Six Degrees: And Finally

For Portland Timbers fans, the last day of the 2014 season held both triumph and frustration. A win and a loss. Which is pretty much the story of this entire year. Let’s cover the game pretty quickly, then we’ll talk about what we’ve been through and what’s ahead of us.

1) In the first half, the best player on the field was obviously Darlington Nagbe. He was doing all his typically great Nagbe things, and also going for goal. In the 12th minute, he forced a really nice save from Chris Seitz. In the 18th minute, he had a long, brilliant, one-man fast break, sending a shot just wide.

Then, in the 43rd minute, the soccer gods rewarded him for all his hard work, letting his third shot of the night deflect off a defender and bounce into goal. Timbers fans rose as one to cheer him, his teammates mobbed him, and Darlington Nagbe finally bathed in that warm glow that only comes from scoring a goal. Hopefully he’ll bathe in it a few more times next year.

2) So we’re up 1-0. What should we do in the 2nd half? Bunker, you say? Sure! Bunkering’s always effective, right? Let’s do it!

So the Timbers parked the bus in front of goal and, as a result, Dallas pretty much owned the 2nd half. From halftime to the 80th minute, Dallas averaged 75% possession. That’s 35 straight minutes of almost non-stop Dallas possession and non-stop attacks on our goal. It was awful. Twice Dallas put the ball in the back of the net, though, blessedly, both times, it was called back.

What the fuck, Caleb? I’m blaming you. Why would you do this? Have we ever bunkered successfully? You’re full of talk about playing on the front foot, so what’s with the bunkering? Cut it out. Seriously.

3) Then, out of nowhere, Maxi Urruti.

And it was such a typical Maxi goal, too. Catch, turn, fire, top shelf. The guy’s a sniper and he loves the top shelf.

Saturday’s goal put him at 10 goals for the year, in only 1181 minutes. That’s 0.76 goals per 90 minutes. Among players with more than 5 goals, that’s the 2nd best rate in MLS. Only Bradley Wright-Phillips has done it more efficiently than our Maxi.
18th on that list, with 9 goals in 1512 minutes? Fanendo Adi.

Which raises the question, is there any chance Caleb plays a 4-4-2 next year? Or is this the best system? Let Adi wear the defense down for 60+ minutes, then send in Maxi to put a stake through their hearts?

4) And speaking of stakes through hearts… remember that hour and 45 minutes when we were in the playoffs? That was fun, wasn’t it? And then Vancouver had to ruin it by winning. Actually, I’m gonna blame it on Colorado. C’mon, guys… why you gotta suck so bad?
But if our season had to end, at least we went down swinging. We started the year like lambs (0-3-5 in our first 8) but finished like lions (4-1-3 in our final 8). We scored 61 goals (third best in the league) and our defense, once laughable, ended the season with three straight shutouts.
At the start of the year, I kept asking, “is it time to panic yet?” Turns out it was, since those 8 winless games is pretty much the reason we missed the playoffs. We dug a hole too deep to climb out of. And the team will need to remember this if we get off to a slow start next year.

5) Speaking of next year, we’ve only got three months or so until the team heads down to Arizona for training. Then it’s back here in late February for the Rose City Invitational. By mid-March, we should be starting the MLS season. Any predictions on our starting XI?
Before you guess, be aware, we’ve got a lot of weird stuff coming up this off-season.

For starters, Chivas is going on hiatus for a couple years. What’s going to happen to their players? I have no idea. Possibly something called a dispersal draft (whatever that is).

Is there anyone on that team we’d want to pick up? Erik Cubo Torres is out, since he belongs to Chivas Guadalajara. Andrew Jean-Baptiste didn’t really hit it off with Caleb Porter. Carlos Bocanegra might be interesting at centerback, except he’s 75 years old. Nigel Reo-Coker’s good, but he’s a midfielder, where we’re loaded. Dan Kennedy in goal? Are we actually sure he’s any good? Has he ever played on a winning team? Maybe he’s an innocent victim, or maybe he’s part of the problem.

And anyway, I’m not even sure how this theoretical dispersal draft would work. MLS like to keep things secret.

6) But all that Chivas business is small potatoes compared to the really big thing happening this off-season. We’ve got a couple new teams joining the league next year – Orlando City and NYCFC (I still think they could’ve squeezed a few more letters into their name) – and that means some of our guys may soon be their guys.

I haven’t found all the rules for the December expansion draft – again, the league enjoys shrouding things in mystery – but based on how it was organized the last few times it was done, and based on what I learned here these seem to be the two main points:

Each club can pick 11 players to protect (with a few automatically protected, possibly DPs, though it’s a little vague). Only two unprotected players can be picked off each team.

So if these are actually the rules, who are the 11 guys our front office absolutely positively cannot live without next year? Here are my predictions:

  • I think they’ll protect all three of our DPs – Valeri, Adi, and Ridgy.
  • That leaves eight spots, which I think they’ll use to protect – Chara, Urruti, Nagbe, RFW, Powell, Villafana, Will, and Mikey.
  • If the DPs are automatically protected, that lets us protect 3 more – Zemanski, Kalif, Kah
  • If Nagbe’s auto-protected because he’s Generation Adidas, we can protect 1 more – Nanchoff

Clearly, this is all just my opinion, you may disagree, and I hope you’ll sound off in comments. But first, look at some of the names I left unprotected – Gaston Fernandez, Donovan Ricketts, Jack Jewsbury, Steve Zakuani, Norberto Paparatto. And looking above, Zemanski, Kalif, Kah, and Nanchoff, MAY be unprotected, depending on the rules.

Now, let me tell you about a couple names I almost left unprotected: Will Johnson and Michael Harrington. Big names, eh? Do you think the front office will leave Will and Mikey unprotected? After all, Zemanski played pretty damn well after Will got injured. And Mikey’s just plain lost his starting spot. Would the front office risk losing them?

We’ve got a lot to think about over these next three months. Our clubhouse may look very different when the team leaves for Arizona in February. Your favorite Timber may be gone. Your new favorite Timber may have just arrived. Will we have any new Argentines? Will Michael Harrington be wearing an Orlando City kit? Will the front office have signed somebody we haven’t even heard of yet who’ll spend next season knocking us on our collective ass?

I can’t wait to find out.

See you in a few months.

41 Comments Six Degrees: And Finally

  1. Pounder

    Let’s say we actually want Pa Modou Kah. He’s paid too much. Leave him unprotected, because nobody will pick him anyway; he’s expensive and not young. Well, I’d like to see Kah as an ambassador/scout/?, and think he should hang them up otherwise.

    With an injury, with Will Johnson’s probable pay, and turning 28, he’s not a long-term acquisition anyway… I think he could be dangled. That’s a risky proposition, to be sure, but sometimes you gamble.

    The way this game is played isn’t simply “protect your best players.” Youth matters. I tend to think you protect Zemanski. I think you actually protect Taylor Peay.

    Of course, my fear is the Timbers take this course and protect Alhassan.

    Reply
    1. C.I. DeMann

      The strategy of this will be fascinating. I agree that the FO may protect some younger players (like Peay) while dangling a few older. I’ll bet this is stressing them out, trying to predict who the new teams might want and who they can dangle safely. This will be a fun off-season.

      Reply
  2. Jack

    Good stuff, as always. Surprised you have Kalif and Kah on the second level, maybe protect, list. Kalif has had five seasons to show his potential, and it’s just never quite happened. Kah is on indefensible wages eating a disproportionate hole in the salary cap. I can’t see a scenario where either is back next season, so if not taken in expansion draft, I’d imagine the Timbers will just release them.

    Reply
    1. C.I. DeMann

      It’s so hard to tell, isn’t it? Does Porter see Kah next to Ridgy next year? Does he dangle him anyway, assuming no one will take him.

      As far as Kalif goes, I agree that we’ve seen enough, but he’s still young and that alone might be why they protect him. I really have no idea on that, but my gut tells me they protect him.

      Reply
  3. Roy Gathercoal

    How else would you finish out the season but with an enthusiastic thought-provoking piece. Thanks, C.I. Again.

    The eight initial misses are an easy (and huge) target, but don’t forget that just two goals (or some C- level defense) in the Toronto game would have done the trick, even with the glacial start. This team should go into the history books as the “almost” team. Almost made it to the playoffs, almost made it into the final rounds of the US Open, almost made the quarterfinals of the CCL.

    Interestingly, I don’t think you could really fault either Paparatto or Kah in the last six games or so, less Toronto. Both played in games resulting in clean sheets, both avoided red cards, and both avoided causing serious injury to themselves or to their teammates. That’s about all you can expect any more from central defenders.

    Does this mean that a Ridgewell/Paparatto/Kah trio will make a sound central back line next season? Just adding the fourth to constitute our second team, when needed? Or is the fan anger over the disaster of the first 2/3 of the season enough to make one or both of these guys unworkable?

    I was hoping you might mention Gleeson. What is your assessment of his play in the Olimpia game? If Ricketts says “enough” over the off season, is Gleeson ready for prime time? Is there hope of him being ready if Ricketts hangs on for another year?

    Speaking of Mt. St. Don, I caught a glimpse of last year’s Ricketts in that Dallas game. He STOPPED that ball with a diving save to his left that most keepers (including Ricketts for much of this season) would not have even tried. If Ricketts had put in the kind of year he did last year, or even a year at the level of the Dallas game, we would have given Seattle a run for the Shield.

    Consider how many of our games were lost (or tied) by one goal. Now consider how many of those goals would have been “impossible” to a 2013 Ricketts. A difference maker.

    So was last year the best of his career, or will that be next year? He did seem tired at times, but that Dallas save was all over hot. It got better in slo mo.

    So what is the overall narrative for 2014? Do you agree with me that it was the “almost” team? Or were we lucky to have done as well as we did, given the quality of our play? Perhaps this year’s problem was unrealistic expectations going in? How much change should we shoot for in this off-season? A matter of fine-tuning, with a couple of signings to beef up some areas, or some significant make overs in parts of the field?

    Reply
    1. C.I. DeMann

      I generally think teams get what they deserve and this year we played like a team that would miss the playoffs by 1 point. Our quality of players is better, but our quality of play was not.

      As far as “almost” goes, I almost dedicated an entire degree to the points that got away. I shit you not, Roy, we could have won our last 9 games. SHOULD have, really. On Aug 24, Seattle beat us 4-2. That was the last game where we were clearly the inferior team. After that, in order, we beat Vancouver 3-0, we SHOULD have beaten SJ at home but tied 3-3, we tied Colorado 2-2 on the road, even though they were a rotting, bloated carcass, we beat Vancouver 3-0 again, we surrendered a 2-0 lead and lost to Toronto, we beat SJ two games in a row, we SHOULD have beaten RSL except we got Nick Rimando’d, then we finished the year beating Dallas. Like I said, after that Seattle game, we should have won every single game. Nine wins = 27 points. Instead, we got 18. Did we deserve to win nine straight? Clearly not, or we would have. Yes, this is an almost team and an almost season. Last year, we knew how to win. This year, no. Next year? We’ll find out, won’t we?

      Reply
      1. Roy Gathercoal

        This is what has been haunting me, and I haven’t found the right way to express it. So what do I do? Try again, of course!

        There are teams who do seem to “deserve” the season they get. They are consistent, and play at a particular level, with little variation as to who their opponent might be. They consistently beat teams lower on the table, and tie or lose to teams way above them. This says nothing about why they win or lose, only that they will win or lose.

        Most teams look like this. This is why good observers can make predictions about the outcome of games at much better than a random rate.

        At the end of the season, good teams then do some tweaking or add a player. They don’t change much because they need to increase their level of play only a little, and making big changes comes with big risks. Lousy teams make dramatic changes, gutting their roster and trying to build something much better. They welcome the risk that their new team might not resemble the old team. Teams in the middle make more or fewer changes, depending on where they finished.

        Portland laughs at this scenario.

        They took the field in 2014 and no one knew what would happen. Not the players, not the coaches, and certainly no one from outside. They would barely squeeze out a win or draw or even lose to a lower tier team one week, then with the exact same roster would take the best team in the league to the wire, perhaps even stealing a win.

        Half of the time they didn’t look like they should be playing in the same league as their opponent, but half of these times they were much better and the other half much worse. Even within a game they might play like a much better team for 85 minutes then absolutely blow it for a short blip halfway through the first half.

        So now what does conventional wisdom say about this team?

        Not that it was a mid-table team, because this is the team that convincingly dominated games against top tier teams. Yet they can’t be a top-table team if they can’t win consistently. It is almost as if players made a secret die roll just before the game to find out what their level of play would be that game.

        Two more confusing things: How does the team with (at least nearly) the best away record in the league fail to make the play-offs? And how could it be that even when we beat a good team at their place, their coaches and players tended to say that their own performance was good, that pretty much every coach concluded their post-game interview saying that they had a really good game against Portland? Asked another way, how does a team of professional footballers consistently inspire their opponents to bring their good game?

        Something is rotten in Denmark.

        Things just don’t add up. I could understand saying “our defense was really bad all season long” but the stats just don’t support that. For much of the latter half of the season, Ridgewell was statistically one of the top three centerbacks in the league. And again, in the games he played, Powell ranked in the top dozen defenders in the league based on performance-oriented stats.

        And unlike other years we did not have to rely on inexperienced players on the back line. We had several solid options–probably not defensive MLS player of the year contenders, but certainly playing good enough to earn a spot in the back four in most other teams in the league. Yet even while we were finishing the season with an almost unbroken string of clean sheets (and how much more do you want from a defense) even as the team travelled to a midweek game in Honduras, the big break in that chain was giving up three goals to a team that had scored three only four times the entire season!

        The 2014 Portland Timbers is not a simple case of “the better team won.” For it seemed that somehow the team had the eerie ability to inspire their opponents while knowing in advance just how high the bar was going to be. . . so they could miss it by a little bit.

        Reply
  4. DysClaimer

    Two thoughts:

    1 – Yes, we are sure that Dan Kennedy is good.

    2 – I don’t think there is any circumstance under which it makes sense to protect Kah – in part because I don’t think there’s any chance anyone takes him.

    I’m not hating on Kah. but he’s massively overpaid. If we can believe the players’ union survey, he’s making $245K. Papa is making $100K. We can disagree about which of them is “better” but I think it’s very clear that Papa is the better value. I’d be tempted to protect Papa instead of Harrington for that reason. I’d hate to lose Mikey, but he’s essentially a backup at this point, and it would be nice to eventually get some consistency at the CB position.

    Reply
    1. C.I. DeMann

      Agreed. And you’re right, Kah might not get picked up, in which case maybe we bring him back, maybe we don’t. As someone said up above, he’d make a good team ambassador. Or a master of ceremonies, perhaps.

      It’s the Will and Mikey decisions that are going to give the FO fits. I don’t envy them.

      Reply
      1. Kevin

        I’d be shocked if the team didn’t protect Will. While some fans might find that a tough decision, I sincerely doubt the FO will.

        Reply
  5. Jack

    Another thing: Will is the team’s best trade asset. Captain, still under 30, good numbers, good experience. That said, I think the best formation for this team might be 4-3-3, with a midfield of Wallace, Chara, and Valeri, and a front three of Urruti, Adi, and Nagbe. Notice who is missing there? So use WJ as the carrot to get a new starting GK or CD to pair with Liam. There are still other capable backup midfield options remaining with Zemanski and Nanchoff.

    Reply
    1. C.I. DeMann

      VERY good point. I wonder if there’s an MLS centerback the FO has an eye on?

      As far as the 4-3-3 goes, I guess I’ve gotten so used to the 4-2-3-1 that I have a hard time imagining us any other way. I worry that Nags, RFW, and Valeri would all go forward, leaving Chara as our only CDM. Not that he couldn’t handle it. You have to admit, though, he and Benz looked good together, didn’t they? Maybe Benz was a key reason for ending the year with 3 straight shutouts? If so, that makes Will even more likely to go.

      Reply
    2. david martin

      4132, same players in the attacking trio, simply subsitute urruti for johnson. valeri will have to play more defense though.

      Reply
  6. kdbensel@yahoo.com

    It is nearly certain that Nagbe graduated from Generation Adidas after the 2012 season, so he won’t be protected. However, based on past rules, Tshuma will (GA). I don’t believe DPs were ever protected without requiring a slot in the past; teams have been forced to protect DPs who have no-trade clauses in the past.

    I don’t think the team protects Peay. He’s too far away from being a quality MLS player and it’s uncertain whether he gets there (although what we have seen is promising). I also don’t think the team should protect 3 fullbacks. I’d leave Harrington unprotected. He was good in 2013 but mediocre in 2014 and deservedly lost his starting spot.

    As far as running a 4-4-2, the team doesn’t have a true ‘6’. Chara is a box-to-box midfielder at heart and doesn’t just sit in front of the back 4. He can be asked to do so, but that gives up some of the value that Chara provides.

    Lastly, right now I’d say WJ’s trade value is extremely low. He suffered a severe injury and is unlikely to be ready to play 90 minutes at the start of the season. He also makes a pretty fair chunk of money. No way anyone (even Kreis in NYCFC) gives up a high quality MLS CB for him at this point. And all indications are that Porter really values WJ, so I don’t think he would be likely to be traded, regardless.

    Lastly, with the reports today of a torn ACL for Valeri, I think that makes it much more likely that Fernandez gets protected (which I thought was likely to happen anyway, but not certain).

    Reply
    1. C.I. DeMann

      agreed about La Gata. If Valeri’s down, he’ll be vital the first few months of the season. My main reason for thinking he’d go unprotected is that I’m still not convinced the other players like him. Something’s just always seemed off there. I could say the same about Will.

      By the way, I’d forgotten that Jason Kreis was coaching NYCFCOMG. He’s Will’s former coach. Would he grab Will, broken leg and all? Interesting question.

      Reply
      1. Timber Dave

        I don’t think Kreis would take Will. Remember Will was on the bench at RSL, and Kreis needs to be picking a starting team. Will could be a starter with Kreis having mainly expansion players available, but Will’s leg injury and poor form this season will make him far less attractive.

        Reply
        1. Kevin

          It’s incorrect to say that Will was on the bench at RSL. He wasn’t an every match starter, but Kreis rotated his squad a fair bit and Will played more matches in each of his 4 seasons than nearly any other player on the team. He played in 26, 25, 28, and 26 MLS matches during his 4 full seasons there (all but 8 were starts). Note that in two of those seasons teams played 30 matches during the regular season, not the current 34.

          Johnson played in 82% of RSL’s matches over those 4 seasons.

          In 2012 he played in all 4 of RSL’s CCL matches on top of the 26 MLS regular season matches he appeared in.

          In 2011 his 22 starts (out of 25 matches) were the second most of any RSL midfielder (Beckerman started 27), and he played every minute of all 6 RSL CCL matches.

          In 2010 he played in 38 of RSL’s 40 matches (MLS, playoffs, and CCL) and his 28 MLS matches was 3rd on the team.

          In 2009 he was 3rd on the team in MLS matches started with 26.

          Of the matches he missed, some were due to injury, some were due to coach’s decision (player rotation, form, etc.), and some were due to call-ups for the Canadian team (particularly in 2011, with the Gold Cup).

          For comparison, Johnson played in 28 and 29 matches for the Timbers over his 2 seasons. That works out to 83.8% of Portland’s matches, or nearly the same percentage as with RSL.

  7. John Lawes

    Sorry, but Kalif has had his opportunity. This season made up my mind; he just doesn’t have the right stuff. Unprotected.

    WJ. Frankly, given his salary and the injury, I’d be shocked if another team took the gamble. Kah is just too expensive for what he brings. Both left unprotected.

    I’d protect BenZ over Mikey, too, given WJ’s injury and his late-season work with Chara.

    Kennedy? Yes. He IS that good. I’d take him in a heartbeat.

    And the bottom line is that you’re as good as your record says you are. Our record says we were sixth best in the MLS West, and it’s hard to argue with that. Too many early season losses, too many defensive breakdowns, too many headspace and timing malfunctions. All that can be remedied, but it killed us this season, and that was pretty much that…

    Reply
    1. Kevin

      BenZ (who I like more than most do) over Fernandez, even with Valeri’s injury?

      To me, that’s the toughest decision.

      Reply
      1. C.I. DeMann

        I’m glad it’s not my job to decide. Gavin and Caleb will have a lot of sleepless nights this off-season.

        Reply
      2. fdchief218

        I’d say that the problem with protecting Gaston is that we have “other people” who can do what he does (like Maxi). BenZ is really our only “DM who’s not WJ” option. Don’t see anyone else we can pair with Chara to get the same effect, unless it’s one of the saplings…but they’re not really in danger. So to me, you gotta protect BenZ.

        Reply
        1. Kevin

          As discussion on STF has shown, you and I both value BenZ higher than many other Timbers fans. That said, the debate of Gata vs. BenZ is between 2 players who will likely be starters at the beginning of the season in place of an injured regular who will return (hopefully) not too far into the season.

          I think Gata’s drop in production, along with his other options (back to Argentina) mean that he will be less desirable to Orlando or NYCFC than BenZ. I view BenZ (along with Harrington) as a player makes perfect sense for one of the expansion teams. Fortunately we are likely to only lose one of them (or maybe neither, if both are protected). But if left exposed, I think we lose one. I’m not sure the same is true of Gata.

          As for Maxi, he and Gata both can play the role of “small 9” (although they do so very differently), but Maxi can’t play the 10, which Gata can. I certainly value Maxi higher than Gata, but Gata provides some things to the team that Maxi doesn’t.

        2. C.I. DeMann

          I agree with Kevin about Maxi/Gata. Gata can play two positions, 9 and 10, but I think Maxi is a solid 9.

  8. Kevin AlexanderKevin Alexander

    Your thoughts on who we protect and who we don’t prompted my own. It was easier to think of the guys I’d leave unprotected – Alhassan, Kah, O’Rourke. Assuming the DPs are protected (if they’re not, knock the bottom two off this list and see if anyone bites for Adi) here’s my XI:

    1. Diego Chara
    Diego stays. He’s the beating heart of the midfield. I still worry that he gives away too many fouls in dangerous areas which, given our poor set play defence, is a big problem, but he’s more often the guy who’s breaking up opposing attacks.
    2. Rodney Wallace
    Our attack is better with Wallace in it, and while his two regular partners (Valeri and Nagbe) get more of the spotlight, it’s often Wallace that’s actually making things happen in the final third.
    3. Jorge Villafaña
    Finally, Portland have a left back. Villafaña cemented his spot pretty early on, and works well with Wallace. He gives Portland some width, and a good left foot. Got to keep.
    4. Alvas Powell
    Speaking of full backs, I protect Powell next. Porter has hit on a good balance with Villafaña on the left and Powell on the right. Powell could definitely work on his defensive game some more, sure, but he’s a step into the future for Portland, which makes a change from buying in established, known quantities.
    5. Darlington Nagbe
    The goals dried up for Nagbe in 2014, but there’s no way we let Darlington leave. He works well with Powell, covering for the youngster on his regular runs forward, and it is this work on both sides of the ball that was a big factor in Portland’s attack finding some fluency, when it did. But, yes, there probably should’ve been more goals.
    6. Maxi Urutti
    He scores goals, and gives opposing defenses a headache. What more could you want?
    7. Will Johnson
    Like Nagbe, Johnson had a frustrating year, and not just because it ended in injury. Last season, the captain led this team to great heights, but this year he was often unable to influence games in the same way. His positional awareness is still strong, and he started to look more like himself when he had Ridgewell behind him. We keep the captain.
    8. Ben Zemanski
    As an understudy, Zemanski had served two years in Portland. I’m still not sure he’s first choice material, but he can fill in in midfield and rightback and is on less than $100k a year. Worth keeping, especially if Will’s injury has long term effects.
    9. Michael Harrington
    Look, Harrington has over 16,333 career minutes in MLS, and he’s still under 30 next year. That’s a lot of experience to dangle in front of a new franchise, and I’d rather have it in Portland. As cover on both sides, Mikey is more than adequate.
    10. Norberto Paparatto
    Adjusting to MLS will always take time. We’ve put the time in with Paparatto, who has had a year in Portland, and the Argentine is on less than half what Kah, 4 years his elder, is on. And, to be honest, he’s a better footballer than Kah. I could be persuaded that McKenzie is a better option, but my gut says we hold on to Papa.
    11. Michael Nanchoff / one of the young players
    We haven’t seen a lot of Nanchoff in first team action, but what we have seen is enough to convince me that he’s worth holding on to, especially since he’s one of the lower earners. VFM not such a pressing concern.

    Reply
    1. C.I. DeMann

      Unsurprisingly, these are excellent points.

      I question the forwards, though. You didn’t protect Maxi or Gata, and you said if you had to, you’d dangle Adi to see if anyone took him. I (think I may possibly) disagree. Remember before we got Adi? Everyone was frustrated because we didn’t have a big striker. Do we go into 2015 with the same problem? Adi’s finally figured out the team and the league. Also, can we do better than Maxi? Maxi and Adi together have 19 goals. Add La Gata, and we’re up to 26, I think. How many teams can claim their forwards have 26 goals? Plus, we need Gata to play the #9 3/4 until Valeri comes back. (and I’ll admit that I left Gata unprotected, too, but that was before I knew about Valeri’s ACL)

      I think we’ve got a solid trio of forwards. A trio other teams would love to have. Now, maybe they’re over-priced (I’m not sure), but they’re still quality. If we leave them exposed, we may have to start over next year.

      Reply
    2. nobody

      I can’t find fault with most of your selections, but I do agree with your take on Will Johnson.

      He’s expensive, he’s coming off a pretty gruesome injury, he’s also coming off a pretty ugly season, and the Timbers didn’t really seem to miss a beat when Zemanski came in to replace him. I’m not saying the Timbers should get rid of him (though admittedly I’d be fine if he left), but I can’t imagine one of the expansion teams coming in and taking him off of our hands given the above factors. Even if you want him to stay it’s worth the risk to leave him unprotected.

      Reply
    3. Kevin

      A few thoughts on your XI:

      – Harrington is an interesting case. I don’t think he’s a starter with Powell and Villafaña here and he makes too much money to be a backup (although his ability to play either side is definitely valuable). That said, Harrington is still a starting-quality LB in MLS and better than about half the LBs in the league. Letting him go for free in the expansion draft is probably an unwise business decision. Based on that, I agree with the need to protect him. But then deal him after the draft, as his salary and value are too high to be a backup.

      – Paparatto is also someone I want to protect, although I think most fans don’t. He was generally solid late in the season (despite his continued propensity for picking up silly cautions) and seemed to really settle down when played next to Ridgewell as compared to when paired earlier in the season with Kah.

      – I agree that Nanchoff has shown some promise, but I don’t see where he fits on the team going forward. The offensive portion of the midfield is Nagbe, Wallace, and Valeri. All should have several productive years left and are clearly better than Nanchoff. And while Nanchoff plays in the middle and Tshuma plays on the outside (so they aren’t really redundant), I think Tshuma is the higher-ceiling player. That said, I would be somewhat surprised if Nanchoff is picked, since Portland will have to leave some decent players unprotected and he hasn’t shown that much during his MLS career.

      I think Ridgewell may very well be grabbed if left unprotected, so that can’t be risked. I also wouldn’t be surprised if he has a no-trade clause (purely speculation), which – based on past expansion draft rules – would require that he be protected.

      So in the end, here are my protections:

      Ridgewell, Villafaña, Powell, Johnson, Chara, Nagbe, Wallace, Valeri, Adi, Urruti, … Harrington.

      I *hate* leaving Zemanski off the list, but I think Harrington is more valuable and you can’t let a solid starting LB go for free. Paparatto is #13 on my list, but I don’t think he will get selected. His season was too uneven in terms of play and injuries and with the other talent available from Portland I think he’s too risky for Orlando or NYCFC to grab. It’s also hard to not protect Gata, but he’s #14 on my list (and as Timber Dave points out below, it’s possible that his 2015 year salary is a significant raise from 2014, which would decrease his desirability).

      I think Portland loses either Gata or Zemanski, and then protects whichever of them remains or (less likely) Paparatto.

      If I protect Zemanski instead of Harrington I think Harrington is the first to go. Then the team chooses between Gata and Paparatto as the additional player to protect (likely Gata).

      In the end, Portland is going to lose two pretty solid players. Worst case scenario is Zemanksi/Harrington and Gata. That’s 2 very likely starters for NYCFC / Orlando. One could hope that we get lucky and they love Kalif…

      One thing not highlighted much here is that Gallego, Evans, and Tshuma are likely automatically protected based on their HGP / GA status. That’s one of the reasons I was particularly pleased with the drafting of Tshuma.

      Reply
  9. Timber Dave

    Making up the protected list is an exercise in balancing who we want against who the other teams want. My thoughts:

    – Valeri, Chará, Adi, Nagbe, Urruti, and Wallace are no-brainers.

    – Ridgewell would be a no-brainer except that he takes up a DP slot and salary that expansion teams may not want to use on a defender, so he could be possibly left exposed. But I think his meshing with the team is working out well enough, and finding quality centerbacks is trouble enough, that we should protect him.

    – For reasons stated above, Will J is too much risk and expense for other teams. Leave him off. And explain to him why, since it won’t be good for his psyche.

    – Harrington is good, and good left backs are hard to find (and left-and-right backs even harder), but we found an even better one in Villafaña. Powell and Villafaña are the sort of players expansion teams would love to get — young, appealing, on the upswing. That said, I sure hope no one takes Harrington, because he provides terrific depth for us.

    – Zemanski is young and energetic, and he’ll be appealing to other teams too. And he’s been working really well with Chará. Protect him.

    – We HAVE to protect Gastón because we’ll be without Valeri for two months or more next season. (This “5 months to heal from ACL surgery” stuff is nonsense.)

    ————————————-
    So my list becomes
    Valeri, Adi, Ridgewell, Chará, Urruti, Nagbe, Wallace, Powell, Villafaña, Zemanski, and Fernández.

    And I would protect Paparatto if I could, because he’s good for his price and he’ll be better next year. Unless his price goes up a lot next year: I think the FO likes to set up contracts with low pay in Year 1 while they check a guy out, and significantly higher pay in Year 2 if they keep him.

    Note this is who I think we SHOULD protect. Who I think Porter WILL protect is a different list. For example, he likes Will J so much that he would never leave him unprotected. Will Johnson is the player Caleb Porter wanted to be.

    Reply
    1. Timber Dave

      Kevin, after adjusting for the non-automatically-protected nature of DPs, my list differs from yours this way:
      I omit Will J and Harrington.
      I add Adi and Fernández.

      Reply
    2. C.I. DeMann

      I’m fascinated by your gambit of leaving Will unprotected on the assumption he wouldn’t get taken. A daring move, but it makes a lot of sense and would allow you to protect someone else, someone more appealing to the expansion teams.

      Reply
      1. Timber Dave

        It’s a risk, but I think it’s worth it to protect Jorge/Alvas. Kreis had Will sitting on the bench at RSL, so I see it as unlikely he would take him. Not so sure if Heath will take him though, and it’s definitely a worry. Harrington is an even bigger worry — I think we might lose him.

        Reply
        1. Kevin

          I agree that Harrington is quite likely to be picked if he isn’t protected. Players who can play LB are in short supply worldwide.

          And I mentioned this above, but Will wasn’t sitting on the bench at RSL. He played in 82% of RSL’s MLS matches and almost every USOC / CCL match from 2009-2012. He missed some matches due to international call-ups, some due to injury, and some due to Kreis not picking him. But he definitely wasn’t a bench player in RSL.

          For comparison, he has played in 84% of Portland’s MLS matches during his 2 seasons with the Timbers.

  10. Timber Dave

    Also I forgot to mention the new CBA. Reportedly it will raise the salary cap, perhaps by a lot. If the rise happens this year as opposed to being spread over several years, many teams will be upgrading a lot of players. If that’s the case, players we lose in the expansion draft won’t matter nearly as much.

    Reply
  11. rhamje

    I wonder if we’d be best served to deal Kalif right now, this week. Perhaps we also could deal off our next ‘good’ player not making the list. I’m guessing that’s Mikey. At least that way we get value for them, instead of just opening a roster slot for nothing. I recall GW doing an off-the-books deal ahead of the draft when Montreal came in.

    One other move I’d like to see – a raise for Diego Chara to the new CBA non-DP maximum ($450k?) in exchange for a lifetime contract.

    Final thought: funny how nobody’s list includes a goalkeeper. The consensus seems to be that Ricketts is old and overpaid, Weber is T2 fodder at best, and Gleeson is too inexperienced to be a real risk to lose. So assuming all three get passed over, do GW/CP keep any of them for 2015? I’d speculate only Gleeson.

    Reply
    1. Kevin

      The trade window is currently closed (as of Sept. 15). Teams will be reluctant to trade for players they need to protect in the Dec. 10 expansion draft unless they are really sold on them. I doubt Kalif qualifies.

      I strongly suspect that Ricketts is signed for 2015. That doesn’t mean that he has to be with the team in 2015, but he will need to be released (unlikely) or traded to be elsewhere next season.

      Reply
  12. Roy Gathercoal

    One thing we don’t know is what the Timbers’ “could get” list looks like. For example, if they had a potentially great RB spotted in Argentina, then it is easier to risk Harrington. Also remember that the dispersal draft for Chivas means that there are some second tier players that will be available—will this be before the expansion draft?

    I also wonder how we should weight the value of the investment we have put into developing players. Most collegiate players, for example, need a couple of years of seasoning before they are ready for prime time. If, for example, Nanchoff is at the point he is ready to pop, to repay the investment Portland has made in him, then it makes sense to protect him over a senior player that is close to market value, and who has just a couple of years left.

    I also wonder–a lot–about Gleeson. Is he the keeper of the future, or should we acknowledge that our large investment in him over the last several years was a mistake? What do you think about his performance last season with Sacramento, and his showing against Olimpia in Honduras? I do not believe Ricketts is through–his performance in the last couple of games was the stuff of 2013, not of 2014. And if he could do it then, he can do it again. He is not that old for a keeper, especially a big keeper.

    As to strikers, I wonder if unprotected players will be more likely to be safe because both Orlando City and NYFC have signed big names. It seems they will be more likely to want to find mids and defenders, than to use their picks on back ups up front.

    Also, how many picks does each team get? Do they get to continue to pick until their roster is full? Or do they keep going until each existing team has lost the two permitted?

    The scheming side of me wishes that Zakuani had waited to announce his retirement until after the draft. . .

    I am of two minds about Cap’n Will. On one hand he has been a fiery presence and focal point on the field and on the other hand he has been a fiery presence and focal point on the field. I am not so sure whether we really need Will Johnson’s fire because so many of the rest of our team (Nagbe, Valeri, Ridgewell, even Chara) are laid back and less likely to yell at teammates. There were a couple of times where it seemed Will went too far, pushed too hard, and might have burnt some bridges with other players.

    If so, then it will be a hard process to rebuild those bridges while playing football and it is not clear that the focused fire that Will brings really fits into the emerging personality of the team. Do we need a tough-as-nails well worn commander on the pitch? or will that guy clash too much with what the squad is becoming? I suppose I am asking if, as it is accepted in NHL, each team needs an enforcer to protect the Nagbes and Ricketts and Valeris?

    This will be an interesting–exciting–off season, especially if the ceiling is raised significantly. There are a large number of key player retirements across the league already and with the redistribution of existing players to new teams, everyone will have some gaps to fill.

    So to ask the question in a different way, “who do you see in the second tier of active MLS players who you would like to see in a Portland jersey next year? I don’t see it as likely, but E. Hurtado would be near the top of my list. For no matter what, there will be a lot of players shifting around as teams scramble to fill holes, especially in their second team.

    Reply
  13. Kevin

    Regarding strikers, remember that NYCFC and OSC can (and almost certainly will) select players and then immediately ship them off to existing MLS teams to acquire other assets. That’s how Dax McCarty was very briefly a Timber.

    Both NYCFC and OSC get to pick a total of 10 players. Existing MLS squads can each lose up to 2 players.

    As for Zakuani, I think it would have been virtually certain that he would not have been picked (and certainly wouldn’t have been protected). The timing of his retirement announcement has no impact on the expansion draft results.

    Regarding being fiery, it may be precisely the laid back nature of some of the players why the Timbers need a fiery captain. There was plenty of criticism and 2011 and particularly 2012 that Jewsbury was not fiery enough as captain. And I wouldn’t call Ridgewell laid back at all. He’s extremely vocal and very willing to tell players what they should be doing.

    While there may have been times when players didn’t appreciate WJ’s on-field fieriness this season, I would sincerely doubt if any bridges have been burned. There have been no rumors at all of dissent within the club outside a bit from Fernandez when he was subbed off in one match and the Fernandez – WJ issue around the penalty kick. Those guys are professionals and understand that sometimes things happen on the field.

    Reply
  14. Roy Gathercoal

    For the betterment of humanity, here are my wife’s picks. She knows.

    Ricketts

    Ridgewell
    Villafana
    Powell

    Zemanski
    Chara

    Nagbe
    Valeri
    Wallace
    Fernandez

    Adi
    Urutti

    (I know that is 12, take it up with her. . . ) She probably would give up Ricketts, but is very concerned we end up without a top-drawer keeper, and it seems that in the West (except LA) top keepers win games.

    Reply
  15. Roy Gathercoal

    So Kwarsey is our new keeper, and Ricketts is gone to Orlando.
    Harrington is gone, signed Jeanderson from Brazil;
    Signed Aspirilla from Colombia to replace AlHassan and/or Zakuani
    Signed Borchers from RSL to replace Kah

    More to come. . .

    Reply
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