Ah, a new year. With it comes the promise of fresh starts, new goals, and inevitable dread over what fresh trials the next twelve months will hold. But the 2021 edition carries some extra significance, as after surviving the dumpster fire that was 2020 I think everyone is looking forward to leaving the last twelve months in the past. We’re all ready for something new, anxious and eager to find out what happens next.
Assuming all of the above is true for most of us, so too is it for the Portland Timbers. Each offseason brings a new sense of anticipation around what moves will happen, excitement over seeing players linked with the team, and anxiety over which of your favorite players are leaving town (missing you already, Marco). The weeks in January are filled with uncertainty, as everyone awaits news on what will happen to the roster of our beloved men’s soccer team.
Well, dear reader, you’re in luck. I embraced all of that anxiety, read the internet tea leaves, and googled a bunch to divine what will happen in the next four weeks. Here are three predictions for the Portland Timbers that are definitely going to happen in the first month of 2021:
The Timbers will re-sign Felipe Mora
You can start buying your number nine Mora jerseys again, folks, because he’s coming back. I know, I know, you might be asking “these discussions have been up and down, how can you be sure? and “aren’t you the same guy who has hedged his bets and basically said the team should have a backup plan?” and “why are you so definitive isn’t this just a prediction?” To that I say, in order: these things can evolve quickly, I’m allowed to change my mind, and yes of course it’s a prediction but don’t question the bit.
Reports have started bubbling up from news outlets in Mexico suggesting that Portland has reached an agreement with Pumas UNAM to pay Mora’s transfer fee, and he will be staying in Portland on a more permanent basis. This has been one of the team’s stated main objectives this winter, and it looks like they will soon get to say “mission accomplished” and we’ll be able to enjoy things like this goal again, very soon:
The impact of Mora returning is significant. In the revolving door that was Portland’s starting striker, Mora had a big impact on the team. Portland is in need of forward depth due to Jaroslaw Niezgoda’s ACL injury, and retaining a proven performer in MLS — and one who already seems to have some lovely chemistry with Diego Valeri and Diego Chara — is a big plus in that department.
Of course, his returning more than likely means Jeremy Ebobisse, he of joint-top scorer in 2020 fame, will likely have his minutes drop. Having depth is always important, especially with multiple competitions on the horizon for Portland in 2021. The question remains of where Ebobisse will get his minutes next season (Forward? On the wing? In Germany???), and Mora returning will put those questions at the forefront. And I’m sure that everyone will react calmly and logically in answering them, as we all usually do.
Portland will sign…. a defender. From the country of… Cameroon.
This one took some twitter investigating to pull together (which is a skill that I hate that I have). According to STF alum and all around fantastic Timbers writer and equally fantastic guy William Conwell, during Portland’s end of season press conference, GM Gavin Wilkinson was not stateside:
Fun tidbit from the start of the Giovanni Savarese and Gavin Wilkinson post-season presser: GW appears to be in Rio Del Ray which is in Cameroon. Maybe.— William Conwell (@williamconwell) December 3, 2020
Now, maybe he (like many of us) had been taking advantage of the flexibility that our new work from home existences have granted us. I know if I had the choice and freedom, I would also choose a much warmer climate to conduct my business from as well. But, seeing as Wilkinson’s business is the acquisition of players for a soccer team, one can safely guess that this was indeed a trip to scout/sign/charm a new addition.
When you dig a little deeper into the TL, more twitter detective work (again, hate that I can do that) reveals a little breadcrumb from Timbers owner Merritt Paulson that Portland is broadening its horizons for its next signing:
The GM might have been in Cameroon + the owner teased a signing from a previously untapped region + Portland is looking for defenders = Portland will be signing a defender from Cameroon. Maybe.
The Timbers have historically looked outside of MLS for its central defensive options, Dario Zuapric being the most recent example. WIlkinson has stated Portland’s desire to strengthen at the back and specifically get younger at centerback, and so it would make sense for them to look abroad for a new central defender to join Zuparic, Larrys Mabiala, and Bill Tuiloma. If my detective hat hasn’t lead my astray, it seems like they’ll be looking to Cameroon for that player.
Or, Gavin might have just been in the Rio Del Rey subdivision outside of Phoenix, Arizona, soaking up some sunshine. Who knows.
The Timbers will sign a Free Agent (and it won’t be one of the ones I suggested)
A slightly riskier prognostication than the previous ones, based on past being precedent. The Timbers seem to be as allergic to free agent signings as I am to avocados, as they have only made two in its five-year existence in MLS. But just as I from time to time can’t resist adding guacamole to my Chipotle order, the Timbers won’t be able to resist dipping their toe into the free agent pool this winter.
The international market for soccer players, while existing in theory, has been wildly thrown off by the COVID-19 pandemic. Player evaluations have been vastly overblown, and it’s likely that clubs will be overpaying this window for players that are slightly above replacement level. While it is just as likely that the Timbers fall into this trap, the odds are also good that they look at the more secure internal market to find players.
A certain blog writer has already taken a look at the group of available free agents and made their suggestions over which would be good ones for the Timbers to pick up. They were some pretty solid picks, if I do say so myself, but unfortunately said writer is not a main decision maker for the Timbers (thankfully). However the real decisions makers decisions around MLS free agents have been ... Ned Grabavoy and Chance Myers. So one could expect the front office to zig when you think they should zag.
A free agent signing will happen in January, but it won’t be someone we expect. The powers that be with the Timbers just don’t play that way. Could it be an aging star like Matt Besler? Another forgotten veteran midfielder from Utah, like Luke Mulholland? Or could it be the return of a former Timbers player? (If it’s that last one, I hope everyone is prepared for ... welcoming back Alvas Powell!)
In all seriousness, signings of the free agent variety or otherwise will be coming soon in January. If they can, Portland likes to get their transfer business wrapped up early. And after having some time to plan out their next steps, I expect moves to be announced in short order.
(And before anyone says anything about additional signings, no, the Timbers won’t be signing Lionel Messi. Probably.)
So there you have it. Three totally certain things that will definitely totally happen in the next four weeks. Or maybe not. It’s a new year, who knows what it will bring? Have any other predictions? Disagreements? Leave ‘em below!