With the addition of Ishmael Yartey to the Portland Timbers and the announcement of the loans to T2, a fact has gone surprisingly gone without much comment: 2015 Superdraft pick Anthony Manning was signed to T2, rather than with the first team, leaving the Timbers with 27 players on their roster out of a potential 28, keeping one slot open.
So, what could the Timbers do with their remaining open slot?
Through four games the Timbers have not made it entirely clear where they most need reinforcements.
The Timbers attack has yet to click, despite Fanendo Adi's three goals already this season, but it is stocked with players who are certainly capable of scoring goals. Rodney Wallace, Maximiliano Urruti, and Gaston Fernandez combining for 22 goals last year, in addition to the 16 from injured but-working-on-it Diego Valeri and Will Johnson.
Similarly, the Timbers' defense has been haunted by missteps in two of their four games this year, but they have held the opposition to a shutout in the other two. Only three teams in the Western Conference, the Colorado Rapids, Houston Dynamo, and FC Dallas, have better goals against averages than the Timbers.
Moreover, do the Timbers have the cap space to add a player with enough quality to step in and start, or would they be limited to a gamble on an unknown or a player that might provide good depth without being in real danger of displacing one of the starters?
(My mostly uninformed guess? Probably not.)
So, again, what should the Timbers do with their remaining slot?
One possibility is that the Timbers are leaving the slot open for potential loans up from T2 over the course of the season. We know that loans from the first team to T2 are fairly straightforward with the way that the T2 roster and the USL roster rules are constructed, but there is far less clarity surrounding how loans in the opposite direction could work.
However, assuming the MLS rules permit for it, T2 is certainly stocked with promising young players as well as several veterans that could, if need be, contribute at an MLS level.
In T2's opening match, Kharlton Belmar bagged a brace, proved himself to be a consistent aerial threat, showed that he is able to press all match, and surprised the opposition time and time again with his raw pace and quickness. If Yartey is not arrived, fit, or generally ready to go for Saturday's match against FC Dallas, bringing up a player like Belmar might give the Timbers and extra attacking option off the bench to push their opponents in the final minutes while looking for a goal or trying to hold on to a result.
There are plenty of other players on the T2 roster that might step up to contribute to the first team beyond Belmar.
Fatawu Safiu, who simply wears "Fatawu" on the back of his jersey with T2, has many similarities to regular first team contributor off the bench over the last four years, Kalif Alhassan. A strong dribbler, creative passer, and occasional mystifying decision makers, Fatawu could be brought in by the Timbers to provide a player that can link things up in the center of the pitch or provide some play-making abilities out wide late in the match.
Santiago Biglieri, T2's Argentine forward, brings a similar look to Gaston Fernandez as a diminutive second striker, capable of scoring goals or creating them, and could be an option off the bench if the first team needed him.
Harrison Delbridge, Rennico Clark, and Anthony Manning are all talented young centerbacks, who could easily step up to provide depth to the first team if the Timbers were to suffer one of their regular injury crises in the center of the defense.
Rundell Winchester and Tim Payne are both players with international experience and talent to spare.
None of these players look likely to step up and immediately be starters for the Timbers' first team, but as a pool of players they could provide potential and versatility to the Timbers' bench.
Or maybe the Timbers are just leaving the roster spot open because they have used all their cap space and allocation money on the players that they already have.
What do you think the Timbers' plans are for their final roster spot? Realistic or not, what do you wish the team would add in that final spot?