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How Much Attacking Depth is Too Much?

MLS: FC Dallas at Portland Timbers Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

A lack of depth across the board crippled the Timbers in 2016.

In a season beset by injuries, PTFC struggled mightily to stay afloat when they called upon players down the depth chart to step up and fill in for a missing starter.

Depth wasn’t the only problem the Timbers in 2016, but it was a significant one.

And it’s become clear that a fundamental pillar of the Timbers’ offseason plan is to address that problem, especially in the attack. Along with news of the signing of Dairon Asprilla on Saturday, we also got the clearest view of the Timbers’ plan with respect to their attacking depth chart:

To be clear, the Timbers still have some significant work to do to achieve this plan. In order to be three-deep at each attacking position, the Timbers will need to both sign the designated-player right winger that they’ve been after for some time, and another player likely on the left wing.

But if the Timbers can complete those final signings, they will be three-deep at each position in the attack, especially if the Timbers’ DP right winger can also slide inside to play as a 10.

Projected Timbers Attacking Depth Chart

Left Wing Attacking Central Mid Right Wing Forward
Left Wing Attacking Central Mid Right Wing Forward
Darlington Nagbe Diego Valeri DP Mystery Right Winger Fanendo Adi
Mystery Left Winger Darlington Nagbe Victor Arboleda Darren Mattocks
Jack Barmby DP Right Winger Dairon Asprilla Jeremy Ebobisse

Don’t be too concerned with who precisely fits into the 2- or 3-spots in the projected depth chart there. That determination is very fluid, isn’t entirely accurately captured in the chart because there are more multi-positional players than the table suggests, and, in the end, projecting precisely where each player will end up in the pecking order isn’t really the point here.

The point here is that’s a lot of attacking depth; certainly much more depth than the Timbers had in 2016, a year in which they struggled to find consistent goalscorer not named Diego Valeri or Fanendo Adi.

But depth can be a double-edged sword.

For all the internal competition, absence insurance, and roster flexibility that it provides, depth can also create playing-time shortages, especially when three of the players in the depth chart are 22 years-old or younger. And in a season in which the Timbers are also looking to develop some of their young talent, a lot of depth in the attack could complicate the necessary task of getting players like Arboleda and Ebobisse the first-team minutes they need to grow.

So, in theory at least, there might be such a thing as too much depth.

But the Timbers also have some factors at play this season that require greater-than-usual depth, especially among their attacking players.

With World Cup Qualifiers, the Gold Cup, and the U-20 World Cup slated for 2017, the Timbers are likely to be without Darlington Nagbe, Darren Mattocks, Jeremy Ebobisse, and — if he ultimately signs — Rodney Wallace for some portions of 2017. Similarly, if Fanendo Adi again sets the nets aflame, he very well could pick up another call into the Super Eagles’ camp. With so many players at least conceivably spending time with their respective national teams in 2017, then, some extra depth is necessary to keep the Timbers afloat when they have players away.

Moreover, especially if the Timbers are able to bring in a DP right winger that can play the 10, the extra depth could put the Timbers in position to capture a treasure trove of assets by either trading or transferring some attacking pieces either in the summer or next winter. In particular, with the additional attacking depth, the Timbers could be in position to take advantage of potentially lucrative offers for Nagbe and Adi that they’ve had to turn down in the past.

So the Timbers have good reason to load up on attacking depth in the offseason. But with that attacking depth comes the challenge of balancing a deep roster with distributing minutes in a way that gets the team the results it needs and incubates young talent.

Even if the added depth provides both insurance and opportunity for the Timbers, it can also create a managerial challenge that, if not sufficiently balanced, can result in too much depth.