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Western Conference Preview: Portland Timbers

What can we expect in 2016 from the team that finished 3rd in the West in 2015?

Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

A strong finish last season led to an MLS Cup for Portland. Can the Timbers keep up their strong play consistently for an entire season? That is the question facing third-year coach Caleb Porter.

The Timbers have lost two starters since last season. Left winger Rodney Wallace departed for Arouca in the Portuguese Primeira Liga. There is a ready replacement in 23-year old Dairon Asprilla, who played over 1000 minutes last year for Portland and scored a long-range wondergoal against Dallas in the first leg of the Western Conference Final. Promising Argentinean winger Lucas Melano is primed for a breakout year.

Left back Jorge Villafaña was sold for just under $1M to Liga MX side Santos Laguna. The Timbers acquired left back Chris Klute from Columbus, who had 7 assists in 30 starts for Colorado in 2013 but has been disappointing since, and versatile backline fill-in Jermaine Taylor from Houston. With presumable starter Klute currently injured, Porter has announced "We'll tinker a little bit with the left back," for their upcoming preseason games, with Taylor likely playing there until Klute recovers. Either is a definite downgrade from Villafaña.

The Timbers declined the contract option on second-string striker Maxi Urruti, who was picked up by FC Dallas in the Re-Entry Draft. Having contributed 15 goals over two and a half years, he provided an impact option off the bench to stretch defenses when they tired. Journeyman forward Jack McInerney has been brought in to replicate Urruti's contribution and has already scored several goals in the preseason.

Dominant playoff performer Fanendo Adi is back at forward. Virtuoso #10 Diego Valeri is once again healthy, although he is turning 30 this season. Newly-minted American national team member Darlington Nagbe, whose move to central midfield sparked the 9-game winning streak to MLS Cup, will start at his most dominant position. Nat Borchers and Liam Ridgewell, who form the best center back tandem in the league, return after playing a full season together and lifting the cup.

Bottom Line: The Portland Timbers are primed to finish at the top of the Western Conference.

Projected Strongest Lineup: