Over the past two seasons, the phrases 'Gavin guy' and 'Spencer guy' have been used by fans and pundits alike to try to assign blame to those players, coaches or executives who contributed to the Timbers' poor performance. Now, most of the way through a successful 2013 season, the tendency has been to give Caleb Porter most of the credit for the club's incredible turnaround. That tendency is completely warranted in many respects, as Porter's tactics and philosophical preferences have given new life to the franchise. But it's time to give Gavin Wilkinson his due for his role in the success of the Timbers both in this season and in planning for productive seasons to come.
Jose Valencia, Bryan Gallego and most recently Maximiliano Urruti are names that, while not exclusive to Wilkinson, certainly belong in the category that required quite a bit of behind-the-scenes work that goes beyond the usual responsibilities of scouting, contract negotiation and salary cap management.
In Valencia's case, for those who care to remember back to the winter of 2011/12, Wilkinson took advantage of a brand new rule to bring the youngster to Portland while minimizing his cap hit as a Young Designated Player. That a previously undisclosed injury reduced Valencia's 2012 role to that of spectator should be separated from the scouting and salary cap awareness, relative to that offseason's other big signing Kris Boyd, that got the then 19-year-old on loan from Santa Fe.
Of course it took more than a year for Valencia's promise to come to any on-field realization in Portland, but there are surely few who would have wanted that money spent elsewhere now that he has started to show just how good he can be. Without the Young DP rule and Wilkinson's willingness to give it a whirl, there is no chance the Timbers could have afforded to bring Valencia to Portland.
Gallego is a special case as he has not yet signed with the Timbers. However, the Timbers traded Kosuke Kimura and a draft pick to New York Red Bulls for allocation money and Gallego's Home Grown Player rights. Prior to the trade in early December 2012, it was not widely known that a club could even make such a trade. Gallego spent the summer with the Timbers U23s and is currently back at the University of Akron as a junior and has been listed among the top collegiate players in the country.
Porter is, of course, intimately familiar with Gallego and was likely the driving force behind the highly regarded defender staying in school for another year instead of jumping to MLS for this 2013 season. Certainly there is no doubt that Wilkinson and Porter worked together on this particular deal, but again, when it comes down to the actual negotiations with the league, it is Wilkinson's job to make sure Porter's desires are met. Though it has not yet been confirmed, it is expected that Gallego will join the Timbers as a Home Grown Player in the coming offseason, which would provide additional salary cap relief.
That brings us to the Bright Dike for Max Urruti trade. Whether or not there is, was or will ever be such a thing as a League DP, Urruti is an interesting case. Where crediting Wilkinson comes in is with timing. While it may have been clear in Toronto, the fact that Urruti was unwanted by Ryan Nelsen and Tim Leiweke was an opportunity just waiting for another team to take advantage. There must have been others who would have loved to get their hands on Urruti.
Clearly Wilkinson had been scouting him in Argentina for some time, but with Toronto FC holding the discovery rights, making a move for the young forward was not possible. But with the breakdown of Toronto's front office just days before the Reds flew to Portland, it was up to Wilkinson to negotiate a deal with his countryman Nelsen. The deal got done and the players were informed after Saturday's game, leaving Urruti in Portland and sending Dike to Canada. The only way the Timbers can afford a player like Urruti, of whose salary, to be fair, we do not yet know much, is through the use of allocation money. Merritt Paulson has indicated that the Timbers have more allocation money than any other club, which will surely be used in several cases to 'buy down' salaries to make adherence to the salary cap a reality.
Lots of words to explain moves that we already know about. But over the course of twenty months, it's easy forget how unique each move was and how there really is a thread that runs through the Timbers' moves over the past nine months. And this is not to say that Wilkinson did not have a significant say in the drafting of Darlington Nagbe and Andrew Jean-Baptiste or the acquisitions of Ryan Johnson, Diego Valeri, Will Johnson, Diego Chara, Alvas Powell and all the others who clearly make up the short- and long-term future of the club.
The point here is that as important as Porter has been in the vision and make up of this club, it's Wilkinson who has to make it all work out. Some clubs have executives who do not understand the system, who miss out on moves because they cannot make the salary cap work to their advantage. Portland Timbers do not not have that deficiency.