After 30 appearances in Timbers green, Eric Alexander is the latest player to find himself packing his bags and moving on after being traded to New York in exchange for allocation money.
Trading for or with allocation money has become a feature of the Timbers’ dealings this offseason as Caleb Porter reshapes his team. Given the veil of secrecy that MLS have thrown up around allocation money it’s virtually impossible to tell what value the club are getting for players like Alexander, or Brunner, or Robbie Findley but clearly the front office feel they would rather have the lucre than the player who led the club in assists through 2012.
And I can’t say I’m surprised, nor am I outraged by the move.
With the trading of Alexander, and the cutting of Franck Songo’o, the club have ditched the two leading assist providers from last year which, when taken with the departure of leading scorer Kris Boyd, would make it seem like Torontoeqsue levels of facepalmery are unfolding in the Rose City.
Neither Boyd nor Songo’o fit the new aesthetic and, while Alexander’s style was a better fit, I never felt that he was a guy who was going to make a starting spot his own under Porter.
Alexander was a generally tidy and composed player, which made him a stand out in 2012 where these were two features we seemed to perpetually lack in midfield. He provided a creative presence from central midfield that we lacked in Jack Jewsbury or Diego Chara.
When Darlington Nagbe moved back into that central midfield role, it essentially pushed Alexander further out of the team. He would have appearances in wide midfield, but this never looked like a position that suited him.
Coming into 2013, those features Alexander brought to the team are now being brought by others. Diego Valeri is the creative player, while Will Johnson brings a steadying and composed presence to the centre. Nagbe continues to develop, and we still have Diego Chara and Jack Jewsbury, neither of whom are particular flashy on the ball, but both of whom can keep it moving.
Put simply Alexander was, at best, fifth in line for one of the two or three spots in midfield. Breaking it down further, I’d put Will Johnson and Diego Chara, potentially even Darlington Nagbe, ahead of him in central midfield. There’s also Rodney Wallace, who showed last year that he could play there, and Jack Jewsbury in the mix. In attacking midfield he’s behind Diego Valeri, Nagbe and, judging by his involvement in the team so far, Kalif Alhassan. We’ve also seen Alhassan played deeper in central midfield during the preseason in Tucson which was a pretty big sign that Porter was looking beyond Alexander for other options there.
Alexander provided six assists in 2012, but two of those were secondary (the pass to the guy who made the assist) and another couple were simple passes to Nagbe, who then did all the hard work on his own before scoring. That’s not to denigrate, or belittle, what Alexander did for the club but just to underline that looking at a bunch of numbers on a webpage doesn’t tell the whole story.
As I said, I thought Alexander was a good player, and I’d have liked to see him get more of a chance last season to show what he can bring to the table, and earn that roster spot for 2013. That he was never really given that chance – he played 125 minutes of the last 9 games of 2012 – is pretty telling.
John Spencer, the guy who traded for him, never really seemed to find a place for him in the his starting XI. He was an after-thought for much of Gavin Wilkinson’s interim spell. Now Caleb Porter has clearly felt he wasn’t going to be commanding a starting spot any time soon either. That’s three coaches – for all you may pick faults in each – who have looked at Eric Alexander and thought of him as a squad player, at best.
I think that part of the problem was that, while Alexander was, and is, undoubtedly a good player, I never felt he was a game changer, or someone that really imposed himself on matches.
In an ideal world, you probably keep an Eric Alexander on the roster as a decent back-up. In a far-from-ideal-world, where you have work within the constraints of a salary cap and roster size limit, hard choices have to be taken and that means the guys on the outer margins are going to the be the first to get excised to balance the numbers.
Also, from the point of view of Alexander himself, it’s a good move for him. As fans, we selfishly want to hoard all the best players for ourselves even if a guy has little chance of breaking the first XI anytime soon. As a player, he wants to play and, if his chances were as limited in Portland as I think they were, it’s good for him to get a move out and a chance to earn a spot elsewhere.
Every trade is a risk. You could trade someone on and see them blossom, and it makes you look foolish, and the fans will make sure you know all about it. Equally, you could be beset by injuries and suddenly moving that fifth-choice guy on doesn’t look like such a good move anymore. But if we all spent our lives preparing for the worst case scenario, you’d never get out of bed in the morning.
In this case, while I’m sad to see Alexander go, I think it’s a risk worth taking. We don’t know what the club have in mind for the allocation money, so it would be silly to rush to condemn them as only time will tell whether they made the right move.
Thanks Eric, and all the best.