Most Crucial Position For Timbers? Possibly Backup GK

Weber the favorite to get job, but questions linger with him, Gleeson
by Ray Marcham   |   Friday, January 31, 2014

John Hefti Photography - MLS, Portland Timbers, PTFC

Of all of the positions on the Portland Timbers’ roster, the most important may be one who isn’t even in the usual starting XI.

And that was shown again during Tuesday’s preseason training session at JELD-WEN Field, when Donovan Ricketts had to leave the session early after getting injured.

That position is second string goalkeeper, the one who will back-up Ricketts during the season. Not only will that player need to be ready at a moment’s notice, but also may have to become the starter if Ricketts gets injured.

Which is why there was plenty of concern when Ricketts went down on Tuesday during a scrimmage. He left the JWF turf under his own power after being looked at by trainers, but didn’t practice on Wednesday, the Timbers’ last session in Portland before heading to Tucson, Ariz., for 2 weeks. He told members of the media that he was fine, but he was kept out of practice as a precaution.

While Ricketts was named the MLS Goalkeeper of the Year for 2013, he is also at the back end of his career. He turns 37 in July, and with the increased number of games the Timbers will have, he can’t be expected to carry the load this season like he did last season. Especially if he has to cover for a defense that, at times, was very porous and forced him to make spectacular saves to keep Portland in tight matches or preserve leads.

But if Ricketts is out for any amount of time, the backup keeper will see playing time. The second string keeper will also likely see starts in the US Open Cup and spots MLS starts. Depending on the situation, there could be starts in the CONCACAF Champions League, as well.

At this time, the backup GK position might be Andrew Weber’s to lose. The former Sounder, Earthquake, Impact and DC United player spent much of 2013 with Phoenix in USL PRO. He did make 3 appearances for Seattle in July after Michael Gspurning was injured in a match at San Jose. Weber replaced Gspurning in that San Jose match, giving up the only goal of the match. He then started twice at home, getting a 1-1 draw with Colorado and earning a 2-1 win over Chivas USA. But he only played for the Sounders’ reserves after that, and in the end played 14 matches for Phoenix.

Weber does have experience in playing in both the US Open Cup and the CCL, having started matches for Seattle in both. He also started for Montreal during their CCL run in 2009. But, in his 6 MLS seasons, Weber has played in just 8 league matches, including 6 in the past 2 years.

Where Timbers’ fans might remember Weber is from one of the rare 2012 highlights for the club, the 2-1 home win over Seattle on June 26. Weber started for the Sounders and gave up goals to Kris Boyd and David Horst in the match.

The only other goalkeeper currently on the roster is Jake Gleeson, who has been injured for much of the past 2 seasons. Portland manager Caleb Porter has already indicated that he would prefer Gleeson go on loan to the Timbers’ new USL PRO affiliate in Sacramento to get consistent minutes, but the health of Ricketts may change those plans. Gleeson hasn’t started for the Timbers in an MLS match since April 17, 2011, when he played all 90 minutes in a 3-2 win over FC Dallas at JWF. He went 2-0-1 in his 3 starts in 2011.

What complicated the issue of the backup GK was the retirement of Milos Kocic, who declined the Timbers’ 2014 contract offer and has started a goalkeeping school in Toronto. However, it was assumed that Kocic wasn’t coming back to Portland, anyway, thus the acquisition of Weber.

Justin Luthy, formerly of Boston College and the Columbus Crew Academy, has been on trial in Portland and is a candidate to be a fourth keeper. Porter has mentioned that he’d like to have 4 keepers in the books for the season, even if Gleeson is with Sacramento. This makes it likely that Luthy will travel with the Timbers when they head to Tucson.

The 4 preseason friendlies in Tucson, and the training sessions in the warmer conditions, will help Porter and his staff determine how the depth behind Ricketts will line up. As said earlier, the job is likely Weber’s to lose, but if Gleeson shows he’s ready, he may make that decision a little tougher (though he would probably still start the season in Sacramento). It will also allow each keeper to work behind a slightly retooled Timbers D, vital as Portland starts to get ready for the long season. If neither shows well during the preseason, then Porter and Gavin Wilkinson have to decide if they go after another keeper.

It’s a rare instance where a single member of the bench could be a key factor in a team’s success. But in Portland’s case, that’s exactly the case, because neither Weber nor Gleeson have proven themselves on a consistent basis. If Ricketts does get hurt, is either ready to take on a full-time starting role?

There is a possibility that the season’s success may depend on the answer.

NEXT UP: February 1 – Portland Timbers vs. Sporting Kansas City, North Stadium, Kimo Sports Complex, Tucson, Ariz. 8 p.m. EST, MLSSoccer.com.

Ray MARCHAM

Nationality:
USA
College:
Washington State
Club Domestic:
Portland Timbers
Club Foreign:
Arsenal
Cascadia native and a fan for as long as he can remember, Ray was brought up on the old NASL. Learned to love MLS. Wanted to play like Clive Charles. Then like Tony Adams. Only dreams, of course.
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