Last week’s MLS SuperDraft presented an opportunity for the Timbers. They held the highest draft pick they’d had since 2017, had a clear need for role players at multiple positions, and had a real chance at finding a good player to fill it in the draft. It made the lead up to the draft more intriguing, and even caused some writers to take the time to pull together a mock draft that they were pretty proud of and excited about. We all waited in anticipation of whose name would be called for Portland’s pick.
And then, well... cue the tweets:
Jokes and memes aside, the transaction made on draft day isn’t a bad one. In fact, it might tell us more about the rest of this offseason than drafting a player. Portland’s move to flip the eighth pick for cash last week represents a statement of intent, and a reading of the tea leaves of the transfer market.
To the former, it showed that Portland’s analysis was that they could find better value with the money they would receive for the eighth pick than the player they would have picked with it — a fair evaluation in light of how difficult it was to evaluate college talent during the disrupted 2020 season.
To the latter, it showed that the Timbers are focused on hitting the market for acquiring their reinforcements for 2021. Adding to their pot of allocation money signals that rather than use the uniquely American systems of player acquisition such as trades or drafting, Portland is likely seeking to utilize transfers or loans to add to the roster.
And, perhaps most importantly, there is a key observation the Timbers are making to make that judgment: There are deals to be had in the transfer market.
They already have a bit of evidence to lend to this forecast, specifically in the recent deal to permanently acquire Felipe Mora. Many of the early reports coming out of Mexico pegged Mora’s transfer fee in the $3 million to $4 million range, a price that would have been too steep for the Timbers. Instead, when all was said and done, Gavin Wilkinson worked his magic to sign Mora for just $1 million.
Now official, Felipe Mora stays in Portland.— Tom Bogert (@tombogert) January 19, 2021
The Timbers will pay Pumas $1 million for Mora while Pumas will retain a 50% sell-on clause, per source. Good value for Portland. https://t.co/r2vKuMiko9
Acquiring a key player to the team at such an advantageous number is no small potatoes. Not only does it keep money in the bank for future player deals, but it also shows that Wilkinson and company have some skill at navigating the pandemic-affected transfer market. The fact that Portland was able to get really good market value for Mora is a good bit of business, especially when you consider it was with a Liga MX side, which have been notorious for being unpredictable with transfers.
There are countless ways the pandemic could be hurting the market. Likely every soccer team has been hit financially this past year, so they might be more willing to tighten up their books, or they could be less likely to let go of a player. But maybe they’ll give more credence to a player’s wishes and preference in order to make a move happen, which sounds like was the case with Mora.
Whatever the reasons may be, the front office has seen an opening. The Mora deal is a marker down that, at least in this instance, they were willing to look for the best deal, and adept at pushing to make it happen. And Portland’s moves to acquire more cash from within the league suggests that they’re looking to keep doing it.
In addition to the money received from trading their draft pick, every player transaction out of Portland the team has had so far has netted them more allocation money. Marco Farfan’s trade landed them $300K. Trading Julio Cascante got $250K in return. The deal to move Jorge Villafana appears to also have some GAM attached to it based in performance incentives, and they even managed to squeeze $160K for an international roster spot. Portland has amassed some money this winter, and it looks like they intend to use it.
Some of it already has been spent, as it was in the instance of using Targeted Allocation Money to bring back Mora. The transfer of Claudio Bravo also used TAM. It’s always hard to know how much money MLS teams still have in the bank due to league roster and transfer fee rules, but the hunch is that Portland wouldn’t be amassing that money for just two signings. There are still holes in the roster that need to be filled. And the deals done so far point towards Wilkinson and company being ready, willing, and able to use that money to take advantage of an uncertain market.
This, of course, also doesn’t close the door on internal player acquisitions. Portland could still swing a trade for a player in the coming weeks or sign a free agent. Allocation money could theoretically be used for either of those, but the fact that neither has happened yet suggests that the powers that be are looking elsewhere for players. The rumored loan move for Josecarlos Van Rankin is another indicator that this is likely the case as well.
So, as I said, the Timbers had an opportunity last week. And they took it in order to take advantage of the next deal on the market and strengthen their squad. Last week was another indication that the Timbers brain trust has a clear plan, and over the next few months and weeks we’re about to see it play out.