Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The Portland Timbers Desperate Need; One Man's Desperate Solution

Even this beats nothing....
I like where the Portland Timbers added depth this off-season, whether it’s the older new guys signed to back up Rodney Wallace (Dairon Asprilla) and Jorge Villafana (Jeanderson), or the six guys the Timbers picked up in the MLS Super- and Lesserdrafts: e.g., two central midfielders - one going forward (Seth Casipie), one covering the defense/distributing (Nick Besler); one left back (Andy Thoma...who the roster links as an "M"); one rather large defender (Anthony Manning); and two forwards (Kharlton Belmar and Christian Volesky). Various tweets and articles tell me that the team did all right with all six selections and the club is getting depth where it needs it for the most part. And that is great, it really is. Just...great...

Unfortunately, the team goes into 2015 with, to my mind, two issues left to resolve. Sadly, one of these issues has no solution, while the other has no easy solution. Neither issue automatically spells D-O-O-M, fortunately – e.g., a(nother) missed post-season, but one of them does threaten to impose tangible limits on the season ahead. That’s a round-about way of saying No Trophies for Timbers. Yeah, there’s no easy solution, but there is a solution, so, let’s sort that shit out.

So, the thing that can’t be altered is our tragic, broke-dick Diego Valeri. The Timbers’ star man will miss the beginning of 2015, in whole (that is, total absence) or in part (that is, working his way to match fitness). I think the Timbers Community has chewed on this long enough that the extent of the problem should be self-evident. So, get well, Diego. Now.

The second issue – i.e., the one with no easy solution - lives in that familiar Boogey-Man Haunt, the place where all Timbers fans dread to look: yes, the central defense. The Timbers have done, uh, literally, a thing or two to address this: apart from Manning, they hauled up instant pro-credibility in the person of the wily, the bearded The Borchers (or just Nat Borchers). Between Manning drawing favorable comparisons (to MLS legend and all-around calming influence Eddie Pope), and what I know of Borchers, these are good moves. But are they enough?

The two guys named above join the following cast of central defenders: Liam Ridgewell, Norberto Paparrato, Taylor Peay, and, possibly, Besler, who could slip back into central defense in a pinch (right?). To rate all of those, respectively, that’s a good veteran in an unfamiliar place (Borchers), a DP who had "moments" of all sorts in 2014 (Ridgewell), a player with, oh, a third(?) of a decent season under his belt (Paparrato), one relatively unknown (Peay), one basically unknown (Manning) and one totally unknown (Besler), perhaps playing out of position. Now, this could be the pessimism talking, but I see a ceiling for that combination starter/depth combo. That is, we need a bigger step from 2014. So, how to take that step...

My first choice would be to trade for one proven MLS vet for central defense. I’m not talking top-drawer, bank-breaking talent; I’d be satisfied with a steady, generally reliable vet a la Stephen Keel. The question, then, is one of which player, or players, or player-plus-financial/allocation incentive Portland can put on the block to get that kind of player. Here’s the tough thing: I'm really attached to our (apparent) depth. Characterizing this as a security blanket, and with all the baggage implied thereby, and you’re not far off. I just...like having the bodies.

The trouble is, the Timbers can’t get that level of defender without coughing up some value – and probably someone above the depth level. Well...shit.

There are other options, of course. The club can get serious about blooding Peay, Manning, or both of them, and hope 1) that they come good; and 2) that Manning, if he’s the choice, doesn’t suffer freshman burn-out. This solution strikes me as pretty high-risk, low-upside in the near-term; on the plus side, it could be the tits (or balls) over the long-term. So, call this option "Unterrible."

Option 2 is the most traditional in the world: dig up a quality defender in another league. Hmm...this feels expensive, for one, what with the scouting, the flying, the negotiating, maybe a transfer fee, maybe biding time till the club can pull off a free transfer. After that, you’re left waiting to see if you didn't just put in all that work for another Paparrato. Then again, Paparrato Dos probably beats handing the keys to the heart of the Timbers defense to a noob, so let’s call this "Double-Plus Unterrible."

All the same, I think intra-league trade makes the most sense, I find comfort in known quantities, etc. So, assuming money doesn’t bring the honey to attract the bees, who would I trade?

Well, I can putz around further or just throw Darlington Nagbe on the auction block. The fact that almost certainly won't happen is the only reason I hesitate to argue for it, but there are all kinds of upside to this. For starters, Nagbe would likely bring in a better defender - someone above Keel's level. Second, he's – what? A four-year pro? (Yep) – and the club is no closer to figuring out where or how to play him. This last piece makes the further argument in that anyone else I can think to trade – Rodney Wallace, say, or Alvas Powell – has a clear position that he plays well; in other words, I can make sense of both players' roles on the field...Nagbe, not so much. Of course, I’ll miss those insanely silky ball skills, the just plain touching humility, and, yes, he will almost certainly tear the Timbers' collective sacks in the uniform of some new team, because anger. Yeah, I get it. I still say roll the dice.

Failing that unlikely solution, maybe we can throw a couple depth players into a sack, bundle some allocation money around them, along with our current spot in the allocation order, and see who makes a call. I dunno. All I’m saying is that I’m pretty desperate for a solid defender who can plausibly press for starting minutes...like, trading-a-team-centerpiece desperate.

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