Salt Lake meant they would host MLS Cup, which ended in penalty shootout heartache against NYCFC.

But despite the pain, 2021 has to be regarded as a huge success in Portland.

Portland Timbers transfer activity

Transfers in

  • Josecarlos Van Rankin (from Chivas, loan)
  • David Ayala (from Estudiantes, undisc.)
  • Justin vom Steeg (from LA Galaxy, free transfer)
  • Tega Ikoba (from Tar Heels, free transfer)
  • Justin Rasmussen (SuperDraft)
  • Sivert Haugli (SuperDraft)
  • David Bingham (free agent)

Transfers out

  • Diego Valeri (to Lanus, undisc.)
  • Steve Clark (to Houston Dynamo, free transfer)
  • Renzo Zambrano (to Pyunik Yerevan, free transfer)
  • Manny Perez (to Louisville City, free transfer)
  • Jorge Gonzalez (to Louisville City, free transfer)
  • Blake Bodily (to San Diego Loyal, loan)
  • Andy Polo (released)
  • Jeff Attinella (retired)
  • Ismaila Jome (released)

Gioavnni Savarese: Tactics and style of play

Every single year, Giovanni Savarese tries to make his Timbers side more expansive in the middle of the season. And every single time, it starts to fall apart before he remembers they're at their best soaking up pressure and hitting teams in transition. Portland have the talent to win Supporters' Shield, if only they'd stick to their guns.

With that out of the way, expect Savarese to again deploy a 4-2-3-1 system. Jose Van Rankin and Claudio Bravo will provide attacking thrust from full-back where possible, but are primarily stoppers either side of Larrys Mabiala and Dario Zuparic. Diego Chara has long been the best No.6 in MLS and while he's advancing well into his 30s, he's still frustratingly effective (from the opponent's perspective). Still, with Eryk Williamson returning to fitness and David Ayala coming on board, expect the Colombian's minutes to be managed.

It's in the final third where it really gets fun with Portland. Sebastian Blanco remains an MVP level No.10, able to split a defense with precise passing, leave opponents in the dust with his dribbling, or rip one into the top corner from distance. Yimmi Chara and Santiago Moreno will look to cut inside to get shots on goal.

And Felipe Mora has added a new dimension to Portland's forward line - he's lethal in front of goal, strong in the air, and hugely important at holding the ball up. Though it ultimately counted for nothing, his late goal to keep MLS Cup alive will go down in history.

Portland Timbers predicted XI (4-2-3-1): Bingham; Van Rankin, Mabiala, Zuparic, Bravo; Williamson, Ayala; Moreno, Blanco, Y. Chara; Mora.

Who are Portland Timbers' key players?

Sebastian Blanco

Back for at least another two years, Sebastian Blanco remains the vital cog that makes the rest of the Portland Timbers turn.

With four goals and six assists in 13 games and the Player of the Tournament award at MLS is Back in the bag, Sebastian Blanco looked a sure bet to win the MVP award in 2020. That was until an ACL injury put him out of action from September until June last year - his second such injury during his career.

But it's safe to say Blanco is back. In just 1,184 2021 regular-season minutes, the Argentine notched seven goals and six assists, averaging 2.1 chances created and 1.8 successful dribbles per 90 minutes. Blanco then went on to score two goals in three Playoff appearances despite some more fitness issues ahead of play.

Even at 33 with slowing legs, he's so, so important.

David Ayala

As mentioned, Chara isn't getting any younger and although it doesn't seem like it now, his legs will give out eventually. With that in mind, the Timbers have done the right thing moving for David Ayala.

The 19-year-old joins with 32 senior appearances for Estudiantes already under his belt, while he was also part of Argentina's Under-17 South American Championship-winning side of 2019.

Primarily a defensive player, Ayala will add plenty of bite to the Timbers midfield and has the perfect role model to learn from in Chara.

Felipe Mora

Every successful MLS team needs a clinical striker, and the Portland Timbers proved that last season with Felipe Mora.

Although he missed in the MLS Cup final shootout defeat to NYCFC, they wouldn't have got there without his late goal - one that took his tally for the season to 15 in 37 appearances across all competitions.

Mora is more than just a goalscorer, of course. His clever movement distorts the opposition and he's great in build-up play. But if he can push himself to a 20+ goal striker, the Timbers' ceiling moves even higher.

Portland Timbers 2022 season prediction

An aging Diego Valeri aside, the Timbers haven't really lost a great deal from their successful 2021 team. So, as always, you'd expect them to cruise into the Playoffs at the very least.

How much further they go and whether or not they compete for Supporters' Shield depends upon Mora scoring even more goals, and Savarese sticking to his guns, rather than chopping and changing mid-season. Sometimes, he just can't help himself...

Prediction: 4th in the Western Conference