Danso Trade Adds to Portland’s Defensive Changes

Timbers giving more players chances as injuries, bad play forces adjustments
by Ray Marcham   |   Thursday, June 05, 2014

Green Logs - a column on the Portland Timbers & the Portland soccer scene

The news hit with a thud on Monday morning, catching many Portland Timbers supporters off-guard.

Futty was gone. Traded to Montréal for a draft pick. And the shake-up of the Timbers’ defensive personnel continued.

The trade of Mamadou "Futty” Danso, one of the last of the USL Timbers still on the team, to the Impact for a second round pick in the 2015 MLS SuperDraft was the latest move to try and strengthen the weakest part of Portland’s roster, the backline. Danso’s role has quickly been reduced in the last few weeks, with a start at Chivas USA on May 28 being the only action he’d seen since May 17.

The trade came after the Timbers signed former Columbus defender Danny O’Rourke the previous Monday. O’Rourke, who had been with the Crew for 7 seasons, had come to Portland for a trial a week earlier. Two days after signing with Portland, he was starting against Chivas.

It’s become a revolving cast of characters on the Portland defense. Between injuries, bad play and giving players deeper down the depth chart a chance to show their skills, the back four now has different looks each match as Caleb Porter tries to find that right combination that will be solid for all 90-plus minutes of a match.

Injuries have hit a number of players. Michael Harrington hasn’t played since being subbed just 5 minutes into the home match against Los Angeles on May 11 with an ankle injury. But he is close to coming back, as Porter told the Portland media on Wednesday that Harrington is healed and is working towards match fitness.

Norberto Paparatto, who had been riding the bench since early April, had to leave the Chivas USA match early with a concussion, but would be ready to play (and may start) against Real Salt Lake on Saturday. The Chivas match had been his first start since the 4-4 home draw with Seattle on April 5.

Then on Wednesday, Porter announced that Pa Modou Kah has been missing practice with Achilles tendinitis, making his availability against RSL on Saturday a big question.

Between the injuries and the benching of some who had been expected to start (Danso, Paparatto), it has given defenders who have been out on loan, or who have been training but not playing, a chance to step up. A couple have shown themselves well.

Rauwshan McKenzie got his first start since August when he played against the Red Bulls in New Jersey, and showed well enough that he came in for Paparatto in the Chivas match and started against Vancouver on Sunday. It was the first time since September of 2012, when he was playing for Chivas USA, that McKenzie had played 3 straight MLS matches. Before the starts, McKenzie had been on loan to USL Pro’s Orange County Blues and getting badly needed playing time. When he was called back to the Timbers, he immediately was placed in the starting lineup.

Also getting a chance is Jorge Villafaña, who came to Portland in the offseason in the Andrew Jean-Baptiste trade, and he’s making the most of it. After replacing the red-carded Alvas Powell on the back line against Columbus, Villafaña showed well enough that he’s started the last three matches. His pass to Maxi Urruti for the game-winning goal against the Red Bulls had fans talking, and his pass to Fanendo Adi for the second goal against Chivas was also a piece of brilliance. While he didn’t play well against Vancouver, enough has been shown that he could end up staying in the starting line-up for a bit.

The one constant has been Jack Jewsbury. Though he didn’t play against Chivas as Porter tried to rotate players and keep them fresh in a 3-matches-in-9-days stretch, Jewsbury has been steady on the right side. He often is the most complete defender for the Timbers, and has been able to adjust as needed when teams try to exploit his lack of speed. How much longer he can keep up the pace will be a big question.

A major question mark is Alvas Powell. He hasn’t played since his red card against Columbus (the 2-match suspension, then riding the bench), and with Harrington and Paparatto coming back, and McKenzie and Villafaña earning more time, he may become the odd-man out. While his speed has helped at times, his inexperience has also cost Portland at other times. The next time he sees the field might be in the US Open Cup match against Orlando City U-23s in a couple of weeks.

One aspect of the Danso trade was giving Portland flexibility to bring in other players. ESPN’s Taylor Twellman reported Monday that the Timbers had made a $2 million-plus offer to Manchester City for ex-England back Joleon Lescott. If accepted once the international transfer window opens in July, it would be a big statement in trying to improve the weakest part of the Timbers.

It would also mean another new name in the mix as Porter tried to find the elusive combo that will finally give Donovan Ricketts some consistent help and cut down on the defensive lapses that lead to matches like this season’s home Cascadia matches against Seattle and Vancouver, where the visitors scored 4 times on each occasion. That the next match is against RSL, the club that “broke the code” on the Timbers last season, brings an urgency beyond even the struggle to get to a playoff spot.

But with the playoff chase, the USOC and the CONCACAF Champions League all on Portland’s plate, the need to find the right 4 players to work the back line and help Ricketts is increasingly crucial. Hopefully, it’s not out of reach.

NEXT UP: June 7 – Portland Timbers vs. Real Salt Lake, Rio Tinto Stadium, Sandy, Utah. 10 p.m. EST, ROOT Sports NW.

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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