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Tomas Conechny’s departure: Unfulfilled promise, and now Spring questions

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The Argentine’s uncoupling from the Timbers is a tale of expectations unmet, and questions looming.

MLS: LA Galaxy at Portland Timbers Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

The tale of Argentinian players on the Portland Timbers is very much a hot and cold story. For every Diego Valeri, there is a Gaston Fernandez. For every Sebastian Blanco, there is a Lucas Melano (who somehow got two chapters in this story). It seems that for every player from the South American country that transfers in that hits and becomes a star, there is another player who fizzles and never hits the heights expected of them.

Tomas Conechny is the latest player to encompass the latter, and fulfill that unfortunate outcome.

The team announced this week that the player and club have mutually chosen to part ways, ending the now 22-year-old player’s time in Rose City after just three seasons, two years after his loan was made permanent. Conechny’s departure is the latest to be announced for the Timbers this offseason, coming at an unconventional point where transfer window transactions appear to be winding down as the team prepares for their 2021 campaign.

What makes his departure a touch more disappointing is what Conechny once represented for the Timbers. A young and unproven player originally brought in on loan during the 2018 season at the tender age of 19, he was decidedly a developmental project for the Timbers. Still, he projected as a creative playmaker who could perhaps one day fill the role of a number ten in the midfield. Naturally, that led many to think that with the right developmental trajectory, he could one day fill (at least some of) the shoes of Diego Valeri as the creative fulcrum for Portland.

It wasn’t unreasonable to believe that was the case. In Conechny’s limited first team minutes with the Timbers there were flashes. Utilized mostly as a late game substitute, he had moments of coming on and providing dynamism, most of those coming in the 2019 season. Conechny notched his first (and only) goal for the Timbers that season, and also chipped in three assists. Those included assisting in the buildup and in the eventual winner in an important late season match against the Chicago Fire that year:

During that 2019 season, despite only having 15 total shot creating actions, based on his number of minutes played he averaged 3.79 shot creating actions per 90 minutes, per FBref.com. There was just the slightest inkling that Conechny had the tools to start earning more minutes, more starts, and more opportunities in 2020, and may be able to make the leap the Timbers brought him in to make.

But alas, that leap never came. Conechny only saw the field eight times for the Timbers last year, and didn’t feature in any of the final four games of Portland’s season. And now his time in a Timbers shirt has ended.

It is an unfortunate end to Conechny’s time in Portland, but not necessarily an unexpected one. Despite showing flashes of the skill that Portland brought him in to hopefully develop further, Conechny never found consistency. He only made only seven starts for the Timbers during his tenure, and never had a consistent run. There were moments of quality, yes, but three assists and a solitary goal in just over 600 minutes played is not indicative of a player who is on the verge of a breakout, especially when that player is 22 years old. By the end of 2020, Conechny was a developmental project no more, and was clearly not showing enough in games or in training to validate his status, and so he is now moving on to the next chapter of his still young career.

MLS: Portland Timbers at Montreal Impact
The only photographic evidence that Conechny scored a goal for the Timbers, and only evidence that he can jump really high.
Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

His departure from the team creates challenges and raises questions for the Timbers, both short-term and long-term.

Short-term, the team has lost some of its midfield depth. While he never hit the promises he could have, Conechny was a depth player that could put in a decent midfield shift. At the very least, he would have given more flexibility in their midfield positions. With the status of Sebastian Blanco for Portland’s first games still up in the air, and Valeri soon to turn 35, that flexibility is important, especially with Portland about to enter the wilds of the Concacaf Champions League.

The onus is now put onto the players farther down the roster to step up. Andy Polo played a large role for the Timbers last season, but his ceiling might be “serviceable bench player who is good for 1-2 golazos per season,” so he isn’t the only answer. Likely neither is Cristhian Paredes, who wholly underwhelmed in 2020 after progressing in 2019. Could part of the answer be Blake Bodily, the Portland Timbers homegrown who got his biggest time in the spotlight during Portland’s playoff game last season? Conechny creates a minor hole on the field that someone will have to step up to fill.

While there are potential short term depth options, none of the above players are likely to be the answer long-term for the Timbers. Despite the steadily decreasing likelihood it would work out, up until this point Tomas Concechny was quite possibly the only potential answer to the question of “what happens after Valeri?” With Conechny now gone, Portland has a looming, gargantuan-sized challenge that is approaching with frightening speed.

Might they look at another player on the roster, like Eryk Williamson, to once day succeed El Maestro? Williamson has the tools, but he has a long way to go before taking up the mantle. The fact of the matter is that right now, there does not appear to be a ready-made successor to Valeri on Portland’s roster.

Conechny was the Timbers’ shot at potentially creating one. The bet low on him, and hoped he could rise to a high ceiling. The team adjudged that he ultimately couldn’t, and now Conechny is the latest in the hot and cold story of Argentinian players on the Timbers. And now the front office and coaching staff are left with questions, both small and large, whose answers could have implications that could reverberate for years to come.