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Who Could the Portland Timbers Turn To at Center Back?

MLS: Portland Timbers at Houston Dynamo Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

The Portland Timbers suddenly find themselves in need of a new center back following Monday’s injury to presumed starter Gbenga Arokoyo. After only a week of training, Arokoyo went down in practice with a ruptured left Achilles tendon, an injury that required surgery and will keep him out for the whole of the 2017 season.

Arokoyo’s loss leaves the Timbers with a center back corps of Liam Ridgewell, Rennico Clarke, Roy Miller, and potentially draft pick Michael Amick; a group with no obvious replacement as Ridgewell’s partner in the starting XI. Clarke has potential, but is unproven; Miller is a veteran, but was reportedly signed as a depth piece; and Amick is not yet even signed to the team.

So, who should the Timbers turn to in their time of need? Who can step up and fill in the hole left in their back line by Arokoyo’s injury?

Either Clarke or Miller could both certainly do the job, but neither seems like the team’s first choice as they look to rebound from a poor defensive showing in 2016, when the Timbers allowed 53 goals against — more than any other team in the Western Conference.

The Timbers could look to make a play for a proven defender within MLS. The team has some bargaining chips with which to work including a solid forward in Jack McInerney and a versatile full back in Zarek Valentin. Bundled with other assets to a team in need, the Timbers could certainly bring in a center back of starting quality. Still, any player that the Timbers would be able to prize away from another team in MLS has a slim chance of being the top player that fans— and Caleb Porter — long for.

Alternatively, the Timbers could still look outside the league for a defender to bring in. The MLS transfer window remains open until February 21st, meaning that the Timbers can still acquire players from other leagues, even if that league’s window is itself closed. While this opens up a world of possibilities to the Timbers, the team is still limited by their budget, scouting resources, and other factors in combing the worldwide market for players.

Finally, the Timbers could take a broader look at the players they already have on hand. Zarek Valentin, Amobi Okugo, and Alvas Powell all have experience at center back under their belts, as does trialist Jhamir Ordain.

Valentin and Okugo have the MLS experience to potentially put them in the running, but there has been little to give the impression that Porter rates either at center back. And what’s more neither has had much success at center back as they respectively anchored the back lines of Chivas USA and the Philadelphia Union, neither of which were known for their defensive prowess at the time.

Powell and Ordain, on the other hand, have no experience lining up at center back in MLS on which to judge them. Both players are young right backs who have played in the center, Powell for the Jamaican national team and Ordain for his club team Santos de Guápiles, and turning to either would require primarily looking the promise of the player rather than their past performances at the spot.

Interestingly, in Tuesday’s unbroadcast match against Croatian side NK Istra 1961, it appears that Powell was given a brief run out at center back after starting at his usual right back position— perhaps the first time that he lined up there for the Timbers in a four-man back line. Powell’s time at center back was brief, playing there for approximately fifteen minutes after Liam Ridgewell was taken off the pitch and Chance Myers was brought on at right back to close out the first half.

In that same match, Clarke started and played the first half, Valentin played the second half at center back, Okugo played the second half at holding midfielder, and Ordain made a substitute appearance at right back near the end of the match, scoring a headed goal off a free kick. Miller remains with Saprissa through their CONCACAF Champions League matches in the final weeks of February.

So, where do you think the Timbers will look to fill Arokoyo’s spot? Is there anyone in the team you think could step up?