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Forecasting the Timbers’ Offseason Acquisition Strategy

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With Stage Two of the Re-Entry Draft approaching this Thursday and the Timbers still having some holes to fill on their roster, let’s take a look around the players available in the Re-Entry Draft and in free agency to see if there are any likely fits for the Timbers.

First, we need to know what the Timbers’ needs are. As Will Conwell pointed out in his rundown of the depth chart, the Timbers are thin at fullback (particularly left back), probably need to add another striker to serve the Maxi Urruti fresh-legs role, and probably need to add one more versatile piece to the attacking midfield. In addition, given that the Timbers are, ahem, experienced at centerback, my guess is Portland may look to bring in one more central defender even if Norberto Paparatto re-ups for 2016 (a prospect that is very possible, but nonetheless uncertain).

The salary cap is certainly an important limitation for the Timbers, and the departure of Urruti this offseason serves as a reminder that cap considerations are a major driver of many moves. But interpreting the Urruti move as indicating the Timbers don’t have any money to spend would probably be a step too far; instead, Urruti’s departure is only a signal that his cap hit was too great to pay for a player that backed up one position. So, although we know money isn’t unlimited, don’t assume the Timbers are going to be shopping off the bargain rack all winter.

The other important consideration is the amount of space left on the 20-man senior roster. MLS rosters are essentially split into two components: a 20-man senior roster and an 8-man supplemental roster that consists of Generation Adidas players, homegrown players, and other usually younger players with smaller salaries. Only players on the senior roster count against the salary cap.

My conservative guess is the Timbers’ senior roster right now is made up of: Liam Ridgewell, Nat Borchers, Alvas Powell, Adam Kwarasey, Jake Gleeson, Chris Klute, Taylor Peay, Diego Chara, Will Johnson, Ben Zemanski, George Fochive, Jack Jewsbury, Diego Valeri, Darlington Nagbe, Rodney Wallace, Dairon Asprilla, Lucas Melano, and Fanendo Adi.

That’s 18 out of 20 spots filled. This, of course, has some assumptions built in, including the re-signing of Zemanski and Wallace. It does not include Paparatto (who may well return) but does include Johnson (who will almost certainly be traded). Moreover, it is conceivable (though I wouldn’t say likely) that one or two of the players on my best-guess senior roster (e.g., Peay or Fochive) can still be squeezed onto the eight-man supplemental roster in 2016.

So it is probably a fair, but conservative estimate that the Timbers have two senior roster spots remaining to work with. Which, as an aside, suggests that the Timbers may, if possible, be keenly interested in draft considerations in any Will Johnson trade because they could look to add a productive player that they could stash on the supplemental roster. And although convincing Chicago to part with the first pick in exchange for Johnson may be a little bit of a stretch, a deal built around Toronto’s ninth pick and a nice chunk of allocation money seems wholly plausible.

The Timbers will look to fill somewhere between zero and two of these spots through free agency or the Re-Entry Draft. And, in all probability, it will be closer to zero than two.

Looking at the players available, the defensive options available look considerably more enticing than the attacking options. Here are a three players that could fit the bill:

Corey Ashe, LB, Free Agent - Ashe fell out of favor in Houston in 2014 after the Dynamo picked up DeMarcus Beasley and was eventually shipped to Orlando to spell the injured Brek Shea. The diminutive left back is approaching 30, however, and as such may be nearing the downslope of his career. Nonetheless, Ashe would immediately compete with Chris Klute for the Timbers’ starting left back spot and would at least be a more-than-adequate backup who would feature in US Open Cup and CONCACAF Champions League. Moreover, although naturally a left-sided player, Ashe is two-footed enough to play on the right side as well. Still, as the hottest left back remaining on the market, Ashe could probably find himself a larger role and salary offer elsewhere.

Chris Schuler, CB, Re-Entry Draft - This one is interesting. When healthy, Schuler has shown he can be a top-10 MLS centerback. And a reunion with former RSL running mate Nat Borchers is probably pretty attractive to Schuler. But his injury problems have been very, very significant, to the point where many in Salt Lake don’t think Schuler will see the field on a consistent basis again. But the Timbers may be in a spot to take a little bit of a flyer for what could realistically be a pretty right price, especially if Paparatto returns to the Rose City. And having four centerbacks who the Timbers would feel comfortable starting meaningful game would be a nice luxury with many such games to play in 2016 and a strong interest in limiting the miles on Borchers’s odometer. Still, unless the Timbers can be confident that Schuler can get on the field with relative frequency in 2016, it’s hard to see them using a senior roster spot on Schuler.

Michael Harrington, FB, Free Agent - On paper this may make the most sense of any of the three options. It’s questionable at this point whether Harrington is going to get another look as a first-choice fullback. But the Timbers have a lot of starts to fill at both fullback positions and Harrington can provide depth on either side, making him sufficiently versatile to squeeze onto the 20-man roster. Although Harrington certainly isn’t an All-Star-quality option at fullback, he’s undeniably serviceable. And his ability to be serviceable on either the left or right side (which could come in handy if the Timbers want to give Taylor Peay some looks at centerback) at a reasonable price should interest the Timbers.

It is, of course, also possible that the Timbers will look abroad to fill their remaining hole(s) on the defensive side. But at least there are some viable domestic options available on the defensive side of the formation.

Which leaves some attacking positions for the Timbers to address.

As noted, the attacking options on the Re-Entry and free-agency market are pretty threadbare. It wouldn’t surprise, though, if the Timbers look internationally to sign a versatile attacking player who can play at the 10 as well as higher in the formation as a forward. In other words, it seems the Timbers could use a player in the Gaston Fernandez mold.

A player like that, of course, does not come cheap, but if Portland can successfully find value on the defensive end like they did with Klute, the club may have up to TAM-level to spend on an attacking player that can fill multiple holes in the attack, start a significant handful of MLS games, and be a mainstay during US Open Cup and CCL.

But in addition to a higher-priced attacking player, the Timbers also have Michael Seaton and Kharlton Belmar waiting in the wings to make a move into the rotation with a strong training camp. Although Belmar is not yet signed to the first team, a strong camp would likely earn him a first-team contract, giving the Timbers another attacking option on the supplemental roster.

Which leads to one overarching point: Don’t expect this to be a quiet offseason. Although the Timbers will likely keep their starting core from the MLS Cup-winning team together, they still have several spots on the roster to address while staying within the limits of the salary cap, balancing the senior and supplemental rosters, and adequately preparing for CCL next fall.