Forward the Foundation

After a slow start, the much-promised Rostergeddon got into full swing on a day that would’ve reminded many fans of English football of Transfer Deadline day. All it needed was Harry Redknapp in his car telling a reporter that David Horst was a “great lad, great lad, really like ‘im.”

What we got was five players on the way out (with another whose status is up in the air), two players coming in (and another potential) and a Breaking Bad-esque pile of allocation cash.

Chris already did a great job of going over the wheeling and dealing in his post, so I’ll keep my thoughts on the deals “brief”.

The first deal confirmed was that of Kosuke Kimura to the New York Notcosmos. Kimura had staggered around the right-back position like a punchdrunk boxer for much of his time in Portland. Whether that’s due to his own deficincies or coming into a team with no real direction, that’s up to you to decide, but whatever the reasons, the move was one that was always likely to happen.

Kimura, who also found time to fit in an unsuccessful trial in Poland since the season ended, was joined by a second-round draft pick to New York, with the Timbers getting the homegrown rights to Bryan Gallego, a centreback who just so happens plays his college soccer for Akron Zips. You may have heard of them.

Given Porter’s background and experience of the college game, no-one will have a clearer idea of who he wants in the SuperDraft, so it’s interesting to me that he’s given up a draft pick to make this deal work. Of course, there’s a long way to go before the draft, plenty of time to wheel and deal for other picks, but the acquisition of Gallego’s homegrown rights is illuminating for a couple of reasons, I think.

Here’s a player Porter has worked closely within Akron, and it seems rates highly enough to give up a draft pick to get him. Being a homegrown player, Gallego wouldn’t have been eligible for the SuperDraft (as is my understanding, which could be way wrong), so is this a roundabout way to “draft” a guy Porter really wanted? Whether Gallego steps up this year (he’ll be 20 in March so, without getting into my pet peeve about youth development in the States, it’s not that crazy an idea) or he’s one for 2014, it also points towards a change in philosophy at the back for the Timbers.

It’d be fair to say that we’ve had a lot of guys with heart and spirit, but who are limited in technical ability. That won’t fly under the system Porter favours where the defenders have to be comfortable on the ball and able to play an intelligent, possession-based game. Clearly, Gallego already knows what Porter wants from his defenders, and Porter likes what he sees from Gallego.

Next came the news of Eric Brunner going to Houston. A sad one, but not unexpected. I’d written about the potential of Brunner’s leaving and while I leaned towards him staying (I thought Danso would be first to go) the news of his departure didn’t surprise me.

Brunner’s injury really took the wind out of the defender’s sails. He had a good 2011, and looked set to form a partnership with Mosquera at the back, but in his enforced absence he was usurped by David Horst.

With Horst holding down the position, Mosquera a lock and Jean-Baptiste hungry to push on in 2013, Brunner found himself squeezed out. A fine servant to the club in his time in Portland, Eric leaves with the best wishes on the Timbers faithful.

Michael Harrington’s arrival was the next announcement. The last time we picked up a former Kansas City starter who’d found himself relegated to the bench, it worked out pretty well! Harrington will give us options at both left and right back, and seems like a very solid addition to the squad.

Next up was the departure of Steve Purdy and Lovel Palmer. Purdy had been unable to really cement a place in the team since the move up to MLS. I liked what little I saw of him, but given his sporadic appearances in the team, it was of little surprise to see the option on him declined.

Lovel Palmer. I’d written about how I couldn’t see a future for him in Portland. I’ve been critical of him in the past, and justified in (much of) it, so I can’t say I’ll miss having him on the team but, nevertheless, I’m sure he gave his all. It just wasn’t good enough, consistently enough. Fare thee well.

Steven Smith was next to go, announcing it himself on twitter. This was one where I thought “oh no” at the time, but the more I thought about it, and the more I read about it, the more it made cold hard sense. Talk is that Smith would’ve needed DP wages to stay, and with Spencer going (and Boyd likely to go), there was little to hold Smith here on a personal level. There will be no shortage of offers back “home”.

The “final” announcement was that of the signing of Will Johnson from RSL. The Canadian international has been an important part of the RSL midfield over the past few years, and it’ll be interesting to see where he fits in in 2013. There are times we’ve lacked a bit of bite and spark in the middle, and Johnson will provide both of these in spades.

The MLS released the Re-Entry Draft list shortly afterwards. It would be worth keeping an eye on as the Timbers have the #3 pick and the draft is a good way to fill out the squad and/or pick up pieces that can be traded on later.

It certainly raised a few eyebrows among Timbers fans when Rodney Wallace’s name appeared on it.

It’s important to note that the club and player have a couple more days to thrash out a deal that would see Wallace stay, and Merritt’s omission of Rodney from his “so long and thanks for all the fish” tweet would suggest the intention is to work something out. The talk is that the Timbers want to negotiate Wallace’s salary down. I’m not his biggest fan, but he is a decent squad player. He’s just not worth the money he’s currently pulling, in my opinion.

All in all, a pretty good day for the Timbers. Too early to make definitive judgements, of course, but it’s a start to Porter’s reign that fills me with cruel, cruel optimism!

Five out, two in and a complete revamp of the defence is underway. Given that so much of Akron’s play under Porter was built from the back, it makes sense that the gaffer would start his own rebuilding there.

Onwards and upwards.


18 thoughts on “Forward the Foundation

  1. If Smith needed DP wages to stay, then I guess we had to let him go but I think he was really starting to be a player. We definitely need to add another starter, and some depth in the back. It’s a good start to the Porter era with more work to be done. Brunner is a class act and its tough to see him go and there will be more heartache to come. I suspect that in a few years our roster will be very different if we are to be successful with Porters style.

    1. From what I’m reading about Harrington, he looks likely to be left-back and if a deal is worked out with Wallace, we have a back-up (and Chris Taylor is still hanging around). Smith was one of the Timbers best players in the last couple of months, so it’s a shame to see him go, but I think he’d have wanted big money to stay on with no Spencer, and I don’t think he saw his long-term future in the States so he was reluctant to move his family across, which makes things tough on a personal level.

      1. Harrington also plays right back. And with Bornstein on the outs down in Mexico, could we potentially see a Bornstein, Mosquera, Baptiste, Harrington opening day back-line?

  2. I’ve always liked Brunner, so I’m happy for him getting to play in Houston. Now he gets to be part of a professional organization.

  3. I think the Brunner move will be interesting to watch. While part of it is likely related to his fall down the depth chart (behind Mosquera, Horst, and AJB) I’ll bet that a big part of it is that the Timbers physios – having lost Johnson last season to repeated concussion complications – told Gavin/Merritt that they couldn’t guarantee that Brunner wouldn’t be sidelined again early in 2013. But Kinnear seems willing to take that bet. Given his side’s recent performance I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. Hope this doesn’t turn out to be Moffatt II…

    Smith had evolved into a solid LB, but not for the money he (seems) to have wanted. The only big downside I see with letting him walk is that the Fullback Problem is still unsolved. I’d hoped to see him paired with Harrington on the right, obliviating the need to see RodWall in the backline. I hope that we’re still looking; Bornstein, or Amy LePeilbet for that matter, would give me less heartburn than seeing #22 mucking up the back…

  4. While I think Brooms had some great qualities and passion I think many are suffering amnesia when it comes to grave mistakes on the field (red card in 2011 derby match, slip-fall vs. Robbie Keane in LA Away 4-14-12) that were bad turning points in both seasons. Run of play mistakes weren’t pretty but he’s an absolute beast on the set-piece plays which Houston desperately needs. BTW would any forward feel worried approaching that garden-rake style physique? (i love the guy as a dude but it is what it is)
    Wallace showed great moments in the midfield (SJ away for example) transition play but was always relegated to positions that didn’t suit his lack of good decision making in holding the ball up in the wings or back-line. If he returns and Caleb keeps him closer to the box on the attack then ok let’s see that consistently and not pretend anymore that he’s even a decent defender especially with his speed-skate-hands style of running (handball memories anyone?).

    1. No doubt Brunner made mistakes, and was far from perfect. There’s a tendency for players ability to grow the longer they’re out of the spotlight. See, Valencia. Now, I’ve no doubt the lad has a big future, and I hope he puts 2012 behind him (in many ways) to flourish in 2013, but I’ve read people seriously suggesting that we don’t need Boyd because Valencia will lead the line next season. Maybe he will, maybe he won’t, but I’d rather reserve my opinion until I see him log some minutes in top flight games before building a team around him!

      So it is, to an extent, with Brunner. He’s a popular guy, and it’s natural to look back on his time with rose tinted glasses on. But, the fact still strikes me that every defender logged their best minutes (in terms of goals per minute conceded) when Brunner was their partner. There’s something to that beyond mere coincidence. Sure, individually, Brunner could make mistakes, but as part of a unit he made the whole greater than the sum of its parts, and that was the thing I felt we got from Brunner that we didn’t from, let’s say, Futty. That’s why I thought Futty would go before Brunner, but clearly Houston were willing to bite and take Eric, and they’ll get a guy whose never going to be the best defender in the league, but will (if fit) improve most defences.

      Of course, you could make the case that even with Brunner improving the defence, it still wasn’t good enough… I’m not sure I could argue that point!

  5. Nobody’s talking about Jean-Baptiste over at right back. Does he only play center? What do you guys think of a Baptiste/Horst/Mosquera/Harrington back-line?

    Also, is there ANY chance Gallego plays next year? And starts?

    1. Kawoluk.Dont discount him yet. Theres talent in those feet and smart head on his shoulders. A development focused coach like Porter could easily take him and mold him into an easy first squad choice

    2. AJB seems like a workable fit at FB; he’s fairly fast and looks good going forward. But I’ve never seen the team play him outside, so I’m assuming there’s something in his game that either makes him a liability there or more valuable at CB. Mind you, this is the team that kept trying to make RodWall into a FB, so there’s that.

      I’d be shocked if Gallego starts. Not sure if he’ll return to Akron, but I can’t see him moving up the depth chart that quickly unless he’s all that, and I haven’t read anything that suggests that he is.

  6. Bornstein would be a great addition if we can afford him. We have his MLS rights, Tigres put him up for transfer, Caleb Porter is close with Klinsmann, and we have the best damn fans in MLS, so it is possible. He would play left back with Harrington on the right and I would feel so much better about our defense.

  7. So – going further forward…here’s where I’m looking:

    1. Backline. With Smith leaving we still need another piece there, whether it’s Bornstein or someone else.

    2. Defensive midfield. ISTM that Johnson makes one of our two CDMs excess to requirements. Jack to the bench? Chara traded?

    3. Attacking midfield. Still nobody there, unless Alexander gets the tap? Nagbe? This is the most crucial piece I see us missing, and the moves to date haven’t touched it.

    4. Forward. Seems like there’s still too many strikers, and the ACM-F disconnect is still there, so it’s hard to suss out which striker will be the better fit. Boyd seems the obvious man out here, but the KFC experience suggests giving the man service/a strike partner he likes – and another season – might reap rich rewards.


    1. Of Johnson, Chara and Jewsbury, I’d put Jack firmly in 3rd spot there. His hefty salary will, I suspect, prevent us moving him on.

      The question I keep coming back to is, where does Nagbe fit in? He’s not the lead guy through the middle, and if you believe that we’re looking at Johnson & Chara taking up two of the centre midfield roles, that leaves Nagbe playing as the third central midfield (att mid), or out wide. He was decent in centre mid last year, but I don’t think he’s that creative player, although maybe the role will fit him better when Porter starts to implement his own system. I don’t think he’s suited to playing out wide as I think he just disappears out the game for long spells when he’s shunted out there, and he never seems comfortable.

      1. On midfield…agreed. To me Jack works as the third DCM coming off the bench. If you have to he could be the substitute for whoever ends up at RB, but only if we’re protecting a lead – his wheels are gone and he can’t/won’t get forward…

        And Nagbe. Yeah. He is a real puzzlement. The guy has mad skilz, but where do you put him. He’s not a #10; doesn’t seem to read the game that well and lacks the ability to distribute. He seems to play better as a withdrawn forward or attacking CM, but if you put him as ACM you lose the connection between the back and the forwards, while if you put him up front there’s still no one to push the ball up to the strikers…

        ISTM that this stockpile of allocation cash we’re building needs to be for a top-flight playmaking midfielder. THAT’s the critical missing piece. Who’s available, and who we can afford? I have no idea. And I’d be more confident if we had someone out there looking who didn’t seem to have his Fodor’s Guide to Colombia and New Zealand glued to his hand…

      2. It does seem like we’re hoarding money for something, that’s for sure.

        I get why we’re raiding Colombia as, and I’m sure it’s the case Merritt and Gavin would make, there’s value to be had there. Chara and Mosquera, if they were coming from Europe, you could probably double their salaries. You look at the Colombian national team though, and most of those guys are playing Europe. There’s a bunch in Mexico, and Brazil, with it’s booming economy, is a big player in the continent. We can’t compete with those kind of scouting networks, let alone the financial muscle, so we’re always going to be looking in the margins, trying to find someone who has been overlooked.

        In Europe, generally, we’re looking at over-the-hill guys (eg Robson and Miller at Vancouver, on a fortune and both at least 3 years past their best), guys without a club (Songo’o, Boyd etc), or in the lower leagues (Smith), so I think the case would be that we can at least get players playing in the top flight, maybe even in Continental competition, for a fraction of the price, in Colombia.

        In saying that, it would be nice to feel that we cast a wider net than Colombia/New Zealand/UK when it comes to scouting abroad. If Merritt wants to send me on a “scouting trip” to Dubai, he just needs to get in touch!

  8. I know we have his rights but bornstein seems like wishful thinking/pipedream to me. Regardless of how much quality he has, I just don’t think his heart is to playing in MLS right now.

    I didn’t follow Johnson (or Rsl) but I read that he had been playing at RB in addition to his midfield role, and jack was certainly our best RB last year (not that I think jewsbury should be an automatic starter) so I do wonder if there is something else in the pipeline that will make these moves more of a back line building plan…don’t get me wrong, midfield improvement is ideal, but I just think we might be overlooking a stabilizing of the while back line.

    I agree, though, that the team will look and move vastsly different after next season.

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