The Portland Timbers could not have created many more chances in 2019. But they could have scored more goals. In Jaroslaw Niezgoda, they might finally have a striker who can do just that.
After making an unlikely run to MLS Cup in 2018 on the back of an excellent counter-attacking style that rested on a stable defence and clinical and speedy approach to exploit the space on the break, the Portland Timbers struggled to ever replicate the same form in 2019.
Gio Savarese’s men spent the opening period of the season on the road as Providence Park underwent renovations. But while the Timbers enjoyed a home-heavy end to the season, they could never quite capture that same magic from 2018. And a major reason was their finishing, or lack thereof.
The Portland Timbers scored 50 goals last season. Nine teams bettered that figure. But they ranked third for shots, 562. Only San Jose and LAFC recorded more shots. On an individual basis, the Timbers struggled for clinical finishers, especially late in the year.
Of the attacking players in the squad, only Brian Fernandez and Jeremy Ebobisse outperformed their expected goals tallies. Fernandez missed the final stages of the season after checking himself in for rehabilitation before later seeing his contract cut by the Timbers. Ebobisse, meanwhile, is now the only forward on the Portland Timbers roster. That is unquestionably concerning.
But the Timbers are looking to change that, as General Manager Gavin Wilkinson explained this week. Wilkinson was asked about the reported DP deal for centre-forward Jaroslaw Niezgoda. This was his response:
"“We’re still completing part of the medical so it’s a negotiation that is ongoing. We are hopeful that he will join the Timbers, but we will not have a resolution before next week.”"
The idea that the Timbers need something more was reflected by head coach Savarese:
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"“We still are not there yet. We have made some moves. Gavin has worked very hard this offseason to make sure that we find the right pieces and we’re still looking to add those pieces so I think once we get everyone in and what we’re looking for I think we’ll feel pretty good about ourselves. … I think there’s been a lot of work already and we’ll continue to work, but if we get all that together I think we’re going to be a very competitive team.”"
There are few teams that boast the same creative qualities as Portland. Diego Valeri is no longer a DP, Sebastian Blanco is a superb creator from wide areas, while Yimmi Chara provides a direct, pacy option on the opposite flank as a second DP option. There is the basis of an excellent attack. They just need someone to stick the ball in the back of the net.
Can Ebobisse be that man? Well, perhaps to an extent. He is a capable player who will score 10-15 goals each season. But can he be a prolific striker throughout an entire season? Is he prolific? Fernandez proved himself to be prolific, but with him now out of the picture, the Timbers need someone new.
That is who Niezgoda is supposed to be. If he can indeed produce as an elite MLS goalscorer should, the Timbers will be very, very dangerous.