Tag Archives: Trade

Go Danny

welcomehomedannyWhen Danny Mwanga joined the Timbers it felt like a homecoming for the young attacker. It was to Portland that the young Mwanga had relocated from war-torn Congo, and it was back there he went after early promise at Philadelphia had went frustratingly unrealized.

A former OSU player, there was a real sense of enthusiasm about Mwanga’s arrival but things haven’t worked out as anyone would’ve hoped. With 3 goals in 18 appearances, Mwanga simply wasn’t earning his high salary and the club had renegotiated the deal in December for, one would presume, a lower salary more commensurate with his standing as being in the second XI not the first.

A deal for Mwanga has probably been shopped around for some time, despite that renegotiation, and a 21 year old with 15 MLS goals to his name already was always likely to find someone out there willing to take a shot that Mwanga just needs a fresh start to become a regular goalscorer. Oscar Pareja, head coach of Colorado Rapids, is that someone.

Much of the offseason work from the front office this year has seen guys I like leaving the club, but with a clear sense that there was a renewed purpose to the club and this was simply an unavoidable part of that. I’d have liked to see Eric Alexander and Eric Brunner given a chance, and wouldn’t have minded keeping Franck Songo’o or Joe Bendik, but with each deal you can see the reasoning behind it and whether you get behind it depends on just how much trust you place in Caleb Porter and Gavin Wilkinson to do the job right.

When Bright Dike got injured, the Timbers lost their “Number Nine”: the guy that Kenny Cooper and Kris Boyd weren’t meant to be, but Dike had become to the extent that he was a bawhair from going to the Cup of Nations with Nigeria. Ryan Johnson has filled in there, and a hat-trick is a pretty decent audition, but i get the sense from what I hear and read about him that he’s better suited to playing as a wide attacker, allowing him to be more involved on both sides of play.

Whenever Mwanga has led the line on his own, I’ve been unconvinced that he has what it takes there. Bright Dike, for all his faults, is a presence and will let everyone know he’s there. Mwanga never really impressed on me that much, and drifted in and out of games. We can expect to see Trencito given time this year but what I think Porter has shown with the signing of Mikael Silvestre is that, especially when there is as much turmoil and change as there is at Portland, an “old head” on the pitch can help knit things together and fill the breach while the club settles.

That left Mwanga in a group that includes Kalif Alhassan, Ryan Johnson, Darlington Nagbe, Sal Zizzo to fight out for the two attacking midfield/wide attacker roles that weren’t already taken by Diego Valeri. When you’re paying the big money to Mwanga, you really don’t want him to be fourth or fifth in line for the gig when he’s, arguably, the least versatile of the group.

We’ve seen Alhassan and Zizzo being used, tested, in other roles, central midfield and right-back respectively. With a strict salary cap, and limit on roster numbers, versatility adds value. Nagbe’s covered almost every role in midfield and attack and Johnson has shown he can step in and be the lead striker, if needed.

That’s something we haven’t seen from Danny. Sure, there have been moments and I thought the Mwanga/Boyd partnership had promise, as seen in the 2-1 win against Sporting Kansas City, but John Spencer was soon-to-be gone and Boyd would become the league’s most expensive bench warmer for a couple of months.

The rumour (now confirmed) is that Frederic Piquionne is the man the Timbers want to come in and lend some experience and presence to the front line. Piquionne has never been a prolific scorer through-out his career in France and England, with a reputation as a frustrating finisher who doesn’t do the defensive side with any enthusiasm. What he does bring is pace, whatever remains in those 34 year old legs, an elegance to his play and an aerial presence up top. Given he’s not an out-and-out scorer, Piquionne would give Porter the option to deploy him as an attacking fulcrum that the three player behind him could off in almost the same way, though it’s perhaps not so flattering to say so, that Torres was used in front of Mata, Oscar and Hazard at Chelsea.

The move for Piquionne, as with Silvestre, couldn’t look more like short-term fixes if their contracts had been signed in disappearing ink but if they ease the club’s transition, and help develop some of the young talent they’ll be training alongside then they’ll be invaluable moves.

Though there was no future in Portland for Danny Mwanga, there’s clearly still talent in him. Since that early burst of form in his first year in Philadelphia, Mwanga has looked like he just doesn’t fit in but perhaps he’ll find a home among the clouds in Colorado.


[poll id=”3″]

Advertisements

Alexander the Trade

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.

Speaking Franckly

The Portland Timbers announced yesterday that they have released midfielder Franck Songo’o.

This move wasn’t entirely unexpected.  The fact that Franck’s signing wasn’t announced with those of the other players resigned from the 2012 season suggested that his place on the side was, at least, still in question.

And from a player personnel angle the move also doesn’t seem shocking.  From being one of the two great weaknesses of the past two seasons (the fullbacks being the other) the Timbers Front Office has moved quickly to shore up the midfield before the start of the coming season.  From being – as one of the best comments on the post discussing this move over at Stumptown Footy put it – a bright candle in a dark room Songo’o had become just another dim part of the candelabra that will be this season’s midfield.  And not a very bright candle in the view of the coach, general manager, and, presumably, the owner.

Still, the big issue this points up is how opaque and difficult-to-suss-out these player contract negotiations are.  The MLS Player’s association places Franck’s 2012 salary at about $70,000 as part of a two-year contract that, supposedly, saw his pay increase this coming year.  How large this increase might be is difficult to estimate.

But, consider; Jack Jewsbury made about $160,000 last year and is likely to make roughly the same in this coming season.

If you were the Timbers owner, would you consider Songo’o less valuable than Jewsbury?

Even more than that – consider the last part of the last sentence of the Oregonian article, since my understanding is that Geoff Arnold is largely a megaphone for the Timbers’ Front Office: “…the Timbers decided they didn’t want Songo’o back, even at a reduced salary. “

So the team didn’t just consider Songo’o less valuable than Jewsbury, an aging defensive midfielder whose wheels are largely gone and who no longer takes the spot-kicks that made him useful in 2011, they didn’t even consider Songo’o v.2013 as valuable as Songo’o v.2012 at a lower cost.

Not even an increased cost.  A lower cost.

That’s pretty baffling.

Much of the commentary on this trade at Stumptown is fairly acrid.  Franck is an attractive player and his skills were one of the few bright(er) facets of the last dire season (albeit skills that weren’t effective as a means of goalscoring or winning, but given his surroundings its hard to lay that back on him).  And in my opinion a lot of the cause of this is the toxic effect of the man who has moved back upstairs from his dire interregnum on the touchline; this suspicion and this simmering distrust will linger as long and perhaps longer than he will.  Many supporters simply don’t trust Gavin to make intelligent player decisions anymore.

But I think that an immense part of the trouble is that it is difficult or simply impossible for the fan standing outside to see into, hear, and understand what’s happening in those closed rooms underneath the walls of Jeld-Wen Field.

And where there is no light, even the brightest candle can cast some dark and troubling shadows.  It’s hard to speak frankly when you can’t hear the words being spoken around you.