Wednesday, January 14, 2015

My Highly Specific, Perhaps Impossible, Recommendation for the Portland Timbers Day at the Superdraft

C'mon, it's totes worth it.
This will be the one and only post about tomorrow’s Major League Soccer (MLS) Superdraft. It focuses on the team I know best, the Portland Timbers: their wants, their needs, their dreams and all that’s keeping them from all three. Sure, I wish I had the chops for a global Superdraft preview, or, god forbid, one of those mock-draft thingies. That’s hard to pull off, however, when articles on the Combine and the Superdraft read like little more than a list of names, some repeating more than others.

I did find one novel, if broad, idea about the Superdraft in general tucked inside an article about new Houston Dynamo head coach Owen Coyle’s Combine experience:
"It’s a great question. Our first pick is at pick No. 8 and I think ultimately, for me, I would look to pick the best player available, the best player at that moment. The other thing with that, you’ve got to understand, these lads aren’t the finished product. You really are looking at potential."
That looks at the Combine/draft process with fresh eyes and assumptions, which I like. Most of the discussion I come across speaks in terms of teams finding players to fill holes in their rosters. That said, I get it: the purpose of the academies is to find players earlier, develop them and claim the same via exclusive rights. Then again, what’s wrong with finding a 20-dollar bill on the sidewalk? What, you’re too good to stoop for a $20?

Anyway, March to the Match touched on something similar to all the above – e.g. the history of finding value in the Superdraft, the rise of the academies, etc. etc. Before they got to that, though, they reviewed The Armchair Analyst’s mock-draft. He got to what the Timbers should do with their No. 5 spot around the 28-minute mark…which makes for a nice transition...

Now, personally, I’d love it if Portland followed Mr. Coyle’s advice. Not that I can name any names because, unlike in years past, opted against airing full games from the Combine. (Ah, the memories of watching Joao Plata light up his Combine, or current Portland player Schillo Tshuma's respectable appearance in (was it?) last year’s event. That gave anyone willing to be patient with the quiet stadia and subdued commentary a chance to know these players.) Without being able to watch these young bucks in a contextual habitat, we got nothin’. And so I bury Mr. Coyle’s advice with regret and turn to thinking about what the Timbers need and how best to get it.

The Timbers picked up some players this off-season, which (potentially) plug holes/provide cover at goal-keeper, left back and right wing. I don’t know what to expect from these guys, but coping with the growing pains of last year’s pair of Argentines (Gaston Fernandez and Norberto Paparrato) suggests skepticism as a default. Whatever they do, though, these new players are there and they’ll get a run (probably), so let’s shift to the positions on the field where Portland still needs some cover. For me, those would be central defense, central midfield (deep-mid, in particular), and forward.

To start with the obvious, it’s highly unlikely that we’ll find anyone in the Superdraft capable of providing major minutes in 2015. That sucks because, as I see it, we need cover in central midfield...circa now. Like any normal person, I hate waiting on this shit, especially with Will Johnson and Diego Valeri gimping around for the first few months of 2015...wait, no. Potential, man! Focus on potential!

Doyle’s draft preview for the Timbers (the url for which, it must be noted, ends with "armchair anal") picked two of the same spots I did: central defense and central midfield (that is, he didn’t mention forwards). When his mock draft forced push to meet shove, Doyle had Portland pick Conor Donovan, a central defender out of North Carolina State (go back to the 28th minute of the podcast for that). That fills a need without question: last year’s shitty, unending nightmare of goals given away both willy and nilly scarred us all. So, yes, this makes sense...but is it too safe? Moreover, I think the Timbers need help back there right now, so I’d rather see the team look outside the Superdraft for established players to both start and cover. So, unless this Donovan guy can step in a la Stevie Birnbaum, I vote Portland looks a little further up the field when weighing the draft options.

As much as I’m not sold on all of our forwards – i.e. Maximiliano Urruti’s the only one I really like, though I’m excited to see what Fanendo Adi can do over a full season – I think Portland’s deeper, long-term need comes in central midfield. I’ve heard positive chatter on more than a few players – Dan Metzger, Leo Stolz, and Cristian Roldan to name a few that stuck, though I hear Stolz ain’t interested (in here...somewhere); I only wish I knew more about them. The kind of player I’d kill to see in a Timbers uniform is a solid ball-winner/passer – e.g. the kind of metronome player Portland had only for that brief splitting moment (was it even a day?) when they had Dax McCarty. He went off to the New York Red Bulls, as everyone knows, and that was that. Anyway, one article had interesting things to say about Metzger (the words "hack" and "feed" both appear in his bio...but we’ve already got Diego Chara for the former), so there’s that...

The Timbers already have a pair of box-to-box guys in Will Johnson and Chara and that suggests the need for some new skill set - and we ain't getting it from Ben Zemanski. So, yeah, I’d really like to Portland find and groom the kind of midfielder described above, a somewhat-specific player of which I’ve heard, yet rarely seen. If he's in the Superdraft, that's what I’m after. So, uh, anyone think we can trade for Wil Trapp?

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