Can Ryan Johnson put the Timbers over the top in 2013? (Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images)

Can Ryan Johnson put the Timbers over the top in 2013? (Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images)

We are back in the Western Conference on our season previews. And based on the alphabet, we’ll mostly be here through the rest of our team-by-team previews too (with SKC and Toronto being the one exceptions).

We’re headed up to Cascadia to take a look at the Portland Timbers now. Caleb Porter is now the man in charge after spending his time in the college ranks with Akron.

The Timbers have been one of the more active teams this offseason but will it translate into their first playoff trip in Major League Soccer? Time to find out.

2012 MLS Record: 8-16-10 (8th in Western Conference), 34 points

[twocol_one]IN: 
Michael Harrington (12/3/12 – trade from Sporting KC)
Will Johnson (12/3/12 – trade from Real Salt Lake)
Ryan Johnson (12/12/12 – trade from Toronto)
GK Milos Kocic (12/12/12 – trade from Toronto)
D/M Mobi Fehr (12/18/12 – weighted lottery)
Steven Evans (1/8/13 – Homegrown)
Diego Valeri (1/10/13 – loan from Lanús)
Ryan Miller (1/21/13 – transfer from Halmstads)
Dylan Tucker-Gangnes (2/6/13 – SuperDraft)
Ben Zemanski (2/13/12 – trade from Chivas USA)
Michael Nanchoff (2/13/12 – trade from Vancouver)
Mikaël Silvestre (2/20/13 – first right of refusal from Seattle)[/twocol_one] [twocol_one_last]OUT: 
Freddie Braun (11/19/12 – option declined)
Charles Renken (11/19/12 – option declined)
Ian Hogg (11/19/12 – option declined)
D Kosuke Kimura (12/3/12 – traded to New York)
Eric Brunner (12/3/12 – traded to Houston)
Lovel Palmer (12/3/12 – option declined)
Steve Purdy (12/3/12 – option declined)
Steve Smith (12/6/12 – option declined)
GK Joe Bendik (12/12/12 – trade to Toronto)
Robbie Findley (1/16/13 – rights traded to RSL)
Mike Fucito (1/17/13 – trade to San Jose)
Kris Boyd (2/1/13 – contract terminated)
Eric Alexander (2/11/13 – trade to New York)[/twocol_one_last]

Key Questions for 2013

1. Does Porter have the offense to match his plans? Right now the depth chart looks a little bleak up front. Both Bright Dike and Brent Richards are out for long spells with ACL injuries. Ryan Johnson appears to be the man that the Timbers will lean on heavily up front though. His first big preseason test over the weekend he netted a hat trick. Not a bad start. But the tricky thing about that is, it was just a preseason game. Getting that kind of consistent production in the regular season has to come if the Timbers are going to be successful. If anyone else gets hurt up front, things could be troubling for Porter.

Saying all of that though, keep an eye on Danny Mwanga. He is going into his first full season with the Timbers and quite honestly, he is a player that can be a game changer when he wants to be. Right now he isn’t high on the depth charts but I believe eventually he will be a big starter for this team.

2. Has the defense improved enough? Hard to say at this point as they continue to change things up in the last week or so before the season. They added a veteran in Silvestre today which is great and all but will his game translate well in MLS? Hard to say. This is still a team that has to show that they can handle teams on the run of play, last year they got clobbered on the wings and against teams with good pace. Injuries are already taking their toll on this group as well with both Horst and Mosquera hurt.

3. Can Diego Valeri be the game changer that the Timbers have lacked? Some have joked that Portland is already a place where DPs go to waste. Kris Boyd certainly faded quickly in the Rose City. Some would say that Diego Chara hasn’t quite lived up to his DP tag. Let’s also not forget that they spent a DP tag on Jose Valencia last year only to find out that he would be out all year with an injury. So can Valeri change the DP culture with this club? So far I think he can and will be better than all past DPs with this club. I mean, hey, the bar wasn’t that high to begin with either. But in all seriousness, for the Timbers to succeed this season they need Valeri to be the leader in the midfield that drives the attack. They need him to be one of the top leaders in assists in MLS. They need to him to earn that DP tag.

Breakout Player for 2013

Jose Valenica – I mentioned him earlier how he was out all last year, well this is his year to redeem those who put a lot of stock in him early on before his injury. He still has a ways to go to be a big impact player on offense but given the injuries on offense he has the chance to step in early.

Predictions for 2013

- Porter and his staff will continue to tinker. Something tells me this team isn’t completely set as it is right now. I’d imagine for the next few weeks we’ll continue to see more moves as things go along.

- One more DP to the slate. This may go in with the other tinkering but I think this could be a club that rolls the dice this summer and adds a third DP. If this club is contending throughout the season and they feel as though they need one more player to set them over the top.

- Things will click. It make be a rough start for this club but I see somewhere along the ways this group will put it together and make things happen. I know they had a ton of turnover in this roster but they are better top to bottom than they ever have been in MLS.