The Portland Timbers post-championship offseason hit its first unexpected bump on Monday, as owner Merritt Paulson acknowledged on Twitter that winger Rodney Wallace had turned down the Timbers’ contract offer and will ply his trade elsewhere in 2016. Because they extended a bona fide offer to Wallace at the end of the season, the Timbers hold Wallace’s MLS rights, making it most likely that Wallace’s other suitors are overseas.
Wallace, one of five remaining original MLS Timbers, had an up-and-down first two years in Portland at left back before breaking out in 2013, Caleb Porter’s first year at the helm. With only six goals and eight assists to his four-year MLS resume going into 2013, Wallace found his form as a left winger under Porter by producing seven goals and six assists in the club’s breakout year and following it up with a five-goal 2014 season.
The goalscoring production dried up somewhat for Wallace in the 2015 regular season, as the winger’s lone goal of the 2015 campaign -- fittingly against Seattle, a team that Wallace regularly gutted -- represented a significant disappointment for the former Maryland Terrapin. Wallace, however, was a key figure in the Timbers’ late-season eruption, as he logged three assists in his final five regular-season appearances (all wins) and two goals and an assist in his five-game playoff run.
No goal was bigger for Wallace, however, than his seventh-minute tally in MLS Cup, a goal that would prove to be the winner in the final. Indeed there is no greater crown jewel than a Cup-winning goal for a player who throughout his time in Portland came to be known as among the most clutch players in club history.
And even when Wallace wasn’t scoring, the winger found ways to help the team. From being a central figure in the locker room to chipping in important, but unglamorous defensive work on the wing, Wallace is a player whose contributions to the Timbers can’t be measured solely in goals and assists.
But, despite making what Paulson characterized as a "great offer," the Timbers weren’t able to secure Wallace’s services for 2016 and beyond, leaving Portland with a new hole to fill on their roster.
Jamie Goldberg of The Oregonian reports the Timbers plan to pursue to a replacement for Wallace, and a source with knowledge of the pursuit tells Stumptown Footy that the Timbers have identified multiple options both within and outside of MLS.
Wallace’s departure, however, represents the first bit of unexpected turbulence in an offseason that has otherwise largely gone to plan for Portland. Although the Timbers had to fill the holes left by the transfer of Jorge Villafana and the declined option of Maximiliano Urruti, Morrison Street brass expected those challenges and -- if ESPNFC’s Jeff Carlisle’s report that the Timbers have signed Jack McInerney proves correct -- have already made their moves to fill those roles going forward.
Although Wallace’s departure leaves a big pair of boots to fill in the Timbers’ locker room, the Timbers already have two promising young wingers on the roster in Lucas Melano and Dairon Asprilla. If, as many expect, both of those players take a step forward in 2016, the Timbers could overcome Wallace’s exit from Portland with the talent currently within the club.
Moreover, in the event that Wallace returns to MLS in the coming years, it appears likely that the Timbers will retain his rights within the league and have the first opportunity to sign the Costa Rican international. But in the short term and with less than two weeks to go before training camp opens, the loss of Wallace undoubtedly leaves greater uncertainty on the wings than the Timbers would have wanted.