Tag Archives: Depth

Depth Charge

There’s no hiding the love affair that is currently blossoming in the city of roses between Caleb Porter and the Timbers faithful. Cautious optimism has given way to a sense that this team will find a way through, no matter the opponent or obstacle.

The table doesn’t lie, and with a little over a third of the regular season gone the Timbers sit 2nd in the West, with the 4th best defensive record.

That latter fact is arguably the most remarkable of the two considering the constant changing around Porter has done at the back. It’s not been tinkering for tinkerings sake, most of it has been enforced, but it’s a testament to Porter’s eye for depth.

Buying depth isn’t as easy as it sounds, because if it was, I mean, you’d just pay for four good guys instead of two, right? Except there’s a salary cap, and we’re not NYCFC, so finding those four guys is a bit trickier than just going out and getting the best available, and paying them what they want.

Pa Modou Kah became the fifth player to start at center back for Portland, and Rauwshan McKenzie may be the sixth after joining recently as the Timbers have weathered a barrage of misfortune.

The coach said at the time of Kah’s signing that he didn’t see the Norwegian-Gambian defender as a replacement for the injured Mikael Silvestre, leading the backline, but he saw the Kah-Silvstre partnership as his ideal pair.

That would seem to indicate that it wasn’t in the script for Jean-Baptiste to be so heavily featured at this point. The exposure will be a great benefit to the youngster in the long term, and the Timbers have got through what could’ve been a clusterfuck of misfortune in defence without many dents in the body work, but it remains to be seen who of Jean-Baptiste, Kah, McKenzie and Futty get the nod from Porter from here on.

It’s not just in defense where Porter has added to the squad wisely, and found great value for the club’s outlay. Piquionne’s four goals against Wilmington will live long in the memories of Timbers fans, and we have Ryan Johnston, Jose Valencia and a returning Bright Dike in the hunt for goals. The addition of Will Johnson, and the reinvention of Jack Jewsbury adds depth to center of midfield and the full-back positions, and Porter continues to get the best from guys who’ve tended to underperform under previous coaches.

Without Porter and his team’s ability to find guys who can step up when needed, or offer variety or flexibility in changing the complexion of matches, we’re settling in for another one of “those years”.

A good example of the change, not just on the pitch but off it, from then to now is to look at the guys on the bench. These are our game-changers, the guys who might have to make a difference.

Rewind to 2011, and the Timbers lost their 100% home record with a 3-2 loss to DC United. Of the seven guys on the bench for the Timbers that night, three of them would’t play MLS football in 2012: Adin Brown, Eddie Johnson and Ryan Pore.

The midfield was covered by James “Non Soccer” Marcelin and Adam Moffat. Moffat would get on for a whole six minutes, and would be playing for the Dynamo in less than two months.

The final two, Darlington Nagbe and David Horst, are still on the roster, but it’s interesting to look back and note that despite being 2-1 down from the 75th minute, Nagbe didn’t get on. In the event Spencer only used two subs, something he did fairly often which seemed like a quirk of his at the time, but can be read retroactively as a sign that even he didn’t have faith in his back-up guys.

If you give Spenny another year to build his squad, then you arrive at the 1-1 draw with the Whitecaps in late May 2012. The bench this time was better, in that Horst, Rodney Wallace and Sal Zizzo all wouldn’t look out of place in or around the Timbers XI today.

However, it also had Lovel Palmer and Mike Fucito who definitely were Timbers players, I’ve seen the pictures, but I’ll be damned if my brain isn’t trying to wipe that knowledge out altogether.

Joe Bendik was back-up to Troy Perkins, and I think it’s fair to say we’ve upgraded there.

Franck Songo’o fills out the bench that night, and he’s swapped that for a couch this year, unless he’s finally found a club. Perhaps he and Steven Smith are out there, walking the land together.

This year, as we beat DC 2-0, because that’s who we are now, we had Kocic, Miller, McKenzie, Zizzo, Alhassan, Zemanski and Valencia.

Ryan Miller brings a lot of experience from abroad, and despite a grounding the States, seems to be taking a bit of time to adjust back into the groove over here, but he’s a solid back up to have. McKenzie adds depth to defense, while Zizzo, Alhassan and Valencia have been with the club since before Porter.

Ben Zemanski is a versatile player, a footballing Swiss army knife, who covers a lot of bases for a relatively bargain basement price.

This ability to fill out the squad with guys who represent great value is the key that has allowed Porter to do more than build a good first XI; he’s built a squad.

The average base salary of the benches under Spencer were $66k in 2011 and $70k in 2012. I couldn’t pull up figures for McKenzie, but I really doubt he’s going to be pulling the 2013 average of $65k significantly upwards.

It may be the heady cocktail of success and silky soccer getting to me, but I look at Porter’s bench and feel confident in flat-out saying it’s better than any bench we had under Spencer. And this is with key players out. Porter has done that, while still spending less than Spencer did to stock up on square pegs.

That’s not to say the squad is perfect, and I wonder how long we carry six central defenders when they’re all fit, but it’s certainly better than it has been in the past.

That is probably the most impressive thing about Porter’s reign thus far, and it’s this ability to build a squad that can all positively contribute that will do more to put Portland on track to silverware than all free-flowing football in the world.

Under Construction

The second stage of the Re-Entry Draft passed with the Timbers again declining to select anyone, to little surprise. It was left to Real Salt Lake to raise eyebrows when they selected Lovel Palmer.

There’s no doubting that Jason Kreis and Garth Lagerwey have shown an ability in the past to build good squads but, as they rebuild their team after a less-than stellar 2012 (sound familiar?), this is still a move that causes me some head scratching. There were occasional games and flashes of the kind of player Palmer could be (mostly for Jamaica), but these were vastly outweighed by ineffectual and downright bad performances that earned him the “facepalmer” nickname among some fans. Perhaps Jason Kreis is just the man to wheedle some kind of consistency from Palmer after a frustrating spell in Portland. Anyway, let the countdown begin to the inevitable 45 yard screamer into the top corner the first time the Timbers visit Rio Tinto.

Following the recent moves, and the re-signing of Danny Mwanga, it leaves the roster looking something like this:

# Pos Player Name Age Country
21 M Diego Chara 26 Colombia
9 F Kris Boyd 29 Scotland
D Michael Harrington 26 USA
12 D David Horst 27 USA
35 D Andrew Jean-Baptiste 20 USA
8 M Franck Songo'o 25 Cameroon
13 D/M Jack Jewsbury 31 USA
M Will Johnson 25 Canada
24 F Sebastián Rincón 18 Colombia
33 D Hanyer Mosquera 25 Colombia
1 GK Donovan Ricketts 35 Jamaica
6 M/F Darlington Nagbe 22 Liberia
17 M Eric Alexander 24 USA
11 M Kalif Alhassan 22 Ghana
GK Milos Kocic 27 Serbia
98 D Mamadou "Futty" Danso 29 The Gambia
19 F Bright Dike 25 USA
90 GK Jake Gleeson 22 New Zealand
18 D Ryan Kawulok 22 USA
27 D Chris Taylor 23 USA
22 D/M Rodney Wallace 24 Costa Rica
7 M Sal Zizzo 25 USA
16 M/F Brent Richards 22 USA
F Ryan Johnson 28 Jamaica
10 F Danny Mwanga 21 DR Congo
20 F Jose Adolfo Valencia 20 Colombia
2 F Mike Fucito 26 USA

With the Timbers having traded away all their picks in the 2013 SuperDraft – an interesting development considering Caleb Porter would be the one head coach in MLS who’d be best placed to judge the quality of the crop of players coming through this year – any further moves are likely to be players coming into the league from abroad, or further intra-MLS trades.

Portland Timbers Depth Chart 2013
Portland Timbers Depth Chart 2013

Looking at the current depth chart, there are a few things that stand out. One, we’ve got loads of strikers. Like, tons. If, as we suspect, we’re going to be playing with one guy in the middle, it’s very likely we’ll see at least a couple of these guys gone by the time First Kick rolls around.

portland_timbers_forestRumour still swirls around the future of Kris Boyd, with the bastion of journalistic integrity, The Sun, reporting that Boyd is set to be axed by the Timbers. Nottingham Forest, where Boyd had a fairly productive loan spell, have been linked with the Scot and they would certainly fit the bill as the sort of club I’d expect him to go to – Championship, fringes of the play-offs, looking for that extra little push to put them over the line. We’ll see what happens there.

Gavin Wilkinson, deflecting rumours about the club being interested in signing Mikkel Diskerud, did confirm that the Timbers were actively seeking to bring in a creative, attacking midfielder. A look at the depth chart shows that the Timbers do lack that creative guile through the middle, so it certainly makes sense that it’s there that the Timbers are looking to add to.

Yesterday Merritt Paulson echoed his General Manager in confirming the club were actively pursuing an attacking midfielder.

Two areas where GW/CP still want to make additions: creative mid and right back. Goal is to have all spots filled by start of pre-season

There is a real dearth of options at right back currently. Palmer and Kosuke Kimura have both departed leaving Ryan Kawulok, who hasn’t been given his chance yet, and Jack Jewsbury, as well as Michael Harrington who could fill in on either side. Paulson’s tweet would seem to indicate that Jewsbury is no more than a depth option at right back, which makes sense to me as I think his lack of pace would leave the side vulnerable, but it once more feeds into the insecurity around Jewsbury’s spot on the team.

Stumptown Footy recently had a piece on Wilkinson talking to both Jonathan Bornstein and Robbie Findley, two players that the Timbers hold the MLS rights to, with the strong suggestion that at least one of the two is an immediate target.

Findley has struggled in Europe since leaving RSL at the end of the 2010 MLS season. He hasn’t scored for Nottingham Forest (them again) since February 2012 and a loan spell at League Two side Gillingham ended after a month, with a sum total of 243 minutes on the pitch, one league start and more yellow cards than goals (1-0). A common refrain from Forest fans about Findley is that he is a striker who seems to be utterly bereft of confidence, and a return to the States may be just the thing to get him back on track as he’s unlikely to break into the Forest team any time soon.

Bornstein’s move to Mexico hasn’t been terribly fruitful for the US international, and Tigres seem to be making another effort to move him on. Of the two, Bornstein would seem like the more logical “get” at this point. We’re practically tripping over strikers at the moment, and I’m not sure we need to be taking on a drastic rehab case like Findley on top of everything else 2013 will bring. Bornstein could add depth to midfield and at left-back (perhaps pushing Harrington to right back). Again, we’ll see what, if anything, happens there.

Someone definitely arriving in Portland very soon is Caleb Porter. The new head coach bid farewell to Akron, and can now give his full attention to the Timbers as pre-season looms every bigger on the horizon.