The Timbers star striker dishes on the team’s playoff mentality, the quality of MLS, and Nat Borcher’s beard.
Looking back to this past summer, all was not well in Portland. Third to last in MLS in goals scored and with a tenuous hold on a playoff spot, the Portland Timbers seemed unlikely contenders for MLS Cup.
But after an attacking formation change, the Timbers have surged into the MLS playoffs and will now battle F.C. Dallas this Sunday in the first leg of the Western Conference Finals for a chance to play in MLS Cup.
Corresponding with their recent surge in form has been the excellent play of Nigerian striker Fanendo Adi. Goal starved for much of the season, Adi’s scored seven times in his last five appearances for the Timbers. I caught up with Adi ahead of the Timbers’ showdown with F.C. Dallas to talk about the Timbers playoff run, his adjustment to life in MLS, and Nat Borcher’s beard.
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.
I was in Portland back in August, and at that point the team was struggling to score goals. Now, you’re two games away from MLS Cup. What changed?
I think that not much really changed, but you can see just the mentality. Of course when the team’s not scoring goals that leads to low thinking, and that has actually changed. The guys are really motivated, the guys are really thinking about the next game. So I can say what changed is just the physical and mental thinking of the guys. We are prepared better, and once we started to get the goals everybody started believing.
Did the formation change help? Darlington Nagbe dropped into the center of midfield and Melano went out wide. Did the formation shift help you create more chances?
Yeah, definitely. When Darlington came into the middle he created more space for us to keep the ball more because he’s very good on the ball. Between him, Chara, and Diego Valeri creating chances, it changed a lot for us.
You’ve scored seven goals in last five games. How do you keep that going?
For me it’s just being concentrated every day. The little things matter the most, which are like eating the right foods, sleeping at the right time, and drinking and eating the right things. So I just need to be training well and just keep my mind straight-focused on the game and of course the goals will come.
One of the craziest games I’ve ever seen was the penalty kick win over Kansas City. How did you feel during those penalty kicks? Did you think you were going to win?
For me, I wasn’t thinking we were going to lose. My mind was very focused on winning. So basically I was just thinking we were going to come out victorious and lucky for us we did.
Do you think it was a turning point for team and for the season, coming together to win that kind of game?
Yeah, you can say that. It was a game that was a struggle and gave us a good fight. From penalties what actually came out was us believing in ourselves. And even the guys who hadn’t taken penalties did very well to step up and take a penalty.
Recently, Steven Gerrard said that he wasn’t really prepared for how difficult it would be to play in MLS. When you came over from Europe, how did you find your adjustment to MLS?
Yeah, it’s definitely more difficult than what I’ve heard. When you’re in a European league you don’t hear a lot about the MLS so when I came over I didn’t believe the league was at that high of a standard. But actually when I got here it was really, really high. The physical play from the teams, the technical and strength-wise, athletic-wise, the league is very good. It’s a very high standard.
So of course all the players come and think it’s kind of going to be very easy. But to my surprise, it wasn’t easy so I have to give credit to the MLS. It’s been a great league. The level is just very high.
It seems like you’ve settled into Portland very well. Do you plan on staying for awhile?
I don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow. But right now I’m here and I’m enjoying every little bit so I’m just trying to stay focused here at the moment.
Any chance that you’ll going to grow a beard like Nat Borchers?[laughs] No way, no way! I don’t think that could grow on my face.
Not your style to have that big old beard?
I mean the first time I saw him I was like, “Yo! Who is this? Who keeps this kind of a beard?” At the end of the day he came and joined Portland. He’s so funny, and he likes it. And of course we go out together and we make fun of him at first but now it’s just another thing.
If you win MLS Cup, you might have to grow a beard.
Oh no! I will go bald [laughs].
Looking ahead, you’ve got the series against Dallas coming up this weekend. How do you keep the momentum going?
We just need to focus on what we have been doing all season long. It’s going to be a very tough game. It’s a very good team, and we just have to respect them and come out do what we have to do, go out and attack and play our game and hopefully the goals will come and we’ll be victorious. It’s going to be a hard one, but I’m looking forward to the game.
*Photos courtesy of Nike Football.