Timbers Begin Rebuilding Process

Goalkeeping, defense sees the biggest change after numerous moves
by Ray Marcham   |   Friday, December 12, 2014

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

It’s been an eventful few days for the Portland Timbers, to say the least.

Signing a possible future #1 goalkeeper, than losing the current starter. Shoring up the defense, then sweating out the expansion draft. Exercising a purchase option on one player on loan, and then accepting the same on another. Familiar names who hadn’t played well being set loose. All in a span of three days.

Some of the biggest news came at goalkeeper. The signing of Adam Kwarasey, who started the 2014 World Cup as Ghana’s #1 keeper, from Norwegian side Strømsgodset raised the most eyebrows. That gave Portland four GKs, and with Donovan Ricketts already under contract and the options picked up on Jake Gleeson and Andrew Weber, there was a serious question on what the Timbers were up to.

But Gavin Wilkinson said on Tuesday that Wednesday’s expansion draft could change that situation, and as it turned out, he was right. Orlando City took Ricketts with the first pick in the draft, taking a big salary off of Portland’s books and making the GK situation much clearer. Kwarasey likely will be at the top of the depth chart, but Gleeson will give him a big challenge. What Weber’s role will be is still unknown.

The Timbers defense saw a major overhaul that was seen to be, to use a Wilkinson term, an upgrade. First was the acquisition of Nate Borchers from Real Salt Lake, bringing veteran leadership to the back line. That was followed by the trade of Michael Harrington to Colorado for allocation money, ending Harrington’s two-year tenure on Portland’s back line.

Portland then triggered the purchase option on Alvas Powell’s contract from Jamaica’s Portmore United and signed him to a long-term deal. The Timbers also resigned Jorge Villafaña, who was out of contract. They also picked up the 2015 option on Taylor Peay, ensuring needed depth. There was worry that Villafaña could be taken in expansion draft, but when Ricketts was taken, he was immediately protected by the Timbers.

Some had to go away, and five ended up leaving the Timbers. Longtime starter Pa Modou Kah was let go, along with Bryan Gallego. The club also decided not to offer contracts to Rauwshan McKenzie and Danny O’Rourke, meaning their time in Portland is over. The big name there is Kah, but his play was a point of frustration numerous times in 2014, and it was no surprise that he is now gone.

One interesting move was the signing of Brazilian defender JeAnderson from Santa Rita, a small club in Alagoas state. He started 2014 with Cruzeiro-RS in Porto Alegre before moving on. He is seen as a project, and will likely back up Villafaña at left defender.

Monday also meant the end of the drawn-out Jose Valencia saga, as Argentina’s Club Olimpo agreed to purchase his contract. Valencia had been on loan from Portland to Olimpo during the 2014 season, as the Timbers seemed to not have room for the young Colombian.

But as one Colombian left, another was signed. Another of Portland’s international signings on Monday was Dairon Asprilla, a 22-year-old who scored 22 goals in 71 appearances for Categoría Primera A club Alianza Petrolera. He is listed as a midfielder/forward, similar to Darlington Nagbe. He is expected to play mainly on the right wing, opposite Rodney Wallace.

The midfield changes announced on Monday weren’t unexpected. Kalif Alhassan and Steven Evans didn’t have their options picked up for 2015, but Evans ended up becoming the first player signed for Portland’s new USL Pro side, Timbers 2. Evans will now play his pro soccer where he played in college, Merlo Field at the University of Portland.

Surprising no one, the Timbers picked up the 2015 options on Wallace and Ben Zemanski on Monday, keeping two players who are key to the midfield. Also having their 2015 options picked up were George Fochive and Michael Nanchoff, who are expected to continue in their current roles in providing depth and playing in US Open Cup matches.

One priority with the Timbers now is getting a new contract with Gastón Fernández. Portland took a chance by leaving him unprotected in the expansion draft, but as he wasn’t taken, the discussions on a new deal can go forward. As he’s expected to start in place of the injured Diego Valeri until summer, getting the Argentine signed is important.

As far as the forwards, they’re all under contract. Darlington Nagbe, Fanendo Adi, Schillo Tshuma and Maxi Urruti all will stay put, at least for now. But Asprilla could be a backup for Nagbe as he gets more used to the MLS style.

All of these moves create the foundation for 2015 and a revamped team, especially on defense. With Borchers playing alongside Liam Ridgewell at center back, along with Powell and Villafaña on the outside, the starting defense is all but set. Norberto Paparatto and Jack Jewsbury become depth players behind those four, though their future is still up in the air. And they will likely be playing in front of Kwarasey, who will need to prove himself quickly.

Moves still could be made, and there is still plenty of time between now and when training camp begins next month. But all that happened this week showed that the need to overhaul the defense and get younger in goal was important as Portland tries to once again become a factor in the MLS Western Conference.

In short, Wilkinson and Caleb Porter did what they needed to do. Whether what was needed ends up working out is the big question for 2015.

NEXT UP: January 31 – Portland Timbers vs. Sporting Kansas City, Kino North Stadium, Tucson, Arizona. 8 p.m. EST, TBA.

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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