Monday morning certainly did not disappoint from the Timbers’ perspective. In the weeks leading up, Timbers brass had quietly been preparing media and supporters alike for a "fire hose" of news.
That, it turns out, was an understatement.
Between eleven players protected, seven options picked up, six player transactions, four options declined, two out of contract, and one ongoing negotiation, the Timbers managed to pack most of the Twelve Days of Christmas into one head-spinning day. While we’re still in the process of processing all of it, here are five initial thoughts in the wake of Monday’s madness:
1. It’s time to rethink the Jose Valencia deal.
At long last on Monday the Timbers announced the sale of Jose Valencia – the much-ballyhooed Colombian striker whose oozing potential never paid consistent dividends on the field for Portland. But the Timbers far from came away empty handed, as on Monday the club revealed Valencia had been sold for a seven-figure price with the Timbers retaining a portion of his rights.
When Valencia left on loan, many (myself included) thought of it as a sort of amicable divorce – Jose didn’t fit within the Timbers’ system and to reach his obviously vaulted ceiling Trencito would need to go elsewhere.
Monday showed, however, it wasn’t a total loss – not by a longshot. After a season in which the Timbers extended the contracts of Diego Valeri, Darlington Nagbe, and Will Johnson and bought designated players Fanendo Adi and Liam Ridgewell, the working assumption was the Timbers would have just enough salary-cap space to replace what they jettisoned.
But on Monday the Timbers far surpassed their outgoing payroll, splashing cash on Ghanaian goalkeeper Adam Larsen Kwarasey, versatile Colombian attacker Dairon Asprilla, Brazilian left back Jeanderson, and veteran MLS defender Nat Borchers.
How did the Timbers make this work in light of the salary cap? Enter Valencia. Monday’s moves simply could not have been pulled off without the allocation money from Valencia’s sale.
So, while the Timbers didn’t reap the benefits of Valencia’s play on the field, the little train delivered in a significant way on Monday.
2. There were a couple expansion-draft protection surprises on Monday leading to some real suspense on Wednesday.
On Monday afternoon the Timbers expansion-draft protected list came out bearing a couple surprises. The first, and more moderate surprise, was the exposure of Gaston Fernandez to Orlando City and New York City FC. With Valeri expected to miss the first portion of 2015, Fernandez was the logical player on the roster to fill the two-time Best XI playmaker’s shoes. Word came out on Monday, however, that the salary contained in Fernandez’s second-year option is significant, potentially making him less of a risk to be selected.
The bigger surprise, however, was Jorge Villafana’s omission from the protected list despite signing a new contract with the Timbers. With a strong second half of 2014 and a very reasonable salary number, Villafana was assumed by most to be a lock for the protected list. But, in hindsight, the writing probably should have been on the wall with Jeanderson’s signing. Villafana, while a plenty serviceable MLS left back, was never elite. While the Timbers would undoubtedly like to have him back, in light of Jeanderson’s arrival the task on the Timbers front office’s hands should Villafana leave would be finding a new backup fullback – preferably one who can play on both sides of the field. That’s certainly a task, but a manageable one.
In any event, however, the exposure of Villafana and Fernandez introduces some expected suspense to the expansion draft, as the Timbers would certainly like to retain both.
3. Monday's signings mitigate the Timbers’ expansion-draft exposure.
As noted, Jeanderson’s signing makes the exposure of Villafana an acceptable risk. Similarly, although they play different positions, Asprilla’s arrival diminishes somewhat the consequences of potentially losing Gaston Fernandez.
On a day in which the Timbers front office was clearly confident in its haul overall, Asprilla may be the player the club was most excited about. Having played across the attacking midfield – primarily as a winger – and as a forward, Asprilla ticks the versatility box the Timbers needed in midfield. More important, however, it gives the Timbers some options in their attacking trio of midfielders. Although some had suggested moving Nagbe into the middle in Valeri’s stead before Monday, until Asprilla came on the scene that only opened up another hole at right wing for which the Timbers really didn’t have a ready solution. Capable of playing on the right or left, however, Asprilla seems well suited to step in on the right wing and make Nagbe more of an option in the middle.
Although I remain unconvinced of Nagbe in the role of primary playmaker and think the Timbers would want to move decisively to replace Fernandez in the somewhat unlikely circumstance he is selected, with Asprilla’s arrival it no longer feels like the Timbers would be up a creek without a paddle if La Gata is poached on Wednesday.
4. The Timbers are probably done with major deals for the offseason…and that’s a good thing.
With the signings of Asprilla, Kwarasey, and Jeanderson, as well as the acquisition of Borchers and purchase of Alvas Powell, the Timbers are likely finished making major additions this offseason. Portland will certainly have to replace anything lost in Wednesday’s expansion draft (which, if Fernandez gets picked, could implicate a significant move), but otherwise the Timbers really only have depth positions remaining to fill and a number of mechanisms (primarily the Re-Entry Draft and a high SuperDraft pick) with which to do so.
To return to the trite holiday-shopping metaphor, the Timbers are the smart online shopper who took advantage of the early sales, leaving only the stocking-stuffers to buy in the weeks before Christmas.
In doing so, the Timbers have given themselves two advantages: First, they’ve freed up front-office resources to focus on those remaining bit pieces they have to acquire. And second, the Timbers have substantially increased the likelihood they will have the entire team (or at least those who are healthy) available for the start of camp – something that has been an issue in the past. With the Timbers needing to avoid a third consecutive slow start, having the team as together as possible come mid-January is vital.
5. Ricketts remains the elephant in the room.
With the signing of Kwarasey and the Timbers exercising their options on Andrew Weber and Jake Gleeson, the four-man goalkeeping depth chart has a conspicuous elephant in the room: Donovan Ricketts.
The conclusion is obvious and simple; Donovan Ricketts is almost certainly not returning as a Timber.
Exactly how he departs, however, remains very much up in the air. The simplest, surefire way Ricketts could be freed from the Timbers books is via the amnesty clause. With Kah now departed and Paparatto apparently returning, the Timbers don’t have another obvious contract from which they need to free themselves.
On Monday, however, Ives Galarcep reported that Ricketts could reunite with Bruce Arena and the L.A. Galaxy. This, of course, raises the possibility of a trade with the Galaxy who have the 20th pick in the SuperDraft, a pick that carries outsize value for the Timbers in light of their preexisting obligation to send their "lowest" first-round draft pick to Toronto as part of the Maxi Urruti trade.
Could we see a Donovan Ricketts reunion w/Bruce Arena & the MLS Cup champs in the near future? I’m hearing it’s possible. #RCTID #LAGalaxy— Ives Galarcep (@SoccerByIves) December 8, 2014
Regarding the potential Ricketts return to LA, haven’t heard it’s done, just possible. Doubt it means Penedo is out, he had a strong year.— Ives Galarcep (@SoccerByIves) December 8, 2014
In addition, in response to a question on Tuesday concerning carrying four goalkeepers on the roster, Gavin Wilkinson deferred answering until after the expansion draft – suggesting the Timbers at least feel there is a possibility Ricketts could be selected by NYCFC or Orlando City.
Nonetheless, how Ricketts leaves the Rose City and the nature of any compensation, if any, remains one of the biggest questions surrounding the Timbers this winter.