Only 21-years-old and with 26 MLS starts already under his belt, it seemed Andrew Jean-Baptiste could be a fixture in the Timbers' back line for years to come. Until he was benched late in the season and never appeared for the club again. The trade with Chivas USA that netted Jorge Villafana and the right to select Steve Zakuani looks like a pretty good deal on paper, especially with Jean-Baptiste likely coming out of his Generation adidas status in 2014. If Caleb Porter didn't trust Jean-Baptiste down the stretch when his only competition was Futty Danso, it was unlikely he'd be a factor once Paparatto arrived. That said, the Timbers do get significantly older, on average, with Jean-Baptiste out and Paparatto in.
Arrivals: Jorge Villafana, Norberto Paparatto, Bryan Gallego
Norberto Paparatto is the key addition, as will be discussed below. Villafana and Bryan Gallego both come with questions about where exactly Porter will use them. Villafana can play outside back, as he did under Porter with the US U23s in 2012, or in the midfield where he played more frequently at Chivas. The consensus seems to be that Porter wants him to be an attacking fullback at the Timbers, though that will be hard to confirm before pre-season training and games actually begin. He would have to overcome Michael Harrington, Jack Jewsbury and Alvas Powell to get regular minutes, if fullback is where Villafana ends up. Gallego played center back in college, but started to work in at fullback both before leaving Akron and with the Timbers U23s. At 5'10" it seems unlikely he'd play in the middle in MLS but again, actually seeing the Timbers' newest Home Grown Player will give a better idea of Porter's thinking.
Draft Picks: Taylor Peay
Porter used just one of his six draft picks on a pure defender with Taylor Peay coming into the fold in the second round. Given there are five center backs under contract, not counting Gallego, it would seem unlikely that Peay will make the first team roster. Yet Portland has retained defensive draft picks before with Chris Taylor and Dylan Tucker-Gangnes combining for three seasons in MLS. Then again, neither ever actually played in a first team game.
Player to Watch: Norberto Paparatto / Mikael Silvestre
Paparatto is the Timbers' key addition for the entire team, not just defense. With skills on the ball, impressive height at 6'3", leadership skills having been captain at Tigre in Argentina and experience at age 30, he seems to be exactly what Porter was looking for in an addition to this team. Provided he can stay healthy and adjust quickly to the league, Paparatto will be the guaranteed starting center back throughout the season. That will give Porter the option to combine him with Pa Kah or Futty Danso, depending on who is healthy, in form or opponent-specific.
Silvestre will be the name to keep an eye out for during pre-season. He is under contract for a second season and seems to have fully rehabilitated his injured knee, but if there is one candidate for the amnesty clause, it would be the 36-year-old. Last season the Timbers used that amnesty maneuver to get rid of Kris Boyd though if Porter and Gavin Wilkinson did use it on Silvestre, it would not be with the same malice. Still, with four other center backs under contract and Gallego as a possibility, there seems little reason to pay Silvestre when he is probably not a regular starter. Especially now that Paparatto will be earning quite a nice salary. Silvestre will undoubtedly come to training camp but he might not finish it.
Predicted Starters: Michael Harrington, Pa Kah, Norberto Paparatto, Jack Jewsbury
At center back, Paparatto is a given. Among the other choices, Porter seems likely to prefer Kah to Futty or Rauwshan McKenzie at this point, but that could evolve during the pre-season. The more interesting questions come at fullback as Porter will have the option of retaining his starters from the majority of last season (Michael Harrington and Jewsbury), giving younger players a look (Villafana or Powell) or even using a utility player like Ben Zemanski. All of that said, the development of guys like Villafana and Powell is not going to be complete by the first week of the season and Porter will probably not want to start with Zemanski unless injuries force his hand. That means Harrington and Jewsbury are the likeliest to pick up where they left off in 2013, which to be fair, worked out pretty well.