Go Danny

When Danny Mwanga joined the Timbers it felt like a homecoming for the young attacker. It was to Portland that the young Mwanga had relocated from war-torn Congo, and it was back there he went after early promise at Philadelphia had went frustratingly unrealized.

A former OSU player, there was a real sense of enthusiasm about Mwanga’s arrival but things haven’t worked out as anyone would’ve hoped. With 3 goals in 18 appearances, Mwanga simply wasn’t earning his high salary and the club had renegotiated the deal in December for, one would presume, a lower salary more commensurate with his standing as being in the second XI not the first.

A deal for Mwanga has probably been shopped around for some time, despite that renegotiation, and a 21 year old with 15 MLS goals to his name already was always likely to find someone out there willing to take a shot that Mwanga just needs a fresh start to become a regular goalscorer. Oscar Pareja, head coach of Colorado Rapids, is that someone.

Much of the offseason work from the front office this year has seen guys I like leaving the club, but with a clear sense that there was a renewed purpose to the club and this was simply an unavoidable part of that. I’d have liked to see Eric Alexander and Eric Brunner given a chance, and wouldn’t have minded keeping Franck Songo’o or Joe Bendik, but with each deal you can see the reasoning behind it and whether you get behind it depends on just how much trust you place in Caleb Porter and Gavin Wilkinson to do the job right.

When Bright Dike got injured, the Timbers lost their “Number Nine”: the guy that Kenny Cooper and Kris Boyd weren’t meant to be, but Dike had become to the extent that he was a bawhair from going to the Cup of Nations with Nigeria. Ryan Johnson has filled in there, and a hat-trick is a pretty decent audition, but i get the sense from what I hear and read about him that he’s better suited to playing as a wide attacker, allowing him to be more involved on both sides of play.

Whenever Mwanga has led the line on his own, I’ve been unconvinced that he has what it takes there. Bright Dike, for all his faults, is a presence and will let everyone know he’s there. Mwanga never really impressed on me that much, and drifted in and out of games. We can expect to see Trencito given time this year but what I think Porter has shown with the signing of Mikael Silvestre is that, especially when there is as much turmoil and change as there is at Portland, an “old head” on the pitch can help knit things together and fill the breach while the club settles.

That left Mwanga in a group that includes Kalif Alhassan, Ryan Johnson, Darlington Nagbe, Sal Zizzo to fight out for the two attacking midfield/wide attacker roles that weren’t already taken by Diego Valeri. When you’re paying the big money to Mwanga, you really don’t want him to be fourth or fifth in line for the gig when he’s, arguably, the least versatile of the group.

We’ve seen Alhassan and Zizzo being used, tested, in other roles, central midfield and right-back respectively. With a strict salary cap, and limit on roster numbers, versatility adds value. Nagbe’s covered almost every role in midfield and attack and Johnson has shown he can step in and be the lead striker, if needed.

That’s something we haven’t seen from Danny. Sure, there have been moments and I thought the Mwanga/Boyd partnership had promise, as seen in the 2-1 win against Sporting Kansas City, but John Spencer was soon-to-be gone and Boyd would become the league’s most expensive bench warmer for a couple of months.

The rumour (now confirmed) is that Frederic Piquionne is the man the Timbers want to come in and lend some experience and presence to the front line. Piquionne has never been a prolific scorer through-out his career in France and England, with a reputation as a frustrating finisher who doesn’t do the defensive side with any enthusiasm. What he does bring is pace, whatever remains in those 34 year old legs, an elegance to his play and an aerial presence up top. Given he’s not an out-and-out scorer, Piquionne would give Porter the option to deploy him as an attacking fulcrum that the three player behind him could off in almost the same way, though it’s perhaps not so flattering to say so, that Torres was used in front of Mata, Oscar and Hazard at Chelsea.

The move for Piquionne, as with Silvestre, couldn’t look more like short-term fixes if their contracts had been signed in disappearing ink but if they ease the club’s transition, and help develop some of the young talent they’ll be training alongside then they’ll be invaluable moves.

Though there was no future in Portland for Danny Mwanga, there’s clearly still talent in him. Since that early burst of form in his first year in Philadelphia, Mwanga has looked like he just doesn’t fit in but perhaps he’ll find a home among the clouds in Colorado.


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Alexander the Trade

After 30 appearances in Timbers green, Eric Alexander is the latest player to find himself packing his bags and moving on after being traded to New York in exchange for allocation money.

Trading for or with allocation money has become a feature of the Timbers’ dealings this offseason as Caleb Porter reshapes his team. Given the veil of secrecy that MLS have thrown up around allocation money it’s virtually impossible to tell what value the club are getting for players like Alexander, or Brunner, or Robbie Findley but clearly the front office feel they would rather have the lucre than the player who led the club in assists through 2012.

And I can’t say I’m surprised, nor am I outraged by the move.

With the trading of Alexander, and the cutting of Franck Songo’o, the club have ditched the two leading assist providers from last year which, when taken with the departure of leading scorer Kris Boyd, would make it seem like Torontoeqsue levels of facepalmery are unfolding in the Rose City.

Neither Boyd nor Songo’o fit the new aesthetic and, while Alexander’s style was a better fit, I never felt that he was a guy who was going to make a starting spot his own under Porter.

Alexander was a generally tidy and composed player, which made him a stand out in 2012 where these were two features we seemed to perpetually lack in midfield. He provided a creative presence from central midfield that we lacked in Jack Jewsbury or Diego Chara.

When Darlington Nagbe moved back into that central midfield role, it essentially pushed Alexander further out of the team. He would have appearances in wide midfield, but this never looked like a position that suited him.

Coming into 2013, those features Alexander brought to the team are now being brought by others. Diego Valeri is the creative player, while Will Johnson brings a steadying and composed presence to the centre. Nagbe continues to develop, and we still have Diego Chara and Jack Jewsbury, neither of whom are particular flashy on the ball, but both of whom can keep it moving.

Put simply Alexander was, at best, fifth in line for one of the two or three spots in midfield. Breaking it down further, I’d put Will Johnson and Diego Chara, potentially even Darlington Nagbe, ahead of him in central midfield. There’s also Rodney Wallace, who showed last year that he could play there, and Jack Jewsbury in the mix. In attacking midfield he’s behind Diego Valeri, Nagbe and, judging by his involvement in the team so far, Kalif Alhassan. We’ve also seen Alhassan played deeper in central midfield during the preseason in Tucson which was a pretty big sign that Porter was looking beyond Alexander for other options there.

Alexander provided six assists in 2012, but two of those were secondary (the pass to the guy who made the assist) and another couple were simple passes to Nagbe, who then did all the hard work on his own before scoring. That’s not to denigrate, or belittle, what Alexander did for the club but just to underline that looking at a bunch of numbers on a webpage doesn’t tell the whole story.

As I said, I thought Alexander was a good player, and I’d have liked to see him get more of a chance last season to show what he can bring to the table, and earn that roster spot for 2013. That he was never really given that chance – he played 125 minutes of the last 9 games of 2012 – is pretty telling.

John Spencer, the guy who traded for him, never really seemed to find a place for him in the his starting XI. He was an after-thought for much of Gavin Wilkinson’s interim spell. Now Caleb Porter has clearly felt he wasn’t going to be commanding a starting spot any time soon either. That’s three coaches – for all you may pick faults in each – who have looked at Eric Alexander and thought of him as a squad player, at best.

I think that part of the problem was that, while Alexander was, and is, undoubtedly a good player, I never felt he was a game changer, or someone that really imposed himself on matches.

In an ideal world, you probably keep an Eric Alexander on the roster as a decent back-up. In a far-from-ideal-world, where you have work within the constraints of a salary cap and roster size limit, hard choices have to be taken and that means the guys on the outer margins are going to the be the first to get excised to balance the numbers.

Also, from the point of view of Alexander himself, it’s a good move for him. As fans, we selfishly want to hoard all the best players for ourselves even if a guy has little chance of breaking the first XI anytime soon. As a player, he wants to play and, if his chances were as limited in Portland as I think they were, it’s good for him to get a move out and a chance to earn a spot elsewhere.

Every trade is a risk. You could trade someone on and see them blossom, and it makes you look foolish, and the fans will make sure you know all about it. Equally, you could be beset by injuries and suddenly moving that fifth-choice guy on doesn’t look like such a good move anymore. But if we all spent our lives preparing for the worst case scenario, you’d never get out of bed in the morning.

In this case, while I’m sad to see Alexander go, I think it’s a risk worth taking. We don’t know what the club have in mind for the allocation money, so it would be silly to rush to condemn them as only time will tell whether they made the right move.

Thanks Eric, and all the best.

Speaking Franckly

The Portland Timbers announced yesterday that they have released midfielder Franck Songo’o.

This move wasn’t entirely unexpected.  The fact that Franck’s signing wasn’t announced with those of the other players resigned from the 2012 season suggested that his place on the side was, at least, still in question.

And from a player personnel angle the move also doesn’t seem shocking.  From being one of the two great weaknesses of the past two seasons (the fullbacks being the other) the Timbers Front Office has moved quickly to shore up the midfield before the start of the coming season.  From being – as one of the best comments on the post discussing this move over at Stumptown Footy put it – a bright candle in a dark room Songo’o had become just another dim part of the candelabra that will be this season’s midfield.  And not a very bright candle in the view of the coach, general manager, and, presumably, the owner.

Still, the big issue this points up is how opaque and difficult-to-suss-out these player contract negotiations are.  The MLS Player’s association places Franck’s 2012 salary at about $70,000 as part of a two-year contract that, supposedly, saw his pay increase this coming year.  How large this increase might be is difficult to estimate.

But, consider; Jack Jewsbury made about $160,000 last year and is likely to make roughly the same in this coming season.

If you were the Timbers owner, would you consider Songo’o less valuable than Jewsbury?

Even more than that – consider the last part of the last sentence of the Oregonian article, since my understanding is that Geoff Arnold is largely a megaphone for the Timbers’ Front Office: “…the Timbers decided they didn’t want Songo’o back, even at a reduced salary. “

So the team didn’t just consider Songo’o less valuable than Jewsbury, an aging defensive midfielder whose wheels are largely gone and who no longer takes the spot-kicks that made him useful in 2011, they didn’t even consider Songo’o v.2013 as valuable as Songo’o v.2012 at a lower cost.

Not even an increased cost.  A lower cost.

That’s pretty baffling.

Much of the commentary on this trade at Stumptown is fairly acrid.  Franck is an attractive player and his skills were one of the few bright(er) facets of the last dire season (albeit skills that weren’t effective as a means of goalscoring or winning, but given his surroundings its hard to lay that back on him).  And in my opinion a lot of the cause of this is the toxic effect of the man who has moved back upstairs from his dire interregnum on the touchline; this suspicion and this simmering distrust will linger as long and perhaps longer than he will.  Many supporters simply don’t trust Gavin to make intelligent player decisions anymore.

But I think that an immense part of the trouble is that it is difficult or simply impossible for the fan standing outside to see into, hear, and understand what’s happening in those closed rooms underneath the walls of Jeld-Wen Field.

And where there is no light, even the brightest candle can cast some dark and troubling shadows.  It’s hard to speak frankly when you can’t hear the words being spoken around you.

Valeri, Valer-aha-ha-ha…

The Timbers appear to have secured the temporary services of Argentine midfielder Diego Valeri.

I find this satisfying for two reasons:

First, because the player appears to provide something that the Timbers have needed for two years; a skilled playmaking midfielder.  While I don’t know much about the player himself, over at the Axe the post discussing this deal in which our correspondent sunshine describes him as:

“…that creative midfielder the timbers have needed since their mls inception, and he is the type of player the more observant and vocal supporters have been begging the management to sign.”

…as well as Sheba’s note in the comments that:

“Some of the most heartening comments I have read are from fans in Argentina who are baffled that he is wasting his talents in the MLS. As one fan in Argentina explained to me, they still think of the MLS as someplace 35 year olds go to retire. The fact that they see him as still having too much skill and talent to waste in the MLS speaks well of his potential.”

and, second, because this signing, to me, is a significant uptick on our Front Office’s professional judgement.

Until this off-season the Timbers management has seemed to have little judgement and less discipline in their signings.  Forwards were being logpiled in the training room as the midfield and backline went a-glimmering.  Players came, and went, or never arrived based on some peculiar wisdom that many of us standing outside the end- and touchlines couldn’t fathom.

Many of us, including many of the moderators and commentors to the online fora; here, at Stumptown Footy, at the Axe, at Dropping Timber, were screaming at the FO to rectify the right back and ACM situations at the end of the 2011 season.  Result?  Nothing.  Early in 2012 the ‘net was rich with the heady fumes of the same… fuming; WTF, Gavin?  WTF, Merritt?  You trade Cooper for an even more expensive, even more service-dependent striker… and then do nothing to provide service?

But… this signing has a different feel.  The Timbers need a playmaker to serve the ball up… and they go sign one.

Howaboutthat!

So the hope that is faintly sparking in the back of my head is that the Magpie Era of Timbers acquisitions is ending.

Mind you, in my opinion the outside-back situation is still unsettled, and we will see if this Valeri business is merely the exception that proofs the rule, or genuinely the sign that the management is beginning to think like soccer professionals wanting to compete at the top level in our country.  But we can hope.

Under Construction

The second stage of the Re-Entry Draft passed with the Timbers again declining to select anyone, to little surprise. It was left to Real Salt Lake to raise eyebrows when they selected Lovel Palmer.

There’s no doubting that Jason Kreis and Garth Lagerwey have shown an ability in the past to build good squads but, as they rebuild their team after a less-than stellar 2012 (sound familiar?), this is still a move that causes me some head scratching. There were occasional games and flashes of the kind of player Palmer could be (mostly for Jamaica), but these were vastly outweighed by ineffectual and downright bad performances that earned him the “facepalmer” nickname among some fans. Perhaps Jason Kreis is just the man to wheedle some kind of consistency from Palmer after a frustrating spell in Portland. Anyway, let the countdown begin to the inevitable 45 yard screamer into the top corner the first time the Timbers visit Rio Tinto.

Following the recent moves, and the re-signing of Danny Mwanga, it leaves the roster looking something like this:

# Pos Player Name Age Country
21 M Diego Chara 26 Colombia
9 F Kris Boyd 29 Scotland
D Michael Harrington 26 USA
12 D David Horst 27 USA
35 D Andrew Jean-Baptiste 20 USA
8 M Franck Songo'o 25 Cameroon
13 D/M Jack Jewsbury 31 USA
M Will Johnson 25 Canada
24 F Sebastián Rincón 18 Colombia
33 D Hanyer Mosquera 25 Colombia
1 GK Donovan Ricketts 35 Jamaica
6 M/F Darlington Nagbe 22 Liberia
17 M Eric Alexander 24 USA
11 M Kalif Alhassan 22 Ghana
GK Milos Kocic 27 Serbia
98 D Mamadou "Futty" Danso 29 The Gambia
19 F Bright Dike 25 USA
90 GK Jake Gleeson 22 New Zealand
18 D Ryan Kawulok 22 USA
27 D Chris Taylor 23 USA
22 D/M Rodney Wallace 24 Costa Rica
7 M Sal Zizzo 25 USA
16 M/F Brent Richards 22 USA
F Ryan Johnson 28 Jamaica
10 F Danny Mwanga 21 DR Congo
20 F Jose Adolfo Valencia 20 Colombia
2 F Mike Fucito 26 USA


With the Timbers having traded away all their picks in the 2013 SuperDraft – an interesting development considering Caleb Porter would be the one head coach in MLS who’d be best placed to judge the quality of the crop of players coming through this year – any further moves are likely to be players coming into the league from abroad, or further intra-MLS trades.

Portland Timbers Depth Chart 2013

Looking at the current depth chart, there are a few things that stand out. One, we’ve got loads of strikers. Like, tons. If, as we suspect, we’re going to be playing with one guy in the middle, it’s very likely we’ll see at least a couple of these guys gone by the time First Kick rolls around.

Rumour still swirls around the future of Kris Boyd, with the bastion of journalistic integrity, The Sun, reporting that Boyd is set to be axed by the Timbers. Nottingham Forest, where Boyd had a fairly productive loan spell, have been linked with the Scot and they would certainly fit the bill as the sort of club I’d expect him to go to – Championship, fringes of the play-offs, looking for that extra little push to put them over the line. We’ll see what happens there.

Gavin Wilkinson, deflecting rumours about the club being interested in signing Mikkel Diskerud, did confirm that the Timbers were actively seeking to bring in a creative, attacking midfielder. A look at the depth chart shows that the Timbers do lack that creative guile through the middle, so it certainly makes sense that it’s there that the Timbers are looking to add to.

Yesterday Merritt Paulson echoed his General Manager in confirming the club were actively pursuing an attacking midfielder.

Two areas where GW/CP still want to make additions: creative mid and right back. Goal is to have all spots filled by start of pre-season

There is a real dearth of options at right back currently. Palmer and Kosuke Kimura have both departed leaving Ryan Kawulok, who hasn’t been given his chance yet, and Jack Jewsbury, as well as Michael Harrington who could fill in on either side. Paulson’s tweet would seem to indicate that Jewsbury is no more than a depth option at right back, which makes sense to me as I think his lack of pace would leave the side vulnerable, but it once more feeds into the insecurity around Jewsbury’s spot on the team.

Stumptown Footy recently had a piece on Wilkinson talking to both Jonathan Bornstein and Robbie Findley, two players that the Timbers hold the MLS rights to, with the strong suggestion that at least one of the two is an immediate target.

Findley has struggled in Europe since leaving RSL at the end of the 2010 MLS season. He hasn’t scored for Nottingham Forest (them again) since February 2012 and a loan spell at League Two side Gillingham ended after a month, with a sum total of 243 minutes on the pitch, one league start and more yellow cards than goals (1-0). A common refrain from Forest fans about Findley is that he is a striker who seems to be utterly bereft of confidence, and a return to the States may be just the thing to get him back on track as he’s unlikely to break into the Forest team any time soon.

Bornstein’s move to Mexico hasn’t been terribly fruitful for the US international, and Tigres seem to be making another effort to move him on. Of the two, Bornstein would seem like the more logical “get” at this point. We’re practically tripping over strikers at the moment, and I’m not sure we need to be taking on a drastic rehab case like Findley on top of everything else 2013 will bring. Bornstein could add depth to midfield and at left-back (perhaps pushing Harrington to right back). Again, we’ll see what, if anything, happens there.

Someone definitely arriving in Portland very soon is Caleb Porter. The new head coach bid farewell to Akron, and can now give his full attention to the Timbers as pre-season looms every bigger on the horizon.

Forward the Foundation

After a slow start, the much-promised Rostergeddon got into full swing on a day that would’ve reminded many fans of English football of Transfer Deadline day. All it needed was Harry Redknapp in his car telling a reporter that David Horst was a “great lad, great lad, really like ‘im.”

What we got was five players on the way out (with another whose status is up in the air), two players coming in (and another potential) and a Breaking Bad-esque pile of allocation cash.

Chris already did a great job of going over the wheeling and dealing in his post, so I’ll keep my thoughts on the deals “brief”.

The first deal confirmed was that of Kosuke Kimura to the New York Notcosmos. Kimura had staggered around the right-back position like a punchdrunk boxer for much of his time in Portland. Whether that’s due to his own deficincies or coming into a team with no real direction, that’s up to you to decide, but whatever the reasons, the move was one that was always likely to happen.

Kimura, who also found time to fit in an unsuccessful trial in Poland since the season ended, was joined by a second-round draft pick to New York, with the Timbers getting the homegrown rights to Bryan Gallego, a centreback who just so happens plays his college soccer for Akron Zips. You may have heard of them.

Given Porter’s background and experience of the college game, no-one will have a clearer idea of who he wants in the SuperDraft, so it’s interesting to me that he’s given up a draft pick to make this deal work. Of course, there’s a long way to go before the draft, plenty of time to wheel and deal for other picks, but the acquisition of Gallego’s homegrown rights is illuminating for a couple of reasons, I think.

Here’s a player Porter has worked closely within Akron, and it seems rates highly enough to give up a draft pick to get him. Being a homegrown player, Gallego wouldn’t have been eligible for the SuperDraft (as is my understanding, which could be way wrong), so is this a roundabout way to “draft” a guy Porter really wanted? Whether Gallego steps up this year (he’ll be 20 in March so, without getting into my pet peeve about youth development in the States, it’s not that crazy an idea) or he’s one for 2014, it also points towards a change in philosophy at the back for the Timbers.

It’d be fair to say that we’ve had a lot of guys with heart and spirit, but who are limited in technical ability. That won’t fly under the system Porter favours where the defenders have to be comfortable on the ball and able to play an intelligent, possession-based game. Clearly, Gallego already knows what Porter wants from his defenders, and Porter likes what he sees from Gallego.

Next came the news of Eric Brunner going to Houston. A sad one, but not unexpected. I’d written about the potential of Brunner’s leaving and while I leaned towards him staying (I thought Danso would be first to go) the news of his departure didn’t surprise me.

Brunner’s injury really took the wind out of the defender’s sails. He had a good 2011, and looked set to form a partnership with Mosquera at the back, but in his enforced absence he was usurped by David Horst.

With Horst holding down the position, Mosquera a lock and Jean-Baptiste hungry to push on in 2013, Brunner found himself squeezed out. A fine servant to the club in his time in Portland, Eric leaves with the best wishes on the Timbers faithful.

Michael Harrington’s arrival was the next announcement. The last time we picked up a former Kansas City starter who’d found himself relegated to the bench, it worked out pretty well! Harrington will give us options at both left and right back, and seems like a very solid addition to the squad.

Next up was the departure of Steve Purdy and Lovel Palmer. Purdy had been unable to really cement a place in the team since the move up to MLS. I liked what little I saw of him, but given his sporadic appearances in the team, it was of little surprise to see the option on him declined.

Lovel Palmer. I’d written about how I couldn’t see a future for him in Portland. I’ve been critical of him in the past, and justified in (much of) it, so I can’t say I’ll miss having him on the team but, nevertheless, I’m sure he gave his all. It just wasn’t good enough, consistently enough. Fare thee well.

Steven Smith was next to go, announcing it himself on twitter. This was one where I thought “oh no” at the time, but the more I thought about it, and the more I read about it, the more it made cold hard sense. Talk is that Smith would’ve needed DP wages to stay, and with Spencer going (and Boyd likely to go), there was little to hold Smith here on a personal level. There will be no shortage of offers back “home”.

The “final” announcement was that of the signing of Will Johnson from RSL. The Canadian international has been an important part of the RSL midfield over the past few years, and it’ll be interesting to see where he fits in in 2013. There are times we’ve lacked a bit of bite and spark in the middle, and Johnson will provide both of these in spades.

The MLS released the Re-Entry Draft list shortly afterwards. It would be worth keeping an eye on as the Timbers have the #3 pick and the draft is a good way to fill out the squad and/or pick up pieces that can be traded on later.

It certainly raised a few eyebrows among Timbers fans when Rodney Wallace’s name appeared on it.

It’s important to note that the club and player have a couple more days to thrash out a deal that would see Wallace stay, and Merritt’s omission of Rodney from his “so long and thanks for all the fish” tweet would suggest the intention is to work something out. The talk is that the Timbers want to negotiate Wallace’s salary down. I’m not his biggest fan, but he is a decent squad player. He’s just not worth the money he’s currently pulling, in my opinion.

All in all, a pretty good day for the Timbers. Too early to make definitive judgements, of course, but it’s a start to Porter’s reign that fills me with cruel, cruel optimism!

Five out, two in and a complete revamp of the defence is underway. Given that so much of Akron’s play under Porter was built from the back, it makes sense that the gaffer would start his own rebuilding there.

Onwards and upwards.

#RCTID

The Strange Case of Ian Hogg

With the new head coach now set to arrive within weeks, the most pressing question on my mind is how well the Timbers general manager will work to field a side capable of performing better under Caleb Porter than it did for John Spencer, or for Gavin himself, for that matter.

Most of you who have read my earlier posts know that I am skeptical of Gavin Wilkinson as an evaluator and selector of playing talent. The recent release of the young defender from New Zealand does nothing to reassure me that working with a new coach will change that.

Many of you may not even remember Ian Hogg. He was signed from the Auckland FC club on August 8, and in his roughly thirteen weeks as a Timber he never stepped out on the Jeld-Wen pitch as part of the Big Side, never logged a minute in a Portland jersey playing in an MLS match. His league vita is a blank.

His playing time was limited to the last two reserve matches; 71 minutes in the 4-nil loss to the Galaxy reserves away and then the full 90 against the Seattle reserves here. He provided a speculative cross into the box that was deflected and resulted in Richard’s goal against the Sounders.

And that was that. Hogg was waived (with Renken and Braun) on November 19th.

My sole sighting of the man was in the Seattle reserve match. I recall that he played a decent game, and appeared to be capable of playing a solid backup to Steven Smith at left back. He showed a similar knack for getting caught upfield on occasion, but he had decent wheels enough to scramble back into position. He could go forward as well, and provided service into the 18 that was at least no worse than what we saw from our starters at LB and better than some; sorry, Chabala.

So his odd little tenure with the Timbers leaves me with more questions than answers about Gavin’s man-management skills.

If you recall, early August 2012 was perhaps the worst of a bad, bad place the Timbers had been for the preceding month. Late July had been a disaster after John Spencer’s sacking, culminating in the meltdown that was Dallas away. The Portland defense had shipped 15 goals over the preceding 7 matches and the dark star that was right back was never darker – Kosuke Kimura had a VERY bad July, though you could observe that the remainder of his 2012 wasn’t that much brighter.

The club had just apparently concluded that its defensive woes would be solved by swapping keepers with Montreal, a move that infuriated many fans, and though Donovan Ricketts had yet to play a minute for Portland the frustration and anger of a season in tatters was boiling over.

The problems that had plagued the team since 2011 – the lack of a quality attacking/distributing midfielder and the cohesion of the backline (especially at right back) – had never seemed greater. But the one place that had been a similar defensive problem earlier in the season, left back, was actually looking better.

Steven Smith’s play in May and June was frankly awful. It didn’t help that he had nobody in front of him willing to track back on defense at that point; it took the early substitution against Colorado to convince Franck Songo’o that defending was part of his brief. But by early August Smith’s play was visibly improving. The need for a quality right back was still painful in early August; the need for an immediate upgrade at left back?

Not so much.

The timing of Hogg’s release is almost as peculiar as his signing. Accepting that premise that Mike Chabala was never going to be a useful substitute and a decent backup was needed, what had changed between August and November to make Hogg superfluous?

There was and is still no obvious replacement for Smith. Kawulok and Taylor seem to be primarily right backs and Jean-Baptiste a centerback, and we’ve seen the horrors that emerge from putting either Wallace or Palmer in the backline. Cam Vickers has been slotted in back occasionally but is listed as a forward/midfielder with the U-23s.

There seems to be no urgency to sign a replacement left back; mind you, this may be a matter of “early days yet” with the new head coach, but the prospect of the incoming Porter does not seem to have stopped the Timbers’ Front Office from bringing in either players or assistant coaches during the waning days of the 2012 season.

So what was the point of signing Hogg if never to play him? Why not play him somewhere – right back could hardly have been worse? Why sign him instead of bringing him on as a trialist? Why not keep him over the winter and see if he fits with Porter’s scheme for 2013? At least superficially he seems like a “Porter” sort of player; young, relatively speedy, with a decent tactical instinct for the opportune pass as well as a fairly competent defender. Why then release him and not, say, Chris Taylor, if you’re going to boot defenders who don’t play for you?

When he was signed Gavin said “Ian is a young, talented left back with good athleticism and a desire to succeed, we have signed him through the remainder of the season and look forward to closely evaluating him as we move to next season.” What happened? One has to assume that Hogg failed his evaluation, but why? Who did he lose out to? What were his failings, and where were they shown?

I have had more than one occasion to rub my head over a Gavin move, ranging from signings and releases to starting elevens. The strange case of Ian Hogg just reminds me once again why the man who seems like a bluff Kiwi sort of fella is to me a soccer riddle wrapped in an enigma inside a conundrum crafted into a beer cozy for a can of Steinlager, and I sure hope Coach Porter is better at figuring him out than I am.

Troy Story

After 51 appearances, and almost two years in Portland, Troy Perkins is a Timber no more. In a move that took everyone by surprise the first choice keeper was traded to playoff chasing Montreal Impact in exchange for their goalie, Donovan Ricketts.

And to think I had wondered what we were going to do to occupy ourselves in the long stretch before the El Cuchara de Madera Clasico in Toronto next week.

I took me a while to parse what had actually happened here. Had we really just shipped out one of the few guys on the roster to emerge out of a FUBAR 2012 season with a reputation relatively unscathed?

Yes. Yes, we did.

So, what is going on here?

Well, in Ricketts the Timbers have acquired the 2010 MLS Goalkeeper of the Year. The ex-Galaxy man is still held in high regard by many Beckham FC fans, though few Impact fans seem to be mourning his loss.

I’ll be honest in that I haven’t been watching a great deal of Montreal this season, so I’ll leave it to others who are more capable of really analysing what the Timbers have got here. Being in the UK for much of the season, the only non-Timbers matches I really get a chance to see are those broadcast here by ESPN, and those are predominantly LA or New York games.

Perhaps Ricketts struggles this year can be attributed to a poor defence in front of him. 7 of the 39 goals he’s conceded this year have come from penalties, which suggests all is not well in front of him. So, it’s just as well he’s coming to a team where we’ve got the defence absolutely locked down and water tight.

Oh, sheeeeeeeeeeet.

Montreal are willing to pick up some of the more expensive Rickett’s salary for the next two years, so the Timbers effectively pay the same as they had for Perkins and don’t take a hit, in that sense at least, for it. I’ll admit that the MLS salary rules are something I’ll likely never properly understand, but when I see a team chasing the playoffs paying us to take their keeper of their hands, I have to wonder if this really is the “upgrade” that Gavin Wilkinson claims it is.

The more I hear from Wilkinson, the more I wish he’d keep his mouth shut.

Reading the news of the official site one line stood out to me.

Troy has been an important player for us, but we as a coaching staff saw this as an opportunity to improve the position, while optimizing our budget numbers in 2012 and 2013.

“Improve the position”. Is there really any need for that line to be there? What is it with this club and the need to take a shot at players who’ve left?

Maybe I’m nitpicking and, okay, it’s not the “professional expectations” and “non soccer reasons” of the Marcelin cut, but for me it betrays a lack of class and decency from the front office.

Would it be so hard to say something like this instead?

Troy has been an important player for us, but we as a coaching staff saw this as an opportunity to get another experienced, quality goalkeeper in, while optimizing our budget numbers in 2012 and 2013, with a view to developing our young goalkeepers who are the long term future of the club.

I get that you want to put a positive spin on the move, but it’s entirely possible to talk up Ricketts as the great saviour without having to stamp down Perkins down in the process with snidey little digs.

Wilkinson went on to reaffirm his opinion that Ricketts was the better keeper with his “ It’s an upgrade, in all honesty” comment. I don’t see why he can’t talk positively about Rickett’s attributes without framing it in terms of Troy Perkins’ supposed deficiencies, regardless of whether you actually think this is an upgrade or not.

For the record, I don’t. I think at best it’s a sideways move, and at worst we’ve just signed a keeper on the downhill part of his career.

This is a guy, Perkins, who took a boot to the face for the this club, and anyone with half a brain in their head could see has bailed this team out on countless occasions. Show the guy a bit of fucking respect at least.

Even if you do genuinely believe you’ve got a better keeper in, why have you got to betray such a lack of class in addressing it. It’s the “professional expectations” and “non soccer reasons” of the Marcelin cut all over again.

Of course, why I should expect any different from a guy who gave us “I’m not throwing anyone under the bus, but…” comments after he guided his team to a 5-0 loss in Dallas, I don’t know.

As well as the needlessly petty tone taken in talking about Perkins’ contribution to the Timbers, it’s the timing of this move that bothers me.

Following on from the hiring of an “assistant” before we’d even appointed a new head coach – I guess whoever we get had better just accept the staff he’s given and get on with it – we’re now trading away crucial members of our first team.

What is pretty clear is that this is a move all about getting Jake Gleeson installed in the starting XI. The 22 year old Kiwi got a chance last season when Troy Perkins was injured, and I thought he did fairly well and I wouldn’t have minded at all if he’d been allowed to keep his place. I’m a big believer that if you get a chance and do well, you deserve to play regardless of who you’re keeping out of the team.

But Wilkinson’s own words betray the fact that even he doesn’t think Gleeson is quite ready yet.

We are bringing [Ricketts] in to do a job and we are also thinking that that is a better environment for Jake Gleeson to develop in. [He] accepts that he’s a mentor for [Gleeson and Bendik], that one day one of those two is going to surpass where he is.

So we’ve essentially traded out one of the club’s few genuine top players, someone just coming into his prime years, for a stop-gap veteran?

Clearly Gleeson isn’t quite ready to step up yet, or we wouldn’t be signing a “mentor” for him. I’m sure he will be a great keeper in time. I don’t see why we don’t ride out this year and let the new head coach, whoever he or she may be, make the call on who they think is the best keeper for the club. If they agree Gleeson is the future, and the future is now, then we have one of the league’s top goalkeepers, with years ahead of him still, to offer as leverage in a trade for a player in a position where we are weak like, say, defence. Or midfield. Or attack.

I get the impression that Troy was unwilling to sit out so that Gleeson could get some game time, though give the way he’s carried himself with supreme professionalism and dignity through-out his time here, I’ve also doubt that had he been benched, he’d have done it without throwing the toys of out the pram. I mean, not being happy at all, but not feeling the need to unsettle everyone else over it.

Also, I’m not sure signing someone who is willing to sit out is a good thing, you know? That hardly speaks of a guy in his prime, confident in his abilities to be a top keeper any more. Maybe Ricketts himself has recognised he’s lost a bit of sharpness and accepts that this is going to be his role, and as long as he gets some game time in front a good crowd, he’s happy with that. Maybe he’s got one eye on moving into coaching, and this is a good bridge towards that. Only Donovan Ricketts would know.

So instead of keeping Perkins and letting Gleeson battle him for the right to take over as number one, we get a 35 year old who’ll likely see out the next couple of years, as I don’t think there’s any way Ricketts is here beyond 2013 when Montreal stop supplementing his salary. If all goes well, Ricketts rides the bench for much of next year as Gleeson takes over. Of course, as Wilkinson says, “35, for a goalkeeper, is not old” and he’s right – Brad Friedel is still doing it arguably the toughest league in the world, past 40 – but the flip side is that we seem hell bent on rushing through a 22 year old. If 35 isn’t old, is 22 a bit young?

The debate can rage on about the merits or otherwise of this trade, but after all is said and done Troy Perkins has gone and Donovan Ricketts is a Timber now. I wish Troy all the best, except when Montreal face Portland (which fortunately won’t be this year) but Donovan is our man now and he’s gets 100% backing.

I doubt this isn’t the end of it. I’ve suspected for a while that we won’t see Kris Boyd back next year, for one. He’s seen the guy who brought him here fired, and has been hung out to dry in a system that doesn’t work for him – seriously, if you sign Kris Boyd for DP money, you know what you’re getting so you build the team around playing to his strengths, you don’t just plug him into what was currently there and hope for the best because, shock, that isn’t going to work. If I was a Championship club and I’m looking to push on in January, I’d fancy taking a punt of him. I doubt Wilkinson would put up a big fight to keep Spenny’s guy in Portland.

Those fans calling for Wilkinson to go had best buckle down because if this move says anything to me it’s that Gavin is going nowhere. He’s already building his team for next year.

Be afraid, be very afraid.

#RCTIUpgrade