Part of what is fun as a fan of the Timbers has been following the building shaping of the team. A growing league like MLS has nearly limitless options for finding new players. As one may recall, to populate the initial roster last season, the Timbers utilized their USL roster, their U-23 roster, the expansion draft, the Super and Supplemental drafts, the allocation ranking process for returning US internationals, trades, and foreign signings.
As exciting as the team has been since its rebirth in MLS, the results, particularly of this season, do indicate that finding a winning formula does take a little bit of time. How much time exactly? I’ve spent some time pondering this question. MLS is still somewhat of a transition league. If a player really excels, they’ll probably move on to seek additional success (and money) in Europe. If they don’t excel, they won’t last long.
For this reason, I was curious about the continuity of an MLS team and decided to simply take a look at one: the LA Galaxy. How representative are they? I’m not sure exactly since I didn’t look at every MLS team, but representative enough, I’m guessing to be able to infer a couple of general points. The Galaxy, with Omar Gonzalez on injury reserve, have 31 players: 11 of whom are in their first year with the team; 6 in their second; 4 in their third; 4 in their fourth; 3 in their fifth; 1 in his sixth; 1 in his seventh; and 1 in his eighth.
What I believe to be the most telling summary of this information is this: the Galaxy have 14 players in their third year or longer with the team, or conversely stated, they have 17 players in their first or second player on the roster. The Galaxy are an interesting case in that they won MLS Cup last year and have quite underperformed this year, but I find it valuable to know that roughly half of their team has played more than two years together. Speculating slightly, I would guess that everyone on that team would argue the value of having a core of half the team that’s been together for at least two years. This helps a team form an identity and a culture.
Through time, this is how leaders in the locker room are developed. Two years. As it relates to the Timbers, I look forward to the team reaching the point of maturity where this type of identity has been formed. We aren’t there yet. Not unexpectedly, the roster adjustments so far in MLS Timbers history have come at a slightly faster rate. After this season, the team will be two years old. How many will remain from 2011 in 2013? The current Timbers roster has 17 players remaining (not counting Dike) who were with the team as of the end of the 2011 season.
Judging by prior movement, it seems likely that, of these 17, one or two are likely not to be on the roster by the end of the year, and an additional five or so would be lost over the offseason. This would leave the team with 10 players from the 2011 season left on its 2013 opening day roster. Hopefully, over the next year or so, the need for changes slows, and perhaps by the 2014 season the Timbers can be up to half of their roster who have two years of experience with the team.
I’m hoping that before 2014, we’re a good team and by 2014, we become a great team and a Cup contender. And since we’re talking about change over time, I thought it would be interesting to speculate some over each player on the team. So here it is, early thoughts on whether each of our 31 players will be with the team as of first kick 2013.
Each player is a 1, 2, or 3. 1 is a player who I believe will almost certainly be with the team. 2 is a player I have some doubt whether he will be on the 2013 team. 3 is a player I have considerable doubt about.
Boyd 1: He’s our big money guy and the one whom, as we’ve seen already with Perlaza, will most directly cause the movement of other players. We know Boyd’s good enough, and the front office will be doing whatever it takes to find the right combination to make him successful.
Mwanga 1: The front office wants to see guys succeed, and barring unique circumstances, everyone’s going to get at least a year. There’s almost no chance of Danny not seeing first kick 2013.
Nagbe 2: Darlington will certainly be one of the best on the team. The hint of doubt comes from his contract. As he will almost certainly come off of his Generation Adidas contract this year, the question will become, ‘Is he consistently one of the best three or four guys on the field?’ I hope he proves to the front office that he is. He can be magnificent to watch.
Chara 1: I can’t see Diego going anywhere. He is only a DP because of his transfer fee. Once that is gone (and I don’t know when that is), his salary could be doubled and he still wouldn’t be a DP. Good job on this one, Gavin.
Alhassan 2: The wings are a crowded place for the Timbers, and if the team does decide to make additional moves over the course of this season, the depth here seems like the best place for Gavin to find a tradable asset. Alhassan is arguably the best of the lot. Spencer has made some comments regarding Kalif’s professionalism in the past, but hopefully those are issues that he’s maturing through at an acceptable rate. His technical ability is among the best on the team, and his success is another feather in Gavin’s cap.
Songo’o 2: It’s hard to imagine Frank not making it to year 2, but again, his position is a crowded one and he’s had a somewhat inexplicably (to me, anyway) difficult time getting onto the field. In preseason, hopes around him were so high. I choose to believe that the fulfillment of those hopes is still right around the corner. Brunner 1: In my mind, Eric’s our number one in the back, and I’m guessing he’ll be seeing a lot more of the armband over the next year or two. Mosquera 1: In my view, Hanyer’s done exactly what he was brought in to do. I think homesickness would be the only thing that would keep him off of the 2013 roster.
Jewsbury 2: It seems to me that, in a lot of people’s minds, Jack is a fringe player. I’d agree that we have better options in central midfield, but I think the right back is a good place for him and his passing is going to be better out of that position than most other options. In addition, Spencer loves this guy and I don’t have any problem with that. Fans don’t see everything and, as the discussion earlier referenced, teams need leaders. I’m sure right back is still an area of interest for Gavin, but I don’t think you’d get a sure starter there without trading Jewsbury away as a result, and that’s a decision that wouldn’t be made lightly. Tough call. We’ll see.
Smith 1: Again, I think you’d really have to be not doing well to be picked up and jettisoned within six months. And I don’t see that in this case. Perkins 1: Troy’s been playing really well and shoot, some ‘keepers still have ten years to go at his age. I’m guessing he’ll be around for a while yet.
Alexander 3: Again, he’s a nice player in a position where we have a few nice players that aren’t separated by much. Spencer commented a couple of months ago that he had, within that week, taken multiple calls about Alexander from around the league. If the Timbers are active again this summer, it’s hard to imagine Eric’s name not being floated.
Palmer 3: I think, contrary to some, that Lovel’s been a solid player for us, but his role does seem a bit hard to define, and that can be a bit dangerous. In my opinion, he’s a nice second defensive midfielder, number two behind Diego, whether that be coming off of the bench or starting in a formation which utilizes two simultaneously.
Wallace 3: Rodney would seem to be the most tradable asset we have, in my way of thinking. He does well as either a left back or on the left wing, but he’s become the second or third options at each of those positions for us. Zizzo 2: Once again, Sal’s a nice winger on a team with a few nice wingers and not really any spectacular wingers. He’s done some great stuff for us, but has yet (acknowledging a fair amount of injury time) to consistently crack the 11. He’d be another nice player to dangle if we needed to dangle a nice player.
Danso 1: We proved earlier this year that you almost can’t have too many quality centerbacks. In my mind, we have four great starter-quality options and that still wasn’t enough to avoid health problems. Futty would seem to be our number 3 right now, although it really has been hard to guess at the real pecking order. I think we have yet to have all four of them eligible for an 18. Futty has been a great player for us, and that would seem to be reason enough for him to be a ‘1’ under my system. However, if that wasn’t quite enough, there’s probably more of an emotional factor going for him than any other player on the team. He’s our primary connection to Timbers past. Steve Purdy played on the last USL team, but hasn’t played much since. Kalif plays consistently for us now, but only suited up six times for the USL group. Futty has been on this team since 2009 and everybody loves him. That billboard of him sprinting toward the corner with arms outstretched after scoring is one of the great marketing efforts from the Timbers so far. Four more years, Futty!
Chabala 3: If the Timbers like Mike as the #2 LB and he’s fine with the role, he could be around a bit yet. I would guess that, at some point, further desire to improve the LB and RB positions could lead to his movement. His strength is that he’s a proven commodity around the league as a good if not great option at LB. With the injuries and form issues that always occur, another team may find him an attractive option at some point (like the Timbers did last year) and perhaps next time it will be the Timbers who oblige.
Gleeson 3: My feeling with Jake is that he’s becoming a 1.5 ‘keeper, and that isn’t a number that fits well on a jersey. I don’t think Troy has done anything to make the Timbers want to move him, and they’re paying him way too much to be a number 2. Jake is probably about ready to compete for a starting spot on other teams, and I’d also guess that Gavin would love to help him get there.. if the price is right. I’d love to see Jake start, but I don’t think I want to see him start because of the Timbers trading Troy Perkins. I don’t want to see Jake go, but I can easily envision a situation where he leaves, we get something quite nice in return, and everyone’s happy. Fucito 3: He’ll never play consistently over Boyd, or Mwanga, or Nagbe, or Valencia, and by next year over Richards, or Rincon. I’d love to be a little brighter over his prospects, but I find it hard to be. I’m guessing it’s a bit of a long shot for him to be on the roster next year.
Dike 3: I’m glad that, once again, Bright is regularly playing in competitive games. I’d be quite surprised if he ever did so for the Timbers again.
Horst 2: I like David Horst a lot, and it seems to be that the Timbers do too. I was a little surprised lately to hear Spencer say that he felt the only thing preventing David from the USMNT was consistent health. Quite a compliment. Given that, it seems unlikely that he’s going to be overly excited to be a #4 centerback, which is where, in my opinion, he sits on the Timbers now. If the four of them continue to evenly and consistently spread around the injury time, this could be a cozy little partnership for all involved. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be surprised to see one of the four move on before next year, and David would seem to be the most likely of the four.
Purdy 3: Steve seems to be in a similar situation to that of Chabala. He provides good depth but is consistently down the line in a position where the team is claiming to be looking for improvement. In such situations, one must consider their position to be tenuous at best.
Valencia 1: Not too much explanation needed here. There’s a reason, without much cynicism needed, that the team’s site got Jose’s progress up as quickly as they could after the Cal FC loss. He’s the great hope of the future, the can’t miss excitement of tomorrow. And he’s certainly not going anywhere before 0-3 months of experience as a member of the team.
Richards 1: Everyone knows that the young guys need some time to develop, so if any of them move, it wouldn’t be solely because they weren’t able to crack the first team in their first year with the team. Brent has seemed to show the requisite progress for a first year guy, and especially as the first homegrown player in the team’s history, one can be sure that at the very least, his first offseason is safe.
Rincon 1: Sebastian is also very young and very highly thought of. It’s always possible a player like this could be packaged in with some other deal involving a bigger name player, but the Timbers won’t be shopping him or waiving him barring some major transgression.
Braun 2: The way Spencer spoke of Freddie after his sessions at right back earlier in the year spoke to how highly he respects Freddie. The vulnerability starts to creep in with the accumulation of time combined with not being able to get onto the field. Freddie’s having made a start is good progress, but he’ll be needing to be getting out there a bit more with the first team to ensure his safety. This is now his second year with the team, and it makes sense to me that after two years, if a player isn’t getting onto the field, his position is going to become perilous. Keep going Freddie!
Renken 2: Charles is one of the best stories on the team. I wish I knew a little more about him. My main concern for him is that I practically haven’t heard his name since his signing was announced. Rodrigo Lopez and Spencer Thompson were names that were never spoken last year. And I hope for Charles that, unlike those two, he will be able to continue his growth. Work hard, Charles!
Jean-Baptiste 1: With his GA contract, it’s hard to see him going anywhere. He hasn’t played enough to graduate this year, and he’ll be a great off-the-cap talent to keep developing next year.
Kawulok 2: The only other Supplemental pick the team has signed was Spencer Thompson, and that came to nothing. Ryan, of course, has his U-23 experience on the resume as well, and I’m guessing the additional familiarity will contribute to an increased sense of investment from the team. Still, the fact that he was selected as late as he was suggests that he’s fighting for his job every day. I hope he makes it and is able to continue on for another year. I have been impressed with what I’ve seen of him so far.
Taylor 3: Chris is in the same situation as Freddie being in his second year. However, Chris has yet to get a sniff of the eighteen, and to me that makes his position precarious. I’m guessing that his trajectory would need to change dramatically for him to be on next year’s roster.
Bendik 2: Joe’s future with the team is likely at least somewhat related to the destiny of Jake Gleeson. If Jake, as I speculated earlier, does end up going somewhere else to get closer to a #1 shirt, Joe could well stay with Portland as Troy’s primary backup. The Galaxy data from above, indicating that only half of a roster has been with the team for more than two years, suggests to me that a #3 ‘keeper isn’t a position that a player likely stays in for too long. Either he’ll progress into a #2 spot or he’ll find somewhere else with better prospects of playing.
Alright guys, I don't believe I have to say this but, just in case, please do not submit anything racist, homophobic, sexist or otherwise not appropriate for even the younger Timbers fans.