Portland Timbers' Fanendo Adi will steal the show in 2015
By SHAY AWOSIYAN
College Contributor Network
The Portland Timbers head into the 2015 MLS season as one of the teams with a question mark dangling about its head. However, one thing is almost certain; center forward Fanendo Adi will usurp the spotlight from other MLS superstars.
Adi, 24, was an unknown entity when he joined the club as a Designated Player in the middle of last season. The Nigerian went on to capture the hearts of the Timbers' loyal supporters by scoring a brace in his first start. Although cumbersome at times, the big man managed nine goals and four assists in 18 starts.
Now that he's gotten his feet wet in MLS, defenses should watch out because the 6-foot-4 poacher will be an indomitable force in front of goal. Putting his size aside for now, Adi is deceptively nimble and technical for a No. 9 that gets most of his looks at goal by overpowering defenders. He is active in and around the box, likes to check to the ball in tight spaces and isn't afraid of drifting out wide to try his luck against a fullback.
Some of the characteristics listed above could throw some doubts into the minds of coaches that want their center forward rooted to the middle of the box, but that's not the case for Caleb Porter. Because Porter's side consists of players –- Rodney Wallace, Gaston Fernandez and Will Johnson (when he returns from injury) -– that willingness to make late runs into the box, Adi's playmaking tendencies are a welcomed addition.
Because he likes to roam about, Adi causes chaos among opposing defenders. With the forward out of position, a center back has to stay with him, leaving a hole in the heart of the defense, or a midfielder has to pick him up, providing space for Portland's crafty playmakers.
His unique qualities meshed with his gigantic frame and brisk feet will render him virtually unstoppable this year. The muscle-infested Nigerian is no Adebayo Akinfewa (the AFC Wimbledon forward regarded as the strongest soccer player in the world), but his presence will frighten even the most-rugged center back.
His long legs allow him to glide past quick center backs like LA Galaxy's A.J. DeLaGarza, his sturdy upper body makes shielding of strapping defenders like Real Salt Lake's Jamison Olave relatively easy and because of his height, not many players can out-jump him.
The upcoming 2015 season is also shaping to be Adi's breakout year because everyone tasked with providing him with chances has a point to prove. Two seasons ago, Wallace made serious noise down the left flank, scoring seven and setting up six in 21 starts. His exploits got him into the All-Star team, but an injury ended his season. After a solid showing in 2014, this season is the Costa Rican international's chance to prove he isn't a one-hit wonder, and with that chip on his shoulder, a lot of nicely weighted crosses and passes will be directed in Adi's direction.
Once upon a time, Darlington Nagbe was placed on a pedestal as the most creative attacking midfielder in the league, and some people still think he is. However, the fan favorite lost a step last season, scoring only once in league play. He recorded a career-high seven assists, but his ineffective finishing was what caught the eye of his critics.
In 2015, his scoring tally has to increase for his team to have a chance of making the playoffs in the tough Western Conference, and Nagbe knows that. With Nagbe more assertive, a lot of attention will be directed towards him, leaving gaps for Adi to exploit.
With superstar Diego Valeri sidelined for the beginning of the season, Fernandez will be tasked to replace his countryman. The experienced attacker excelled in his first year in MLS, scoring seven goals and setting up two, but he failed to lock down a regular spot, starting only 17 games. After signing a new contract, he has to prove that he is more than a goal scorer by becoming a facilitator.
Portland's maestros renewed drive and hunger means that the physically imposing Adi will be well fed and, as he's shown in the past, he can be lethal when presented with good looks. The only thing that can hinder him from scoring at will in 2015 is a major injury. As long as he stays healthy, the Nigerian should be a candidate for the Budweiser Golden Boot.
Shay Awosiyan is a junior majoring in broadcast journalism at the University of Oklahoma. He played soccer for 13 years and hopes to one day become a commentator. Follow him on Twitter: @THESHAY11