There was a lot going on for the Portland Timbers yesterday. First, you had the announcement that Marvin Loria was called up to the by the Costa Rican U-23s. Then the Timbers had their first two games of the season announced: a road match against the Vancouver Whitecaps and their home opener against the Houston Dynamo. And finally, the club announced that they were parting ways with Tomas Conechny. It was a spattering of news coming seemingly all at once.
But the most interesting news in terms of how it affects the roster might have been the Conechny announcement. That’s because yesterday Timbers GM and president of soccer Gavin Wilkinson and head coach Giovanni Savarese talked to the media, and one topic seemed to dominate all others: depth.
Depth is the big question mark that the Timbers have dealt with most of the summer, though not necessarily around the midfielder position that Conechny played. Losing Conechny does create a bit of a “numbers problem” as Wilkinson described it, but Wilkinson also acknowledged that Conechny was on a different trajectory than they envisioned when they brought him in.
Most of the depth questions are focused on the Timbers’ back line. Portland have yet to add that young center back that they had intended to bring in during the offseason. They also aren’t totally flush with fullbacks, with only Pablo Bonilla, Claudio Bravo, and Josecarlos Van Rankin manning the outside at the moment. Despite that, Wilkinson said the Timbers are not concerned.
“It’s not a situation where we feel overly rushed,” Wilkinson said about potentially adding a center back. “It’s a position that we need to get right, and we’ve got a couple of options and we’re continuing to look and explore other options as well.”
“At the moment, we’re not in any rush,” Savarese echoed. “Because we want to get it right. We want to bring the right profile with the right style of play that we have that is going to be able to add to what we’re looking for for the season, so better to do it right than to into bringing players when the opportunity is not there yet.”
The idea of patience was a general theme from Wednesday’s press conference regarding the roster. At the moment, it seems that Portland are content with who they’ve currently got. That doesn’t mean they don’t eventually still want to add depth. Wilkinson noted that while they are hoping to get Zac McGraw more minutes with the first team, they still feel the need to add another player at that position. But still, they are happy with where the roster stands.
McGraw brings up an interesting conversation. He hasn’t played a single game for the Timbers yet and would have been a prime candidate to play in the USL with Timbers 2. The problem now is that T2 doesn’t exist as a development option for this year. Wilkinson said that they’re optimistic about T2’s return in 2022, but that it does make things difficult in terms of managing the roster.
“The objective of the organization is to play the players that give us the best chance of winning while also taking into account that they’re young players and they need minutes,” Wilkinson said. “I know there’s constant conversation between the coaches, myself, Ned [Grabavoy] on what is right for each individual, and there will be a constant review on how we get players minutes.”
Wilkinson used McGraw as an example: They obviously want McGraw to thrive and play minutes with the first team, but both Wilkinson and Savarese know there’s a possibility that it isn’t in the team’s or McGraw’s best interest. That might mean loaning McGraw out to a USL club in order to get him the minutes he needs. And the COVID protocols that Portland have to follow only make things more complicated.
But overall, the Timbers aren’t worried because they’re confident they will get what they need together in due time. As they said earlier, they’re content with where they stand. They’ve still got the core that thrived last year up until a disappointing playoff loss and Sebastian Blanco and Jaroslaw Niezgoda healing up. Combine that with the new additions from this offseason, and you have a Timbers squad that has Savarese confident in their ability to compete.
“The guys really are hungry for this year,” Savarese said. “They want to come from the beginning and start working and want this year to be a very successful year. And I think the pieces that we have added just make our locker room even better.”