That sound you hear is the bell signaling the final stretch of the offseason. MLS announced that training camps for MLS teams are set to open in the coming weeks, and by virtue of having Concacaf Champions League games on the horizon, the Portland Timbers have but just a little more than two weeks before they can begin group training on March 3.
Before we turn our attention to preseason training reports, fifteen-second videos of drills, and Diego Valeri looking uncannily photogenic while playing soccer, let’s take a look at the business Portland has done up to this point in the offseason.
The first changes for the Timbers in the 2021 offseason came quickly after their 2020 season ended. Not even two weeks after their early exit from the playoffs, Portland announced exercised and declined contract options going into 2021. The first two official departures were veteran midfielder Andres Flores, and MLS journeyman defender Chris Duvall. Both had their options declined, and their stints in Portland ended after 2020.
The subsequent departures all came from the backline as well. First, Portland flipped Julio Cascante to Austin FC for some of that sweet expansion team allocation money. Next, they got even more money by trading homegrown defender and local lad Marco Farfan to LAFC. Both moves were rumored for a few weeks before going official, and Farfan’s departure in particular hit some fans a little hard because of his trajectory last season and his hometown ties.
But that one may not have hit as hard as the departure of Jorge Villafana. The man who had a pair of two-year stints with the Timbers was traded to the LA Galaxy for allocation money and the number eight pick in the MLS Superdraft (which was subsequently traded for even more allocation money on draft day). While he had started to show his age last season, Villafana had rapidly become a fan favorite during his time in Portland, and he became a key contributor down the stretch for the Timbers in 2020. It was tough for some folks to see him go.
While sentimentality is a powerful emotion, and a decent argument could be made for keeping experience around to help transition in new talent, it was clear what the Timbers wanted to do. They wanted to upgrade the backline, specifically citing the fullback positions as one of the main areas of need. They moved quickly to find deals, while reportedly also honoring the individual outgoing players’ wishes and preferences. In the process, they cleared roster space and amassed a not-so-insignificant amount of allocation money.
What was the money used for? The new guys (and some of the old guys, too).
Technically, the first addition Portland made was back in November, when they announced the signing of goalkeeper, Alaskan, and Timbers 2 mainstay, Hunter Sulte, to a homegrown contract. But that’s not why you’re here, is it?
The two new big additions the Timbers have made thus far are a pair of fullbacks. The first was a young and electric talent at left back: Claudio Bravo. (No, not that one, and, yes, I am going to make this joke all dang season. Prepare your eyerolls now.) The 23-year-old Argentine was acquired by using TAM in mid-December, and he’s a player whom the front office and the coaching staff decidedly see as a difference-maker and the future of the Timbers at left back.
The other major fullback signing was the acquisition of veteran Mexican right back Josecarlos Van Rankin on loan with an option to purchase last month, completing the front office’s stated mission of improving at the fullback positions.
Just as exciting as new faces Bravo and JVR (Is JVR a thing? Can we make it a thing?) coming in this offseason may be the old faces who are sticking around. Our friend Felipe Mora is staying in Portland on a permanent basis after the Timbers agreed to a transfer deal with Pumas UNAM in Liga MX. Importantly, it seems that Portland played the world transfer market well and got to keep him for a bargain — a feather in the cap for Gavin Wilkinson and company this offseason if true.
Defender Larrys Mabiala also agreed to a new contract with the team, and recently it was announced that homegrown player Eryk Williamson also signed a new long-term deal with the Timbers.
As important as improving the roster is, it’s equally as important to maintain the depth and level of talent it currently has. So far, Portland appears to have done both this offseason.
Who else might be coming?
Well, not Radamel Falcao, that’s for sure.
In all seriousness, Portland’s offseason isn’t quite fully done, but there isn’t a ton more that can be expected to be announced this offseason. Nothing in the team’s strategy suggests that their two biggest offseason acquisitions won’t be Bravo and Van Rankin. The starting XI is pretty much set, and most positions have depth and cover going into the new season.
Most positions — except left fullback. The right side of the defense is covered by Van Rankin and Pablo Bonilla, but as of writing the only left back on the roster is Bravo. The team will very likely be looking to sign a depth piece to help supplement the young Argentine.
Gavin Wilkinson has stated as much recently, and he also outlined that the club is looking to use the league’s new Under-22 player initiative to sign a young center back to supplement the backline. This will likely not be a day one starter and is very much being viewed as a player they can develop long-term, but we can anticipate a new defender signing sometime in the near future
Outside of that, don’t expect a ton more news. Maybe we see a preseason trialist or a draftee or two earn a spot on the team, and there might be an additional transfer out from one of the more crowded positions, but don’t expect any Falcao-level moves to happen between now and March. And as much as I’d love to see the Timbers sign another central midfielder to improve depth at that position, this roster is largely set.
With that in mind, it sure looks like the Portland Timbers’ plan for the 2021 season is to improve at the margins and ride their core of Dos Diegos and Sebastian Blanco once again, and they have conducted their transfer business appropriately. Only time will tell if their plan is sound, and if that business has been enough.
Portland Timbers roster, as of 2/16:
Goalkeepers (4): Jeff Attinella, Steve Clark, Aljaz Ivacic, Hunter Sulte
Defenders (7): Pablo Bonilla, Claudio Bravo, Larrys Mabiala, Zac McGraw, Bill Tuiloma, Josecarlos Van Rankin, Dario Zuparic
Midfielders (12): Dairon Asprilla, Sebastián Blanco, Blake Bodily, Diego Chara, Yimmi Chara, Tomás Conechny, Marvin Loría, Cristhian Paredes, Andy Polo, Diego Valeri, Eryk Williamson, Renzo Zambrano
Forwards (3): Jeremy Ebobisse, Felipe Mora, Jaroslaw Niezgoda