In a somewhat unexpected move on Monday, the Portland Timbers declined the option of Maximiliano Urruti after more than two years of strong service to the club. The rationale for the move is straightforward: Portland has paid for two first-choice strikers for the past two years and simply can’t afford to continue to do so under the salary cap.
To keep Urruti into 2016 would have, because of the unique and complex nature of the Argentine’s contract, implicated a significant increase in his salary cap hit that would have caused considerable salary cap problems going forward. Although Urruti’s production has certainly helped the Timbers over the last two years, his contract number going forward is ultimately too much for the Timbers to reasonably bear.
Paying a little bit of a premium for Urruti made sense after a 2014 season in which he logged a hyper-efficient 10 goals in just 1181 minutes and provided a stylistic yin to Fanendo Adi’s yang that gave defenses fits when one would replace the other in late-game situations. The Timbers’ 19 goals from the strikeforce platoon in 2014 was a major factor in the Timbers posting 61 goals in an otherwise disappointing season.
But Urruti’s goalscoring fortunes fell by the wayside in 2015. Despite playing nearly 1100 minutes in his second full season in Portland, Urruti posted only four regular-season goals. All the while Adi erupted, scoring a club-record 16 goals in the regular season and adding a pair in the MLS Cup run.
What was in 2014 a genuine platoon, therefore, turned into a situation in which Urruti served as Adi’s backup in 2015. A good backup. But a backup nonetheless.
And coming into a season in which the salary cap situation is expected to be tight as the Timbers work hard to keep their title-winning core intact, the club simply can’t afford to devote that great a cap hit to a second-choice striker.
Even in spite of the dip in goalscoring production, however, Urruti was still a valuable player for the Timbers in 2015, never more so than when he buried the equalizing 117th-minute goal against Sporting Kansas City in the knockout round of the playoffs. The Timbers’ decision not to bring back Urruti is not an indictment of the quality of his play (which was good) or his reputation within the club (which, by all accounts, is also good), as much as it is a harsh reality of the limitations of the salary cap and the complexities involved in Urruti’s deal.
With Adi winning the job on a full-time basis moving forward, Urruti became an expensive luxury. And in a salary cap world that forces teams to make hard decisions, expensive luxuries often become unviable.