GM Wilkinson Pulling a Double to Make Portland BetterBeing GM for both Timbers, Thorns means little time to rest
by Ray Marcham | Thursday, December 19, 2013
He may not be in the hot seat like in the past, but that doesn’t mean the pressure on Gavin Wilkinson is letting up.
In fact, he might be feeling twice as much pressure as any other general manager in MLS. That’s mainly because he’s overseeing two clubs that had very successful 2013 seasons.
Wilkinson has to balance his duties with the Portland Timbers with those of the NWSL’s Portland Thorns, and there has been plenty of news from both clubs over the past week. And there’s likely to be more as the end of 2013 looms and new seasons for both clubs get closer.
It’s much different than a year ago, when he had completed a stint as Portland’s interim head coach, a vocal portion of Timbers fans were wanting him sacked – the hashtag #GWOUT was common in the Portland Twitterverse for months – and the Thorns had just been established, leaving him to try and put together a team while waiting for players from the US, Canadian and Mexican Women’s National Teams to be allocated in January.
Once he got back from a number of international scouting trips with current Timbers manager Caleb Porter, Wilkinson had to make a number of decisions for both clubs. Truly, something was announced every weekday that either he was directly involved in the action taken or will be affected by a decision that was made.
On Monday, it was announced that the Timbers picked up the 2014 options on 9 players, didn’t pick up 2 others and waived 2 players. Most of the players with 2014 options were no-brainers to keep, including captain Will Johnson, Rodney Wallace, Futty Danso, Pa Modou Kah and Andrew Jean-Baptiste.
Of the players not offered deals, the major name may have been David Horst. While a fan favorite, he had been battling injuries over the past 2 seasons. While an offer was made to Ryan Johnson, it’s expected that he’s leaving Portland and try to hook up with a European club.
For most general managers in MLS, that announcement means they start getting ready for the MLS Re-Entry Draft on Thursday. But Wilkinson still had other moves to make for his other team.
Big things for the Thorns happened on Tuesday. It was announced that Wilkinson and the Thorns had hired a new head coach, Paul Riley. He replaced Cindy Parlow Cone, who resigned after leading Portland to the NWSL title. Riley, a 2-time coach of the year in the now-defunct Women’s Professional Soccer (WPS) with Philadelphia, was immediately linked to the Thorns job after Cone announced her resignation.
On Wednesday, Wilkinson brought back Nikki Marshall to the Thorns, trading 2 draft picks to Seattle to get her. The Thorns had waved Marshall following the 2013 season, with Washington taking her in the NWSL Waiver Draft in September. In October, Washington traded her to Seattle for draft picks. On the Timbers side, the preseason schedule was announced, including the annual Rose City Invitational at the end of February.
Then came Thursday. First, Wilkinson traded Jean-Baptiste and the 17th pick in the Re-Entry to Chivas USA for Jorge Villafaña and the 2nd pick in the Re-Entry Draft. Of course, that 2nd pick was used to take former Sounder Steve Zakuani, triggering a social media avalanche in Cascadia as Timber supporters hoped the former Akron Zip was healed from his injuries, while Sounder fans were coming to terms that one of their favorites was going to play for Portland in 2014. There was also the announcement that Rodney Wallace had undergone surgery for a torn ACL in his knee, suffered during the playoff series with RSL.
Almost forgotten was the official announcement that Bayern Munich was coming to Portland for the MLS All-Star Game. That was on Thursday, too.
There was anticipation building on Friday, and it was capped off when CONCACAF announced that they had approved changes to the MLS/US allocation for the Champions League. That meant the Timbers were in for the 2014-15 campaign as the top regular season club in the Western Conference. While waiting for that announcement, Wilkinson completed the trade of Sal Zizzo to Sporting Kansas City for allocation money.
After all of that, there’s still not much time to rest. The offseason is still young, and the pressure to get better is always there. But with the Timbers doing well in the regular season but coming up short in the playoffs, and the Thorns inconsistent during the NWSL season but winning the league title, Wilkinson will be staying busy.
This is where he will really be earning his pay. While the Timbers might be one of the stronger MLS clubs this offseason, they have to make moves to ensure they keep up the momentum created by the 2013 season and also be ready for the CCL. Staying within the salary cap while getting players who can fit in Porter’s system will be a challenge for him. But, this time, he’s dealing from a position of strength.
And with a new coach, a new system and possibly more of a roster shakeup possible, the Thorns might be a trickier issue. That Seattle has become very aggressive in the offseason, along with a new team in Houston, will keep things on the NWSL front very busy for Wilkinson. Maintaining the Thorns, rather than starting things up, might be a tougher task.
But it’s a much better position for Wilkinson to be in than he was facing a year ago. He probably doesn’t mind one bit.
NEXT UP: February 1 – Portland Timbers vs. Sporting Kansas City, Kino Sports Complex, Tucson, Az. 8 p.m. EST, No TV.