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Officially Unofficial: Timbers Sign Andy Polo

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Monterrey v Morelia - Torneo Clausura 2017 Liga MX Photo by Alfredo Lopez/Jam Media/Latin Content/Getty Images

The Portland Timbers have made their big move for a starting attacking player.

ESPN’s Jeff Carlisle reports that the Timbers have acquired 23-year-old Peruvian international winger Andy Polo from Liga MX side Monarcas Morelia using Targeted Allocation Money.

Citing league sources, Carlisle pegs Polo’s total cost to the Timbers, including the cost of acquiring him from Morelia and three years of salary, to be $3 million.

Even before Carlisle’s report on Saturday there was little suspense surrounding Polo’s arrival. After weeks of increasingly certain reports out of Mexico and Peru, two tacit Twitter confirmations by Merritt Paulson, and the Timbers being scooped on the announcement by Morelia (the second time this offseason a transferor club has done so to the Timbers), Polo’s signing was clearly in the cards before Saturday.

Well, now it’s as close to official as it can get without yet being announced by the club.

Although Carlisle’s report about Polo’s total cost provides a helpful benchmark, reports regarding the sum the Timbers paid to Morelia for Polo have been all over the map. Before the new year outlets in Peru indicated the Timbers paid a $1 million transfer fee to acquire Polo from Morelia. Reports that followed, however, placed the transfer fee at $2.5 million, which would be difficult but not impossible to fit under the $1.5 million annual salary-cap hit limit for a TAM player if the Timbers paid the transfer fee over multiple years.

As recently as last Thursday, however, Mac Reséndiz with ESPN in Mexico pegged the transfer fee at $1.5 million before things seemed to settle at $2 million on Friday.

In his year-long stint with Morelia, Polo split time between the starting eleven and the bench. Acquired in the winter of 2017 from Universitario in Peru, Polo scored three times in 16 all-competitions appearances for Morelia during the spring campaign, but fell out of form and favor for Los Canarios in the fall, failing to score in just 10 appearances.

Polo’s selections for Peru, however, have remained consistent as he has appeared 15 times for the national team since his 2016 debut, including nine times in Peru’s surprisingly successful World Cup qualification campaign. With the World Cup fast approaching, however, Polo couldn’t afford another down club season if he hopes to claim a starting spot for Peru in Russia.

Although primarily a right winger, Polo has spent at least some time at each of the three front-line positions. Known for his pace and technical ability, the Peruvian winger will likely find most of his playing time on the right opposite Sebastian Blanco, where the Timbers hope he will provide a more direct threat and more effectively stretch backlines than the possession-oriented Darlington Nagbe.

The Timbers have long searched for a winger to press backlines and open up spaces for their dynamic centrally-oriented trio of Diego Valeri, Fanendo Adi, and Sebastian Blanco, but have not yet found the right fit. Given his resume for club and country and the acquisition cost the Timbers paid to acquire Polo, it is clear in Polo the Timbers hope they have finally found the right player to balance out their attack.

The signing, though, comes as a sizable bet from the Timbers that they can get more out of Polo than Morelia did in 2017. If that bet pays off, Polo could be a key part of the Timbers’ attack for years to come and could help form the bridge between the Timbers’ current core and its next generation. If it doesn’t, though, the signing will likely be seen as the primary indicator that the Timbers’ trade of Darlington Nagbe to Atlanta United turned out to be a bust.

Regardless, with Polo’s acquisition the Timbers have likely filled out their first-choice team to open the season. Although there are certainly important signings left to make — reportedly including a defensive midfielder and at least one more attacking player — the Timbers’ 2018 roster is starting to take shape.