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.
With only 180 minutes left of the 2012 season, the thoughts of Portland Timbers fans are already turning to 2013. A huge job awaits Caleb Porter when he flies west in December as the squad needs some urgent surgery if it’s to be in any shape to challenge for a playoff place next year.
Players like Darlington Nagbe, Diego Chara and Hanyer Mosquera can feel pretty secure in their positions within the team, while guys like Lovel Palmer and Mike Fucito may be starting to pack up their belongings in an old canvas sack as I type. For a large majority of the roster, though, this offseason will be one of great uncertainty.
Porter may decide that continuity is important to the team, and look to retain a large core of the squad, with a few additions and alterations here and there, but I suspect, in an ideal world, Porter would much to prefer to rip it up and start again, largely from scratch. There are precious few guys in the current roster who you would say fit into the mould of guys who can play the way Porter wants his teams to play, with quick, accurate passes and incisive movement.
With that in mind, I’ll take a quick look at seven of the guys I’d put into that “questionable” bracket and try and guess whether they’ll be back in Timbers green in 2013.
Kalif Alhassan joined the Timbers in the twilight of their USL days with a view to progressing into MLS. Had a big role to play in 2011 with 6 assists in 27 starts, and on his day he is capable of creating a bit of magic out of nothing. 2012 has been something of a washout for the Ghanaian however, as he’s missed much of it through a series of niggling injuries.
Reasons to keep: He’s still young and can, hopefully, put the injuries behind him. With some disciplined coaching, could reign in his rather anarchic approach to tactical instruction and become a key component in Porter’s 4-3-3.
Reasons to cut: Injuries have curtailed his development at a crucial time, and when he does play he is inconsistent and tactically naive. Perhaps a little too similar to, but lacking the finesse of, Franck Songo’o.
Verdict: He doesn’t command a great wage, and is still pretty young, so he’ll be back. Next year will be the biggest of his Timbers career. Make or break time.
Captain Jack came into 2012 as an MLS All-Star following a tremendous debut year for Portland. However, he has rarely even threatened to live up to the standards of that first season with some fans questioning his seemingly unshakable place in the first XI. He’s far away the player with most on-field time for Portland in MLS with almost 800 more minutes than Chara, the club’s #2.
Reasons to keep: He’s clearly popular with the squad and respected by the coaching staff. His position as club captain has rarely been in doubt, and he has shown versatility in filling in at right back during an injury crisis.
Reasons to cut: Lacks the tenacity and awareness to be a regular defensive midfielder, as well as the craft and creativity to play further forward. Always a sense that wherever he plays, he’s the second best option there. Turns 32 next year, so is unlikely to improve.
Verdict: He’ll be back but whether he’ll be the first name on the team sheet any more is up for debate, though, considering he left Kansas City when she spent much of the back-end of 2010 on the bench, will he accept a squad role next year?
Kris Boyd set records for goalscoring in the Scottish Premier League, but after an undistinguished spell in England, and a short stint in Turkey, he came to Portland with expectations riding high that he could recapture his old form and fire the Timbers towards the playoffs. Like his predecessor, Kenny Cooper, he found it hard to adjust to the Timbers style and, despite leading the club in goals scored, he has failed to live up to his hefty price tag for many fans.
Reasons to keep: Goals. Boyd will score them if given the chance, but those chances have been too few and too far between. His link-up play is generally good too, and he will lead the line with passion and force.
Reasons to cut: He carries a hefty wage – 10th highest player in MLS – that doesn’t match up to his return in goals. Perhaps not suited to the way Caleb Porter seeks to play. Seemingly not rated by Gavin Wilkinson.
Eric Brunner was a solid part of the Timbers defence, and everything was going well for the ex-Columbus man until a concussion sustained against Vancouver in late May. He’s struggled to get back into the team since, making only two subs thanks to a subsequent knee injury, with David Horst – young, cheaper – having improved.
Reasons to keep: Still, arguably, the Timbers best defender, or 2nd behind Mosquera, if you’re a fan of the Colombian. Solid, reliable and fiercely committed.
Reasons to cut: Such a long lay-off with concussion is a big worry, and the knee injury doesn’t help matters. In his absence, Horst has stepped up and shown he can do a job at a fraction of the price of Brunner.
Verdict: He’ll be back, assuming there aren’t deeper, thus-far-unspoken concerns among the coaching team about his injuries. If anyone gets cut from the defence, one suspects it will be Futty Danso. Whether he can dislodge David Horst, only time will tell.
When Dike was sent out on loan to LA Blues earlier this season, you could’ve been forgiven for thinking that his Timbers career was over. After netting 10 times for the Timbers in their last year in USL, he didn’t make a single start in 2011, though he did still find the net once. Since his return from LA though, Dike has score 4 times – only 3 fewer than club leader Boyd.
Reasons to keep: Goals – the man has scored them. 4 in only 731 minutes. He’s scored from the start, and as an impact sub. He’s a handful to play against and a willing and hard worker. Has got the goals in the new system. Even with his obvious deficiencies, he has the scoring habit, and that’s a good habit to have!
Reasons to cut: He has a pretty poor touch, and lacks the more “all round” ability of his attacking colleagues. He’s a rather one-dimensional player, which is great when it works but leaves the team bereft in attack when it doesn’t.
Verdict: He’s certainly earned a 2013 roster spot, but I’d fear for the team if he’s back as first choice. A good weapon to have in the arsenal.
Wallace joined the Timbers in exchange for Dax McCarty befoer the start of the 2011 season, but has never really convinced in the left-back role he seemed to be earmarked for. Despite that, he’s racked up over 40 appearances for the MLS Timbers meaning only four current Timbers have logged more on-field minutes than he.
Reasons to keep: Can play all up the left-side and has turned his hand to a central midfield role too. He’s chipped in with a few goals and assists, and is still relatively young at 24.
Reasons to cut: Lapses in concentration can, and have, cost the Timbers dearly in defence and he simply isn’t as good as the other attacking options available. Commands a salary that is out of sync with his role as a squad player.
Verdict: Will be back, but only if the Timbers can’t find a taker for him.
Eric Alexander joined the Timbers from FC Dallas towards the end of the 2011 season in exchange for Jeremy Hall, but has failed to nail down a starting spot, with only 16 starts in his time as a Timber. An industrious and tidy midfielder with good range of passing.
Reasons to keep: The clubs leader in assists, despite being on the fringes of the starting XI. It wasn’t so long that he was on the fringes of the USMNT. Showed his game has steel when he subbed for Chara and acquitted himself well in a more defensive role. Still only 24, and not a big earner.
Reasons to cut: Assists fudged by at least a couple of those assists having more to do with Nagbe creating something out of nothing than Alexander’s work. Unable to impose himself on the team when he’s been given the chance. Had his work rate questioned by management.
Verdict: Trade bait. Underutilized, under-appreciated and seemingly unwanted by an organisation that can’t seem to find room for him in midfield.
What do you think? Who goes, who stays, and whose place is up for debate?
I’ve been writing this for days now. I’ve only just decided to start over. Bear with me. I’m going to write fast and see if I can get the words out before they become too much of a mess. Apologies in advance.
I’ve been a little haunted since the reserves match Sunday. It was a fun game and, after Saturday (when I missed the derby to attend a memorial service), it felt… healing. It felt like going home after a long, drawn-out absence.
I never thought I’d see Kris Boyd play in a reserves match, but there we were. And he looked good. He was active and engaged and, within the first ten minutes of the match, had an assist and a goal.
And then it felt like the end.
Did we just see Kris Boyd’s last goal as a Timber?
My heart hurts to think about it.
After several games on the bench, limited minutes and a view from the sidelines of a derby match, his injury against San Jose has set me on edge. Maybe that was it. Maybe that reserve match goal really was Kris Boyd’s last wearing our club’s badge.
A couple days ago, another member of the Timbers Bloggers Battalion posed this question: if I could bring back only five players next year, who would they be? I warned him that my picks would be entirely emotion-driven.
Eric Alexander, of course, because I know he can do more. Diego Chara for the effort he puts in every time he suits up for us. David Horst for the sheer fact that I want to see him beat the crap out of the OTHER Eddie Johnson sometime in the near future. Mike Fucito because I can’t help loving that little hobbit.
And, it will come as no surprise, Kris Boyd.
Boyd makes the list not just because of my ridiculous fan-crush, but because I think he has some unfinished business here.
If we go back to the “Cubbie incident“, we remember that Cubbie tried to paint him as the failed savior of the Timbers 2012 season and the reason John Spencer was fired. Lame.
But, watching Boyd struggle since then, it seems he took it to heart. He’s had flashes, momentary glimpses of the player he should be, but those have been few, separated by long instances of Gavin-imposed exile.
So, what happens now? The season is coming to a close, the playoffs are beyond our reach. Boyd’s one-plus-one contract is weighing on my mind.
Will he stay? Does he want to stay? Does incoming manager Caleb Porter want him to stay?
I want him to stay. I want him to succeed. I’m a sucker for a romantic comeback story and the scene is set for one here.
Here’s the thing: I loved Kenny Cooper. I will always keep a special place in my heart for Kenny. Soft-spoken, polite, misused Kenny Cooper.
And now, I wait to see what happens to Kenny’s replacement. Kenny, let’s remember, is currently among the league’s leading scorers. For another club that figured out how he works.
Here’s to hoping that we get a second chance at figuring out how Kris Boyd works. If anyone from the Timbers coaching staff needs me to point them in the right direction on this one, I’ve got a fair few Youtube videos I can point out.
So, here, because I feel I need to, a few words not *about* Kris, but to him.
Stay. If the choice is yours to make, I hope you choose to stay. The Portland chapter of your story is still being written. Don’t leave in the middle. Stay and become a legend, not just a footnote in our history.
I was there at the press conference when you were introduced to the Timbers faithful. I was there for your first goal at Jeld-Wen. I stood with you, shoulder to shoulder, at midfield during a season ticket holder event and looked up into the North End and I imagined a day in the future when I would tell my kids about this guy, this legendary Scottish striker that, by some odd turn of luck, ended up here in Portland.
I hope that, after I tell them about your rocky first year, I will be able to tell them about your triumphant comeback in your second year here, when you led the league in scoring and led our club deep into the playoffs.
The defeat at JELD-WEN was the Timbers’ first MLS reverse since Chivas won 2-1 way back in April – and the five goals conceded were more than they had lost in the six matches between that match and this.
Wilkinson didn’t stray far for Spencer’s formula in his team selection. Boyd started, which was nice in a he’s-involved-in-virtually-every-goal-we-score kind of way. Chara’s suspension meant a place in midfield for Palmer and Jewsbury, with Alexander and Alhassan on the flanks. Mosquera returned to the starting XI, with Futty the man to sit out.
The one difference was this wouldn’t be the usual 4-4-2. Wilkinson lined his team up in a 4-2-3-1, with Nagbe tucked in behind Boyd. The truth is that the formation was a bit more fluid than some digits on a screen would suggest.
The night started so well as a crisp Alhassan cross was put beyond Saunders by Boyd after only a few minutes.
Having spent so often bemoaning the way the Timbers have failed to play to the Scot’s strengths, it was nice to finally see someone give him the kind of ball that he thrives on. And it was no surprise to see it was Alhassan.
Alhassan seems to be one of the few players who is on Boyd’s wavelength, and keeping Kalif fit – as well as instilling at least some semblance of discipline to his play – has to be a priority for Wilkinson and whoever takes over the top job in the long-term.
In retrospect, it’s easy to look back and see that there was something odd in the air. I mean, really, a Timbers goal in the south end?! As a wise scientist once said, “Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together… mass hysteria!”
Buoyed by the early goal, some of the Timbers play was nice to watch. There seemed to be a noticeable drop in the number of long hopeful balls up the field, and much more pass-and-move play, with the ball staying on the deck.
However, a crazy ten minute spell midway through the first half saw all the encouraging early play undone in brutal fashion.
The Galaxy’s fightback was triggered by some of that mercurial ill-discipline from Alhassan as well as, in my opinion, some presciently poor defensive work from Lovel Palmer.
First off, there was no reason for Alhassan to dribble the ball around in that area – Palmer was wide open for an easy pass. Secondly, as soon as the ball was lost, just when you’d want your defensive midfielder to come alive, Palmer went to sleep.
Palmer’s almost preternatural ability to do the wrong thing at the wrong time is fast becoming a joke that even Daniel Tosh wouldn’t touch as being just too tasteless.
The thing is, I don’t think Palmer is necessarily a terrible technical player. You don’t get this far, and achieve what he has in the game, if you can’t master the basics. Sure, he’s not the best passer in the world and his long-range shooting fetish borders on the obscene.
What Palmer lacks, in my opinion, is the ability to make the right decision at crucial moments, and that’s pretty damned key if your responsibility is to protect the defence.
The ability to take in what’s going on around you, extrapolating that information and making the right decision – all within a split second – is one of the skills that is hardest, arguably impossible, to teach. You can teach a player to pass or shoot. You can hone his ability to cross a ball, or play to game plan. Teaching a player to think faster, and better, is much more difficult to do.
John Terry would be an example of a player who, for me, lacks this ability but his other abilities allow him to, more often than not, make a last-ditch recovery to salvage the situation. The late sliding tackle that is so beloved by fans and producers of slow-motion highlight reels is the action of a defender who has made a poor decision. The old adage is true – the best defenders will finish the match with barely a stain on their kit.
Palmer doesn’t have Terry’s ability to recover a bad situation, and his poor decision-making renders him a defensive liability. Lovel Palmer is a ticking time bomb of Fail.
In the Jimenez chance we saw Palmer marshaling a space rather than the man. For the Galaxy equaliser he changed it up.
For sure, it was a good finish from Mrs Cruise, but I’d think more of it if he’d done it with a guy on his shoulder and nipping at his heels. The fact is, for the second time this season, he was given all the time in the world, right in front of goal, and he punished us.
Palmer dropping off to shadow Donovan gave Beckham the breathing space he needed. Only Alexander – eventually – woke up to the danger, and by then it was too late.
Some more awareness from Palmer – or if you’re being kind to Palmer, a shout from Mosquera that he had Donovan covered – and Beckham doesn’t get thee shot away.
Yes, that should read Donovan instead of Keane. The perils of text in pics.
Honestly, at this point, I’m at a loss to explain what Palmer brings to the team. The fact that he only lasted to half-time may suggest that Wilkinson was asking himself the same question.
He displays poor defensive awareness, time and again, and offers next-to-nothing going forward. He just… is.
As Palmer’s moment in the spotlight passed, it was time for Kosuke Kimura to step forward.
A foul by Kimura gave the Galaxy a free-kick in dangerous territory. Beckham stepped forward and duly put the ball in the exact spot that just about everyone expected him to.
I actually had the thought, one that’s occurred to me in the past, that it might actually be a good idea for the Timbers to set up without a wall in this situation.
As you can see, Beckham puts the ball low and near the right hand post (X marks the spot) – right in the spot that most fans would’ve predicted him to aim for. It gives Perkins a good 13 ft or so to cover – and the wall gives him 10 fewer yards to respond, especially as the Galaxy players (ringed) crowd the end of the wall right in front of Perkins.
So, why not say “screw the wall”? Perkins could take up a more central position and he’d have a better sight of the ball from the moment it leaves Beckham’s foot.
It clearly couldn’t be a regular strategy as teams would quickly figure us out as the guys who don’t line up a wall and adjust accordingly – lining up a wall of their own for example, but I doubt no wall is a situation teams prepare for, and the confusion it sows may just be enough to prevent the Galaxy taking the lead.
I fully expect to be called a madman for this idea, by the way.
Kimura’s crazy spell continued when he switched off at a throw-in and allowed Stephens to get in behind him. A clumsy tackle in the box gave the Galaxy a penalty, and Donovan duly dispatched it.
It became 4-1 when Smith played a lazy pass which was cut-out by Beckham. Donovan was sent scampering down the right, where he blew past Horst and slid it on for Keane to tap home between Mosquera and Kimura.
Kimura wasn’t done though. A trademark Boyd free-kick – head down, hit it hard – was spilled by Saunders and the new man got his first goal for the Timbers to make it 4-2 before the break.
As the game slipped away from the Timbers, so the 4-2-3-1 seemed to go out the window. Nagbe began to play more as a striker, albeit deeper-lying than Boyd. By the time the second half rolled round, we were back in 4-4-2 territory.
Richards replaced Palmer, who was presumably sent into a quiet room to think about what he’d done tonight. This meant Alexander was shifted inside, and he looked happier there.
Though his play was generally pretty tidy, and he worked well with Smith, he lacked the attacking punch that Alhassan had down the right side. It gave the team a lop-sided feel.
Moving into the middle allowed Alexander to be more involved in linking play. In the second half he made only eight fewer passes than Palmer and Jewsbury combined in the first.
The team’s traded goals in the second period after Donovan and Nagbe had missed good chances one-on-one. Nagbe’s came about from a tremendous throw from Perkins, whose general distribution continues to frustrate. Great pace put Darlington in, but he lacked the killer touch to finish the move and put the Timbers within a goal of the visitors.
Keane would eventually put LA up 5-2 when Smith was drawn out of defence, and Franklin beat Richards to the ball over the top before laying it on a plate for the boyhood Galaxy fan. Boyd cut out the middle man later when he put another free kick past Saunders to make it 5-3.
Unfortunately, the Timbers were unable to find the goal that would set up a grandstand finish but few would forget this match in a hurry. Shown nationwide on NBC Sports, the game was a great advert for the kind of entertaining football MLS can serve up, even if it would give defensive coaches nightmares.
It’s a bittersweet result. On one hand, there was a lot of fight in the team. Boyd served up two goals, and played a key role in the other. He did his job. He scored. Strikers are often “streaky”, so getting a brace under his belt may just spur the club’s top scorer on further.
For spells, in the first half especially, the football was good to watch. There was some good interplay, movement and purpose about the way the Timbers crossed the field – a long way from the panicky, hit-and-hope football that defined much of the late Spencer period, even after they’d gone down 4-1.
There wasn’t really a great deal between the clubs. Both had porous defences that gave up chances to the opposition, but the Galaxy had a bit more nous and cutting-edge about them in attack. Despite the two defensive midfielders in the first half, I also felt that overall the Galaxy had the upper hand in the midfield battle, though there was little between the two in the second half.
In some respects, losing to a better team is to be expected. In Donovan, Keane and Beckham, the Galaxy have access to talents beyond those of the Timbers. The only way to beat a better team is to either get lucky, work even harder, or both. The Timbers certainly worked hard, but ultimately gave themselves too much to do. Luck wasn’t really as much of a factor as numerous individual mistakes and poor choices at the back were.
They way the side kept their heads up and kept plugging away is a world away from the same team that has rolled over in recent weeks.
However, the defence. Just not good enough. It’s not the first time that a player has simply blown past a comically-bad Horst tackle, and probably won’t be the last.
Smith’s crossing was as poor as I can remember it. It’s all the more frustrating as Smith is capable of so much better.. Kimura had that crazy spell in the first half, and clearly there’s a bit more work to be done in integrating him into the team.
Chivas await for the Timbers, and though Portland find themselves bottom of the Western Conference (2nd bottom overall), a win against their hosts could propel them, improbably, back into the play-off hunt. It’s not hard to think of the Black Knight scene in Monty Python and the Holy Grail as the Timbers refuse to give up, no matter how devastating the blows they receive.
Over the next four proper matches, the Timbers will play two game series against both Chivas and Dallas – two sides also struggling in the West.
Make or break time.
rhamje raised the point in the comments below that he felt Keane’s 2nd goal, LA’s 5th, was offside. I didnb’t think it was at the time, so I went back and checked, and had it confirmed. Definitely onside.
Timbers fans hoping to see the team take a step forward this year have been bitterly disappointed by a number of sub-par performances, culminating in a humiliating loss to Cal FC in the US Open Cup.
As the front office look to strengthen their squad over the next few weeks in the hope of kick-starting a playoff push, it seems an apposite time to review their preview dealings in the transfer market.
The system of trades in MLS, while familiar to American sports fan, can seem Byzantine in it’s complexity to outsiders, and that is without wading into the murky waters of Allocation Money.
Regardless, by looking over six of the highest profile trade moves, and addressing the clubs policy in general, can we get an idea of where the club is heading and whether fans have reason to believe that a second year with no playoff soccer can be avoided?
[learn_more caption=”McCarty / Wallace”]
Dax McCarty was already a veteran of almost 100 MLS matches with FC Dallas, and still only 23, when taken as the Timbers’ first pick in the expansion draft that greeted the clubs arrival in Major League Soccer.
Yet McCarty would only be a Timber for as long as it took to make a deal with DC United to exchange the midfielder for the Costa Rican left-back Rodney Wallace.
Despite his youth and being an important part of the Dallas midfield an abundance of players there, as well as the emergence of Eric Alexander, led Dallas head coach Schellas Hyndman to leave McCarty unprotected.
In trading away the US international the Timbers lost a hard-working, combative midfielder, who allied grit with a finesse that delivered 17 assists in his time at Dallas.
On the face of it, the move for Wallace made some logical sense. In building a team from scratch they had also moved for left-back Anthony Wallace as their fourth pick, but had traded him right back to Colorado Rapids in return for allocation money. It left the team with no left-back on their nascent roster, and that role is traditionally one where it is difficult to find quality.
Rodney Wallace, himself a first round pick for DC in the 2009 SuperDraft, already had a couple of years of MLS experience under his belt. He’d also played in the same University of Maryland side as Jeremy Hall, who’d joined the Timbers a couple of days previously, which was something that Timbers general manager Gavin Wilkinson thought would be “a tremendous benefit” to the team.
In the end, there are few fans who would consider Wallace to have been a benefit to the team. A couple of goals and assists in his first year failed to mask the fact that Wallace has never really set the heather on fire at Portland due to displays that are only consistent in their inconsistency. He never looked comfortable at left back, seemingly better suited to midfield, and yet, when moved to midfield, he looked lost.
He now finds himself behind Steven Smith in the pecking order, and could even be considered third choice for left back behind Mike Chabala. With a substantial cap hit of $110,000 it wouldn’t surprise if he was one of the pieces that the Timbers were looking to move out to freshen up the squad, as they did with his ex-college team mate Jeremy Hall.
McCarty on the other hand would only spend a few months at DC before being traded to New York Red Bulls in exchange for Dwayne De Rosario, where he’s become an anchor in midfield.
While there may have been some sense in the trade at the time, it’s hard for Timbers fans to not to look back on it with hindsight and wince.
Verdict: Qualified Failure
[learn_more caption=”Cronin / Perkins”]
After a fantastic year in the Timbers final USL season in 2010, goalkeeper Steve Cronin was one of the first four players announced as members of the MLS squad.
The stats for that final year certainly indicate that his step-up to the big league was a no-brainer – a 42.86% shutout rate and 114.5 minutes per goal conceded.
However, almost before the ink the dry Cronin had been traded to DC United in exchange for another keeper, Troy Perkins. If the McCarty/Wallace deal was an error on the part of the front office then this trade was nothing short of a masterstroke.
2011 would be Cronin’s second bite at MLS after spells at San Jose Earthquakes and LA Galaxy before dropping to USL. His final year in MLS, 2008 with the Galaxy, saw Cronin play 22 matches and ship 44 goals. Admittedly, it was a difficult year all round for LA but a rate of 2 goals lost per game is not good.
Despite this, DC saw enough in Cronin to grab him for cover. It signalled a premature end to Perkins second spell in the capitol.
A spell in Norway with Vålerenga broke up Perkins’ time at DC. From 2004 to 2007 he made 77 regular season appearances, conceding 97 goals, and won the Goalkeeper of the Year award in 2006.
Signing Perkins was a risk for Portland, though as his return in 2010 was less than glorious. He shipped 37 goals in only 22 appearances, making the 2006 and 2007 seasons seem a long time ago. There was no guarantee he could be that keeper again.
The gamble paid off in fine style as Perkins was a rock at the back for the Timbers in an often difficult debut season. He played 29 times, losing 38 goals, and posted a shutout rate of over 30% for the first time in his career.
2012 has seen Perkins improve further, getting back to his very best form.
Cronin, on the other hand, make a couple of sub appearances for DC in 2011, and lost 4 goals to mirror his 2008 MLS season. He was released at the end of the year, and has since left the game to become a State Farm agent.
Verdict: Undoubted Success
[learn_more caption=”Moffat / Chabala & Palmer”]
Adam Moffat clocked a grand total of 239 days with the Timbers, four substitute appearances and a sum of 100 game minutes before being traded away to Houston Dynamo for two defensive players, Mike Chabala and Lovel Palmer.
It was another move, like the McCarty deal, that made some sense in the context of the time. Jeremy Hall wasn’t doing enough to justify his place in the team at right back, and on the other flank Rodney Wallace was frustrating all and sundry.
Palmer and Chabala would bolster the squad at right and left back respectively and give, as Wilkinson explained, “more depth at the back and more options.”
The industrious Moffat had found himself unable to break into the side thanks to the coach’s preference for Jack Jewsbury and Diego Chara in the middle.
A tough-tackling defensive midfielder, the Scot brought aggression and passion to the pitch, but also knew what to do with the ball when we got it with a good range of passing.
He’d been Portland’s third pick in the expansion draft after coming to the States in 2007 and establishing himself at Columbus Crew despite a serious knee injury early on.
In trading Moffat away, along with a chunk of allocation money, the Timbers bolstered their defence with two experienced players.
Chabala had already played for the Timbers in 2006, when loaned out by the Dynamo. Though much of his time in Houston was on the periphery of the team, 2010 saw him clock up a career high 22 starts. 2011 had seen him return to the fringes, and he had only 2 starts under his belt before being moved on.
Palmer had been a regular for the Dynamo since moving there in 2010 from his native Jamaica. Able to play at full back or defensive midfield, it was in the former role he would establish himself at Portland.
It would be fair to say he’s not won a great deal of admirers among Timbers fans who have wearied of his wayward distribution and ball control. Coach Spencer moved him into midfield this year, and that switch coincided with a marked improvement in defence albeit with a sense that Palmer in midfield carries the cost of curtailing the club’s creativity in attack.
Meanwhile, Moffat no-nonsense style has proved a hit with fans in Houston. He would return to haunt Portland with a screamer from distance when the clubs met a couple of months after the move.
I can’t help but ruefully shake my head when I see Palmer play the role for Portland that Moffat excels in with Houston and think that, even in a 2-for-1 deal, we got the shitty end of the stick.
Verdict: Failure. But only just.
[learn_more caption=”Hall / Alexander”]
As already mentioned, Jeremy Hall had joined the Timbers from New York Red Bulls before the expansion draft, making him the first MLS trade the club had made.
Hall had been in New york since being drafted in the first-round in 2009. A strong debut season boded well for the athletic right-back, but his form tailed off and he found his opportunities limited in his second year.
Though he was quickly installed as first choice for the Timbers, he was a frustrating player to watch. He had fantastic pace, and a willingness to break forward at every opportunity, delivering three assists and getting nine shots at goal – impressive numbers for a full back.
The problem was his willingness to get forward at EVERY opportunity. He was often caught out of position and seemed to lack the defensive awareness his position demanded.
His relatively large salary – around $129,000 – made it difficult to justify so much money being spent of a player who clearly wasn’t living up to expectations. The writing was on the wall with acquisition of Lovel Palmer to play in the same position.
Hall’s time as a Timber came to an end in August when he was traded to FC Dallas for Eric Alexander.
Alexander had been a factor in McCarty being unprotected in the expansion draft, so it was somewhat of a surprise to find Schellas Hyndman willing to let him go, even with the deal sweetened by Portland picking up some of Hall’s salary for the rest of the year.
No-one was more surprised than Alexander himself, but Hyndman’s reasoned that the signing of Daniel Cruz in midfield left them overstocked in that area yet light in defence.
In Alexander the Timbers gained a hard-working, versatile midfielder who carried a salary of less than half that of Hall’s.
Eric has struggled to pin down a starting place for Portland since the move, and has fallen foul of Coach Spencer’s high standards but, despite this, he remains fairly popular with fans, thanks in no small part to his play this season.
Despite being 10th in terms of playing time, he leads the club in assists, and is third for shots taken (591 mins, 3 assists, 13 shots).
To be fair, he carried an injury during his time at Dallas which limited his mobility before being traded to Toronto FC where he promptly got injured in preseason. Having only recently returned to action, he played a part in Toronto’s first league win of the season.
Despite Alexander’s lack of first team action even Dallas fans would agree that Portland got by far the better end of this trade.
Though strictly not a trade in the sense of the other deals in this list, it would be remiss of me not to address Kenny Cooper here.
It’s hard to find fault with Wilkinson as Cooper had scored 40 times in 90 regular season matches for FC Dallas before joining 1860 Munich midway through the 2009 MLS season.
Though Cooper struggled to find form in Europe, Timbers fans were still excited by the prospect of him leading the line with over 40% predicting a goal haul in double figures in an online poll.
In the end Cooper never seemed at home in Portland, and would score only 8 times in 34 matches, marking his poorest year in MLS. Those figures get thrown into stark relief by Cooper’s 11 goals in 13 games since being traded to New York Red Bulls in exchange for a first-round 2013 draft pick.
The reasons for Cooper’s failure to find the net consistently at Portland are hard to pin down. He often seemed without a real purpose or clear idea of his role, and would drift ineffectually all over the pitch in search of the ball, disappearing out of matches like a namesake DB from the back of a Boeing 727.
Despite rare flashes of the potent finisher he could be, the overriding memory of Cooper as a Timber is one of frustration, fans and player alike.
Cooper’s travails are perhaps best encapsulated by an incident in a match against DC United where he had a meltdown from 12 yards. He missed twice from retaken penalties before Jewsbury stepped up to score, and would later be subbed. He was never quite the same player afterwards.
His resurgence at New York, which has seen him touted for international honours, has been a talking point among Timbers fans. Some point the finger at Spencer’s tactics as having doomed Cooper to fail, whilst others see the greater talents – Thierry Henry, Joel Lindepere and, ahem, Dax McCarty to name but three – around him in New York as the real answer.
Cooper’s year in Portland is an example of “right man, wrong place”. It underlines the fact that simply going out and buying the “best” isn’t always the right move if that player isn’t suited to how the club play, or vice versa.
The coaching staff never seemed to be able to bring out the best in Cooper and his role as totemic front man has been taken up this year by Kris Boyd, a striker who broke records back in his native Scotland.
Boyd currently has 4 goals in 12 matches.
Verdict: Kenny Flopping Cooper
[learn_more caption=”Perlaza / Mwanga”]
All of which brings us to the most recent trade. Jorge Perlaza, a polarizing and frustrating player at times, traded to Philadelphia Union for Danny Mwanga.
Clearly it’s too early to call on whether this is a good deal. Perlaza saw a little time towards the end of the Union’s defeat to DC United, though Perlaza did score in a friendly. Having been burnt on seemingly “good deals” before, most fans are wisely taking a wait-and-see approach.
Perlaza’s contribution to the cause was recognised by most Timbers fans, but few shed tears to see the Colombian leave, despite him scoring the first goal at JELD-WEN Field. A record of only 6 goals in 41 matches simply wasn’t enough.
I’ve written in the past about the value I think Perlaza brought to the team, but I can also recognise the sense in this trade. The team are struggling for goals – only Chivas USA have scored fewer in the Western Conference – and a fresh impetus up top may provide the spark they need.
In Mwanga, that spark is a 20 year old, 6’2” striker who hit the MLS at full speed in his first season, scoring seven times in his first 14 appearances. A refugee from DR Congo who had settled in Oregon, he had been drafted first by the Union in 2010.
It would certainly seem on that early evidence that Portland have got the better end of the deal, but the trade is not without its risks.
Since that early burst, Mwanga has found goals and game time under Piotr Nowak hard to come by. Niggling injuries have hampered him, and when he has played it’s often be out of position, or from the bench as Nowak focused on defence over attack.
The trade that saw Sebastien Le Toux join Vancouver Whitecaps this year meant Mwanga lost the one player he seemed to have an intuitive understanding with, and he’s cut a forlorn figure this year, with no goals in his 11 matches.
Worryingly for Timbers fans, if Mwanga’s early form for the Union was taken out of the equation his record is five goals in 47 appearances (526 minutes per goal) – one fewer goal than Perlaza, who’d played six fewer matches (440 minutes per goal).
The change in scenery may do both players the world of good. Certainly Mwanga has looked a lot happier since the trade, and has talked of his return to his “hometown”.
Perlaza’s situation is a little more difficult to read following Nowak’s recent departure, but given the chance he could yet shine away from Portland as Cooper has.
Verdict: Time will tell…
It wouldn’t be fair to say the front office has outright failed in it’s transfer dealings, and neither has it been a roaring success. The truth is there’s been a mix of the good, the bad and the indifferent.
From the ten players selected in the expansion draft, only one has racked up any meaningful first team action – Eric Brunner. Six never kicked a ball for the club with four – McCarty, Wallace, Arturo Alvarez (to Real Salt Lake for a second-round draft pick) and Jordan Graye (to Houston for a fourth-round 2014 draft pick) – traded away and two – Robbie Findley and Jonathan Bornstein – who had left the league.
In terms of moves outwith MLS there’s been tendency to go for almost exclusively Colombian and Scottish targets. Colombians make up the largest non-American bloc in the league and the Timbers have played their part in pushing that number up.
Diego Chara has been a mainstay in the Timbers midfield, and is popular with with fans for his rambunctious style on the pitch. Jorge Perlaza wrote himself into the history books with the club’s first home MLS goal, if not the hearts of the support.
This year has seen three Colombians join – Jose Adolfo Valencia, Sebastián Rincón and Hanyer Mosquera.
Valencia is a huge prospect, but unlikely to see any game time until 2013 due to injury. Rincón is young and skillful, but hasn’t yet got his chance during his loan spell.
Of the three, Mosquera is the one that’s made the immediate impact. He’s a huge presence in the heart of defence and, if he can continue to improve, will undoubtedly prove himself one of the best centre-backs in the league.
Steven Smith joined Boyd, his ex-Rangers teammate, at the end of April following a spell in England. A bustling left-back, his signing has seemed to edge Wallace closer to the door. Rumours swirl linking Portland to a move to another ex-Rangers player, Kenny Miller, but are, as yet, unsubstantiated.
The move to sign Boyd was a big deal. Signed as a designated player, he represents a large financial undertaking. Goals haven’t exactly flowed as yet, and there are some fans who wonder if they will. I still have confidence that he’ll find his feet before too long.
The worry is that the Timbers are often limited in scope when it comes to transfer targets, and don’t seem to address the problems the squad clearly has.
The lack of a natural attacking midfielder has been glaring for some time, and the team still have problems at right back, where Jewsbury has been filling in.
If this article were to be written last year, getting Jewsbury from Kansas City would’ve been viewed a stunning success. Jewsbury had been a solid, if unspectacular, part of Kansas City’s midfield, but during those early months of 2011 he was transformed into a set-piece specialist and driving force behind the Timbers. He delivered eight assists and seven goals in 31 matches, defying all expectations of him.
However, 2012 has seen a regression to the mean. His overall play has slumped, yet there seems a reluctance from John Spencer to drop the man he installed as captain, preferring to fit him in at right back instead.
The recent move to sign Mike Fucito, another striker, from Montreal Impact also confuses me. Is another striker really what the team needs at this point? I’ve no doubt Fucito will give his all, and he’s certainly looked eager in the little game time he’s had so far, but what is the front office’s overall strategy here?
And that is my concern.
At times it seems like there’s no guiding principle as to how the Timbers are working their trades. My own sense is that John Spencer and Gavin Wilkinson seem to have different ideas on the kind of squad they want, and this is leading to there being “Spencer players” and “Wilkinson players” on the roster, with very little overlap in that particular Venn diagram.
The transfer window remains open for some time, and the season is young, so the Timbers can still turn it around and reach the play-offs. The next few weeks will be very interesting in Soccer City USA.
What do you think? Have the Timbers trade dealings worked for you, or not?
There will be few of a Timbers persuasion who will look back on the the first few months of the 2012 season with anything other than a grimace/rueful shake of the head depending on how the year turns out. It has not been good. At all.
Midway through May the performances and results have been poor and the team find themselves propping up the Western Conference with almost a third of the season gone.
Such is the atmosphere around the club that Merritt Paulson’s trip to Munich for the Champions League final drew the ire of some. You can guarantee that a winning team’s fans don’t particularly care if their team owner is out of town on a jolly, missing a grand total of one game in a season. But when the results aren’t good…
Many fans are asking hard questions of Paulson and the Timbers front office, or of the players of the pitch. It doesn’t diminish their support, but neither does support mean tough questions shouldn’t be asked.
The question that’s been nagging away at the back of my head for a while now isn’t about Paulson, a guy whose love for the club I do not question, or Gavin Wilkinson, a General Manager with no MLS experience, or even the players, who I think are giving their best under the circumstances. No, the question that’s been on my mind is this –
What the hell is up with John Spencer?
Hiring a manager with no experience of the top job was always a risk, especially without experienced back-up, but I felt that last year Spencer had shown some signs of progress. He’s certainly enthusiastic and engaging. On the pitch there were a few missteps, but as long as lessons are learned, then that’s fine. No-one expected trophies from the get-go.
The thing is that this year it doesn’t seem like the lessons of last year have been learned after all. The team seem to make the same mistakes, over and over and over again.
The last few weeks have been especially concerning for me as Spencer’s words and actions seem to indicate a manager who is, frankly, out of his depth.
Last month saw James Marcelin waived in a move that took many by surprise, but the real headscratcher was a couple of lines in the press release that gave the reason for Marcelin’s dismissal as “non-soccer-related“, and that the club had “a high level of professional expectations for all its players”.
Now, most fans are aware of the rumours about Marcelin, and few would describe the Haitian as a model professional, but quite why the club felt the need to include such a pointed, yet vague, dig at Marcelin is unclear.
Spencer undoutedly had very little to do with the wording of the press release, but Marcelin’s comments since getting picked up by FC Dallas that the Scot “doesn’t let you [play your game]” because “he’s just yelling all the time” probably points towards a personality clash that would’ve certainly hastened Marcelin’s departure.
The thing is, if the Timbers had simply said that Marcelin was surplus to requirements, and they felt the roster spot would be better utilised elsewhere, few would’ve batted an eyelid. Marcelin had never really commanded a place in the Timbers XI, and his effectiveness as a “closer” was questionable, at best. The little petty dig struck me, ironically enough, as rather unbecoming of a professional outfit.
Shortly after Marcelin’s departure, Spencer addressed Eric Alexander’s absence from the team with a very candid spiel on the midfielder’s application.
As he told the press, “[Eric] has been given an opportunity to play and is not playing to the best of his ability that we know how he can play. He needs to realize … that when you get the opportunity to play you’ve got to take it with both hands. Play well and stay in the team.”
This again caused eyebrows to raise among Timbers fans. Alexander, it should be noted, currently leads the club in assists. The last goal scored by a Timber came from an Alexander assist. Alexander isn’t playing, the Timbers aren’t scoring. Coincidence? Maybe, maybe not.
Spencer sees Alexander in training every day – he knows more about him than any of us fans could hope to, so in some respects you have to bow to his insider knowledge. Perhaps Eric isn’t giving enough in training. Perhaps there is more to come from him. I wouldn’t dare to profess any great insight into whether Eric Alexander isn’t doing his best.
My issue is that publicly calling someone out isn’t, to my mind, the way to get more effort from that person. What sort of message does it send to other players as well that a manager under pressure and facing questions about his own performance is going to throw one of his (better) players out there as not doing enough?
There are those who’ll say that Spencer is just answering the question honestly. Hey, I can respect that. The meaningless clichés of football are one of my big bugbears. But I’d say that the place for blunt “honesty” is the locker room, not in front of the assembled press. You can be honest and diplomatic at the same time.
It doesn’t seem that Spencer’s public pep-talk has done much to improve Alexander’s efforts as he’s since been limited to cameo appearances, while Lovel Palmer has settled in at centre midfield. There are some who’d read Spencer’s “play well and stay in the team” line and then look at the team sheet with eyebrows raised so high they’d be halfway down the back of the neck.
The last couple of matches have at least seen the team come together defensively and put in some good shifts at the back, keeping two clean sheets back-to-back. Something to be applauded. A great foundation to build upon.
The problem has been that the team has offered very little in attack. It’s over 7 hours since a Timber put the ball in the net.
John Spencer, speaking to Timbers Insider, addressed fans concerns about a lack of attacking midfielders with a dismissive “square pegs in round holes” dig. “You’re just putting a blindfold on and throwing a dart at a dartboard and hopefully it comes up trumps. We’re not coaching [youth soccer] where you can do what you want. We’re a professional level, you’ve got to play the players in the positions that they’re accustomed to.”
Take that fans. You know nothing. Now run along, there’s a dear.
If any fans had eyebrows left, reading that has probably shot them off into near-Earth orbit. “Play the players in the positions that they’re accustomed to.” Really, John? You’re actually using that line?
I suppose you mean guys like Diego Chara, the winger? Or Jack Jewsbury, the attacking midfielder? Or Rodney Wallace, the footballer winger?
Either Spencer is forgetful, or he’s a hypocrite. He’s the guy that’s been playing players out of position, consistently. That’s the problem.
There are few who believe that Nagbe’s rightful position is up top. His best work has come from deeper positions, when he can get turned, get his head up and run with the ball. Yet he’s found himself leading the line, or even out wide.
The passive-aggressive tone of Spencer’s reply is that of the age-old defence – if you’ve not done it yourself, you can’t possibly be qualified to talk about it. Yeah, I don’t get paid to do this (I actually pay for the privilege with hosting costs), nor do I have coaching badges or experience of playing beyond school’s level, but don’t insinuate that I don’t know what I, other fans, don’t know what we’re seeing.
I don’t have to have directed a blockbuster movie to know that Battleship is a steaming crock of shit. I don’t have to have written and performed a Top 10 hit to know that Justin Bieber is the greatest single threat to humanity since the invention of the A-Bomb.
And I don’t have to have managed a professional team (or youth soccer – hey youth soccer coaches, you suck too!) to know that this isn’t good enough, and you haven’t shown anything to suggest that you have any idea how to fix it.
To the list of unprofessional players, players who aren’t working hard enough, and an overabundance of square pegs, you can add “too many young players” to the list of reasons why the Timbers are underachieving this year.
“”I think we are underachieving when it comes to getting good service [to the attackers],” Spencer said to OregonLive.com. “We are inconsistent in that department. But that comes from having young players. They’re going to have inconsistencies.”
Well, I for one am glad that’s been sorted out. We’re not scoring because we have too many young players, not because we lack an attacking midfielder, or we’re benching our leading assist creator. It’s the young players!
Which is, quite frankly, horse shit. Freshly laid, steaming equine manure.
Let’s look at the numbers. The average age of the Timbers starting midfield and attack in the last tow matches is over 25. Only one player, Nagbe, could reasonably be tagged as “young”. Rodney Wallace, the next youngest at 23, has over 60 MLS starts to his name.
Meanwhile, at DC United – a team that have scored 22 in 13 matches, compared to the Timbers 9 in 10 – four of their most used midfield and attackers are 22 or under. The average age of their 7 most used midfielders and attackers comes in at a full year younger than the Timbers “kids” (a little over 24) – and that includes Dwayne De Rosario, a player so old he still remembers when everything was black and white. Take DeRo out of the mix and the average age crashes below 23. Nagbe is a veteran in that set up.
I’m not buying it, John.
Now, you could certainly make the case that Spencer had little or nothing to do with the Marcelin press release, and argue that Spencer’s comments about Alexander are just a sign of the man’s honesty and willingness to give a straight answer but the last two examples are the most worrying to me.
These are the words of a manager who either doesn’t realise the problems the team faces, or doesn’t know how to right them. The passive-aggressive obfuscation of the fans legitimate concerns is getting old, fast.
It seems that whenever the pressure is on the manager, and questions are asked, the answer is the same: it’s the players. They’re not doing enough, or they’re inconsistent or too young. There’s always someone else to blame. Luck, referees, conditions. The list of excuses is as long as it is fatuous.
I might not know the answer of who to put the Timber back on track, but then it’s not my job to. It’s John Spencer’s, and if he doesn’t even understand the question in the first place, that’s not just worrying, it’s downright terrifying.
Tomorrow the Timbers face Chicago and have a chance to lay a marker down for the rest of the season. The rot stops here, and the goals will flow. No-one will be happier to see John Spencer turn it round, you might be surprised to hear, than me. I’d love to be proven wrong, but I’m starting to lose faith in the man in charge.
I firmly believe we have the players to go out and play a creatively attacking game, while remaining defensively responsible. Whether Spencer will let his young square pegs go out and do it is another matter.
#RCTID through the good times and, especially, the bad.