The Timbers' Striker Situation
With the arrival of Franck Boli, how should Portland proceed at center forward?
By now we’ve all seen Franck Boli’s goal against FC Dallas, which has since earned him a bench spot on the MLS Matchday Six “Team of the Matchday.”
What’s that? You somehow didn’t? Allow me to get you up to speed:
While I don’t want to get too far out over my skis reacting to Boli’s debut strike (See: Nathan Fogaça’s debut double against Sporting Kansas City), his arrival does call into question how the club move forward at the position.
As of now there are five out-and-out number nine’s on the roster: Boli, Jarosław Niezgoda, Felipe Mora, Tega Ikoba, and Fogaça. Dairon Asprilla has also been deployed as the tip of the spear a handful of times in the last couple seasons.
So when you take into consideration Giovanni Savarese’s preferred lineup plays with just one traditional striker, the positional log jam becomes very apparent, especially with news of Mora being back out on the pitch ahead of his return from injury.
Realistically it isn’t possible to give enough minutes to five players for one position while keeping them all happy with their roles, and certainly isn’t ideal from a roster construction standpoint considering the restrictions MLS places on its clubs.
Now, Boli’s arrival is just a one-year loan deal (for the time being), so if his signing doesn’t work out the Timbers can move on from him at the end of the 2023 season. We also don't know how Mora will look after he returns from his second significant knee operation in as many years. But with Niezgoda and Fogaça struggling for form, and Ikoba still just a teenager, I would be fairly shocked if the Timbers’ striker corps still looked the same after the MLS summer transfer window.
Savarese told the media on Thursday that Boli will be available for about 30-45 minutes against the Vancouver Whitecaps as he builds fitness, and Mora is probably still at least a month away from seeing the field in any capacity. Once they’re both fully fit and available to play, I would be willing to predict two things to happen:
One or both of Ikoba and Fogaça to spend significant minutes with Timbers 2, who just opened their season with back-to-back losses against Whitecaps 2 and Quakes 2, scoring just one goal between the two matches. T2’s roster currently lists just one forward, Josh Penn, so there would definitely be minutes available for Ikoba or Fogaça. I also think the plan from the club was always for the pair to develop with T2, but injuries have forced both to step into roles with the first team.
The club will look to move on from Niezgoda in the summer transfer window (this isn’t me reporting anything — just my own personal assumption). To say that Niezgoda is going through a rough patch would be an understatement: His last goal came on July 30th, 2022, against Minnesota United. Since then, he has recorded zero assists and just five shots on-target in 762 minutes of play. If your TAM-level striker hasn’t played a part in scoring a goal in any of their last 17 matches, it might be time to cut your losses and find a better solution for both club and player.
For the time being supporters will have to hope that Boli can continue to hit the ground running, and that Niezgoda, Fogaça, and Ikoba (who became the Timbers’ youngest-ever goal-scorer in their 5-1 loss against Atlanta United) will be able to find some goal-scoring form to help what has been a rudderless attack.
I’m curious to know what you, the reader, think about Portland’s forward options. Who should start up top when all of the players are fully healthy? Should the Timbers move on from any of their strikers? Do you think Franck Boli is the answer at striker for the Timbers?
The Timbers will face off against the Vancouver Whitecaps tomorrow night, April 8, at BC Place, with kickoff scheduled for 7:39 p.m. PT. Watch for free through MLS Season Pass on Apple TV, and follow along with Stumptown Footy’s coverage here on Substack, as well as on Twitter.