Portland Timbers pulled off a signing coup by announcing the signing of Kris Boyd, a free agent after a transfer to Turkey went sour over unpaid wages. The striker had made his name at Kilmarnock and Rangers in the SPL, where he is the leagues all-time top scorer. A move to Middlesbrough didn’t work out for a variety of reasons – Gordon Strachan had raided the SPL for a host of players, and they failed to gel. Boyd’s form suffered, a new manager came in (Tony Mowbray) who didn’t rate Boyd and he soon found himself farmed out to Nottingham Forest.
A move to the MLS is a chance for a fresh start for Boyd. There was talk of moves to the SPL or the Championship in England, but both would’ve carried baggage for Kris that a move to Portland doesn’t.
Boyd is a talented footballer, make no mistake about that. He’s simply lost his way over the past couple of seasons. He made the wrong move, to the wrong club at the wrong time and he’s been adrift since.
So, the question Timbers fans who aren’t familiar with Boyd, especially from his SPL days, willing be asking is “what kind of player are we getting?”
It’s that simple. Boyd scores goals. Even at Killie where he might only get a chance or two a game, he scored at a rate better than a goal every three games. Add in the fact he did all this before his 23rd birthday, and you can see why Rangers were so keen to get their hands on him.
At Rangers, unsurprisingly, his strike rate was even better. He’s even bagged 7 in 18 caps for Scotland.
He’s predominantly a penalty box striker. The Timbers last season looked to Kenny Cooper to be the “frontman”, up top leading the line, but much to the frustration of many in the Timbers Army, Cooper’s penchant for dropping off the line and coming deep often left a huge gap up top.
Boyd won’t do that. He’ll stay up top, hold the ball up and battle with defenders and give as good as he gets. He’ll find half a yard here or there in the box and punish defences who take their eye off him for a second. Even though he’s over 6 feet tall, he’s not especially strong in the air. He wins a fair share of headers, but he works best with the ball to feet, so he’s not going to be a target man. It’s useless punting long balls to him, expecting him to flick them on for others – he creates chances for himself, and scores them. He doesn’t possess blistering pace, but he can turn off the shoulder of a defender and get a shot away before there’s a chance to shut him down.
He’s also scored a few stunners from distance. Like most top goalscorers, he’s greedy and he’s not afraid to try his luck from 30 yards if he fancies it. He’s got good striking technique, so he can take a chance first time without the need to take a controlling touch first.
That’s the good, now the bad.
He’s not a particularly hard worker. If you’re going with Kris Boyd up top you simply MUST have someone alongside him who’ll do the running. A “water carrier”, if you like. Jorge Perlaza seems like the natural fit for this role as it’s a role he fulfilled last season. Boyd flourished at Rangers under Alex McLeish, who played to his strengths. When Walter Smith took over, Smith favoured a 4-5-1 formation and Boyd found himself on the fringes. He doesn’t possess the tireless stamina or work rate to play that often lonely role.
It’s also harmed his chances at international level. Scotland tend to go 4-5-1, and that puts Boyd on the outside looking in. He got so frustrated by his lack of chances that he quit international football under George Burley.
He can also drift out of games for long spells. He may look disinterested. He won’t chase lost causes, and that can get some fans backs up as he’s perceived as “not trying”. Yet, even if he’s anonymous for 89 minutes, he’s always liable to burst the net out of nowhere in the 90th.
There’s also the lingering belief that, for all his goals, he tends to get them against the smaller teams. He’s a flat track bully. His Scotland goals have come against luminaries such as Georgia, Faroe Islands and Bulgaria, for instance.
And there is the famous taunt that Gary Caldwell, a Celtic defender, has scored more goals against Celtic than Kris Boyd.
I firmly believe, on balance, that Boydy will be a hit for the Timbers, despite my reservations. I also worry about his settling in the US, and his motivation and desire to play at this stage in his career. Also, his fitness will be an issue and he’ll have to be well managed off the field to keep him at 100%. But if any coach in the MLS is perfectly suited to handle Boyd and get him on the right track, it’s John Spencer. Spencer had left Scotland just as Boyd was breaking through at Rugby Park, but I’ve no doubt he’s been following his progress from afar. A big Rangers fan, Boyd will be all to aware of who John Spencer is too and playing for someone with Spenny’s pedigree may just be the spark needed to kickstart Boyd’s career back into life.
If you were to sit down and design the ideal player to slot into Portland’s system in the place vacated by Cooper following his trade to New York, you’d skew pretty damn close to Kris Boyd.
The way Portland play, getting the ball forward directly and quickly, is perfect for Boyd. Get him 1v1 with a defender and he’ll do some damage. Equally, get down the flanks and get the ball into the centre, and more often than not he’ll find a way to get on the end of it. Basically, Kris Boyd works best when Kris Boyd gets the ball early and quickly and is allowed to do what Kris Boyd does.
Boyd is, in many ways, a throwback. You won’t get fancy link-up play, deft flicks or mazy dribbles. You’ll get direct running, physicality and goals. He has to be the focal point of the attack, and the rest will have to march to the beat of his drum to get the best of him, but if Portland can do that, they have a guy who will get them 15+ goals in a season.
Overall, despite a few reservations, I’m very excited about this move. It could be one that puts the Timbers over the line in terms of Play-Offs, and when you get to that knock-out stage of the season, having a guy in your side like Boyd, who can turn the game with a swing of the boot, could be crucial.
It’s also good, as a Killie fan, to be able to support Boydy again. Some Killie fans will hate me for saying it, but he was a legend at Rugby Park. His move to Rangers left a sour taste, but losing him to a bigger team was inevitable. Time heals old wounds, and now I’m looking forward to cheering on a few Boydy specials in the 2012 MLS Season.
The Timbers Army could have just found themselves a new hero.