Portland Timbers Already Reshaping Roster for 2016
Friday, January 08, 2016
The team has already made a number of personnel moves in the past three weeks, including saying goodbye to three players who were regular fixtures for the Timbers over the past two seasons. Gone are midfielder Will Johnson (Toronto FC), defender Jorge Villafana (Mexican club Santos Laguna), and striker Maximiliano Urruti (FC Dallas). While Johnson had recently fallen out of favor with Porter due to the change in formation and Johnson’s recent health issues, both Villafana and Urruti played major roles in the Timbers’ drive to MLS Cup. Practically, the realities of life in a salary cap league necessitated the moves to give Portland needed flexibility with the rest of the roster.
Portland did trade for defender Chris Klute from Columbus Crew, ostensibly with an eye toward filling the void left by Villafana. Prior to joining Columbus, Klute was a member of the Colorado Rapids where he was voted the team’s defender of the year in 2013.
Portland also acquired veteran defender Jermaine Taylor through the re-entry draft, who previously was a starter for Houston Dynamo before an injury forced him out of the lineup. Taylor is another veteran presence on the backline and provides experience and skill behind starters Liam Ridgewell and Nat Borchers, who are both expected to return. Taylor also serves as insurance for Portland should they be unable to come to terms with defender Norberto Paparatto, who is currently a free agent.
The offseason transfer window for MLS does not officially open until February 18th, which would be the first date that Portland could go out and purchase the rights to non-MLS players. Portland is currently sitting on a fairly large amount of Targeted Allocation Money (briefly explained here) which could be used to bring in another top-tier talent. Portland could buy down the salary cap hit of Diego Valeri or even possibly Liam Ridgewell and use that Designated Player slot to insert another difference maker into the lineup.
Based on recent history however, don’t expect Portland to make any large, splashy moves this year. Recently Portland has eschewed the high-priced international veteran model (Steven Gerrard, Didier Drogba, Kaka, etc.) for a more pragmatic, fit-oriented approach to player acquisitions. Particularly with their large signings, Portland seems to look for younger players that will fit in well in the Portland culture and could be a part of the team for years to come, such as Lucas Melano (22 years old), Fanendo Adi (25 years old), or Diego Valeri (acquired at 27 years old). Additionally, Portland is bringing back at least nine of their eleven starters from a team that won the title, so there is little pressure to make a large splash with a signing.
In the coming months, look for Portland to attempt to restock their depth, particularly behind Adi with Urruti now in Dallas. Porter and Wilkinson are probably also shopping for second-team midfielders who are comfortable box-to-box, with Nagbe now a strong candidate for national team duty and Valeri’s injury history.
Amazingly, we are already less than two months away from the beginning of the 2016 MLS season. While the core of the Portland Timbers will remain largely unchanged from the championship-winning squad we saw a month ago, the financial realities of MLS and the price of success mean that Paulson, Porter, and Wilkinson have their work cut out for them to craft a team with the skill and depth to challenge for a repeat championship, particularly with a target now squarely placed on their backs.
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