After successes with David Guzman and Roy Miller in 2017, the Timbers have gone back to the Saprissa well to sign their targeted young, TAM-level centerback. On Tuesday, the Timbers made official the transfer of 24 year-old central defender Julio Cascante from Saprissa.
The Timbers acquired Cascante using targeted allocation money, which was necessitated by the transfer fee paid to Saprissa.
Cascante represents the fourth Saprissa player to come to Portland over the course of the last 13 months, after Guzman, Miller, and Shaquille Jimenez each made their way from San Jose, Costa Rica to the Rose City before the 2017 season.
After playing for Orión and UCR in Primera Division since his professional career began in 2012, Cascante became a regular for Saprissa in the spring of 2017 when Miller, Francisco Calvo, and Adolfo Machado each left El Monstruo Morado for MLS. That spring, Saprissa topped the Primera División table while conceding the fewest goals of any team in Costa Rica’s top flight. Cascante remained in Carlos Watson’s first-choice team and scored six goals during the 2017 Apertura that saw Saprissa finish second.
Cascante has been on the fringes of the Costa Rican national team system since 2015 when he received his first and to-date only cap with the senior team. The center back, however, was named to the preliminary Gold Cup roster in 2017 and projects to at least get a more serious look after this summer’s World Cup in Russia.
In Portland, Cascante figures to step into competition with Larrys Mabiala and Liam Ridgewell for starting minutes at center back, and, if his first season in Portland goes remotely well, will likely be seen as the heir to Ridgewell’s spot on the backline when the Englishman’s contract is up after the 2018 season.
Cascante has earned a reputation in Costa Rica as a physical defender who can be a bit of an enforcer on the backline. Although those characteristics will be welcome on a Timbers backline that has lacked physicality at times over the last few seasons, with it comes the downside that brought Cascante 14 yellow cards and three reds in just over 4,000 league minutes with Saprissa.
Cascante comes to Portland on a higher acquisition cost than Guzman and Miller largely as a result of his youth and a contract that would otherwise have kept him at Saprissa for the long-term. The Timbers were willing to hang that expense, though, not only to add to the central-defense depth for 2018, but also to set up the Timbers’ backline for 2019 and beyond in light of a centerback corps that otherwise lacks youth.
With Cascante’s signing, the Timbers have completed the first acquisition of what looks to be several in a busy winter and spring.