It’s been a bit since we’ve checked in with the status of the Portland Timbers offseason. After missing the playoffs for the first time since 2016, the Timbers have been keen to retool the on-field roster this Winter to vault back into contention for the MLS postseason and hardware in 2023
Let’s take a look at what’s happened so far, what work is left to do, and what might happen next.
Recapping the offseason so far
The offseason building kicked off back in October, when Portland announced contract decisions on a number of players. Several players had their options declined, and that meant Blake Bodily, George Fochive and Justin Vom Steeg had their time in the Rose City come to a close. Forward Nathan Fogaca is out of contract, but remains in talks with the teams over a potential first-team return.
The biggest early contract move was Portland declining the purchase option for Josecarlos Van Rankin, ending the Mexican right back’s tumultuous Timbers tenure.
A number of players have also been signed to contract extensions. Forward Felipe Mora signed a new deal through 2025 while also reworking his contract to be more cap friendly for the Timbers, and left back Claudio Bravo inked an extension through 2026. Centerback Zac McGraw signed a contract extension through 2025 as well, keeping a rising talent in green & gold.
But of course, the biggest offseason move the Timbers have made is their shiny new Designated Player signing.
In December, the Timbers signed 24-year-old Brazilian midfielder Evander in a club record transfer fee (reportedly $10 million). The dynamic attacker was a force in the Danish Superliga with Midtjylland, where he recorded 50 goals and 38 assists in 167 appearances across all competitions.
With pedigree and price tag, it is not an understatement to say that Evander is the biggest signing the Timbers have made since Diego Valeri. With the resources invested in him, the Timbers are hoping that his influence on the team can reach that level as well.
As it is with any foreign signing, how quickly he integrates into MLS is a huge question mark. But the Timbers are hoping – and betting – that he adapts quickly, and becomes the centerpiece of a revamped and dangerous attacking unit.
To close things out, Portland also selected four players in last month’s MLS SuperDraft. The biggest name out of those four is Noel Caliskan, their first selection (15th overall). A highly rated midfielder out of Loyola Marymount University, Caliskan is probably the top candidate to earn a first team contract out of the draftees.
Other bits from the offseason so far to note:
- As part of the Evander news, it was announced that forward Jaroslaw Niezgoda’s contract now does not rise to Designated Player level, leaving Evander and Yimmi Chara as the two senior DP’s on Portland’s roster.
- Head coach Giovanni Savarese signed a contract extension through 2025, with a club option for 2026.
- After some social media drama and trade speculation, it appears that Eryk Williamson has mended whatever bridges were damaged with Savarese, and looks prepared to be a key piece of Portland’s roster this season.
- It’s worth pointing out that longtime Timbers general manager Gavin Wilkinson was fired in the wake of the U.S. Soccer investigation into misconduct in the NWSL. Timbers technical director Ned Grabavoy has been acting as interim Chief Soccer Officer for the Timbers this offseason.
Oh, and Liam Ridgewell is on the Timbers coaching staff now. So that’s pretty cool.
Here’s where Portland’s roster currently stands:
Portland Timbers 2023 Roster *as of Jan. 10
Goalkeepers: David Bingham, Aljaz Ivacic, Hunter Sulte
Defenders: Pablo Bonilla, Claudio Bravo, Larrys Mabiala, Zac McGraw, Juan David Mosquera, Justin Rasmussen, Bill Tuiloma, Dario Zuparic
Midfielders: David Ayala, Sebastián Blanco, Diego Chara, Yimmi Chara, Evander, Marvin Loría, Santiago Moreno, Cristhian Paredes, Eryk Williamson
Forwards: Dairon Asprilla, Diego Gutierrez, Tega Ikoba, Felipe Mora, Jaroslaw Niezgoda
What’s left for the Timbers to do?
The Evander signing has filled arguably Portland’s biggest offseason need: a creative presence that can score and contribute to goals. On paper and by the eye test, the Timbers’ new Brazilian midfielder seems to check the boxes of what the Timbers need to jumpstart their offense and start scoring more goals.
But that raises the question: who all is going to score those goals? Evander of course will chip in some himself, but Portland will need production from their strikers to keep their attack punchy.
And that striker production last season was disappointing. Of the 52 goals the Timbers scored in 2022, just 12 were scored by the forward strike force of Jaroslaw Niezgoda, Felipe Mora and Nathan Fogaca, with Niezgoda being the sole forward to score in more than one game. If the Timbers are to return to contender status in 2023, one position group that needs to improve is the striker spot.
Additionally, Portland could do with some tweaking along their backline. In particular, they could probably use one starting-caliber centerback. Central defense was a rotating cast of players last year, with Dairo Zuparic standing out as perhaps the most consistent of the bunch.
After him though, it was murky. Bill Tuiloma was inconsistent, Zac McGraw showed promise but also that he still has some developing to do, and Larrys Mabiala showed that he unfortunately may have lost a step to Father Time.
So a centerback is still on Portland’s shopping list, as is perhaps a backup left back (and maybe a backup right back, depending on where you stand with Pablo Bonilla). All in all, it feels like Ned Grabavoy and company still have some work to do to help make this Timbers roster feel fully ready for the 2023 season.
What’s coming next?
Outside of Evander (whose transfer saga was pretty straightforward), the Timbers have been markedly quiet on the transfer front. Reports started bubbling up last month linking the Timbers to 28 year-old Danish forward Kasper Junker who plays in the Japanese J1 League, but it appears that a loan offer from Portland was rejected as Junker instead signed a year-long loan deal with J1 League side Nagoya earlier this month. But as reported by MLS insider Tom Bogert, Junker wasn’t the only forward on Portland’s radar.
To wit, last week, a rumor in Croatian media popped up linking the Timbers to 19-year-old Croatian striker Matija Frigan. Frigan currently plays for Croatian top-tier side HNK Rijeka, and has scored four goals in about 600 minutes this season. An intriguing candidate for a Young Designated Player contract, Frigan would still decidedly be a long-term project rather than an immediate impact signing at center forward.
As per a Croatian news article from @24sata_HR, Matija Frigan could move to the Portland Timbers. He is a 19 year CF, could be a young DP move if it happens, he also has interests from 2 Serie A clubs as well. #RCTID https://t.co/m12KmU2Dz8— TANA Bros Reporting (@TanaScouting) January 6, 2023
Outside of those rumors... there really hasn’t been a whole lot of news out there on potential Timbers transfers. Multiple high-profile MLS free agents who could fill a need for the Timbers – namely centerbacks – have all signed deals elsewhere, with Portland not even being mentioned as one of the interested parties. Portland could of course still pursue a free agent to fill a need, but at this point most of the top names are off the board.
Despite that, I would be surprised if Portland doesn’t have more players incoming this Winter. While there are certainly other needs, all signs still point to Portland pursuing at least a center forward signing. It could be Frigan, it could be someone else. With the January transfer window just opening, there is still time for Portland sign players (although not a ton of time to get them integrated – but that’s an article for another day), and I expect them to take advantage of it.
Or at least I hope they do. Players are reporting this week for training camp before the Timbers jet off for the next leg of preseason preparations in Arizona. The offseason is just revving up, and all we can do is scour the rumor market (responsibly!) and wait for what’s coming next.