At the dawn of 2013, one of the few bright spots for the Timbers was its promising collection of young talent. And in 2013, each piece of that preexisting talent took – to varying degrees – steps forward on their path to development.
Darlington Nagbe turned his considerable talent into considerable production. Andrew Jean-Baptiste contributed several solid starts in central defense in which he showed substantial upside. Kalif Alhassan demonstrated he is well on the way to recovery from the mentally traumatic Spencer Era, and is in the process of getting his development back on track to reach his still-vaulted ceiling. Jose Valencia flashed his raw ability and a penchant for coming through in big moments.
From his days at Akron, Nagbe has always been a Caleb Porter guy. Porter similarly made his feelings about Alhassan very clear early on, stating in April that Kalif is “definitely [his] type of player.” Not surprisingly, both Alhassan and Nagbe inked new deals in Portland and look poised to stay in Porter’s fans for the foreseeable future.
Perhaps surprisingly, however, both Valencia and Jean-Baptiste, as well as Sebastian Riuncon, are making their way out of Rose City seemingly for good. Two Spencer Era acquisitions, two players with significant talent, two offseason departures.
In their stead are two relatively new additions to Porter’s stable of yearlings. Acquired midseason, Alvas Powell looked much less out of place in MLS competition than one would expect for a 19-year-old fullback whose youth club experience didn’t take him beyond Jamaican shores. Maxi Urruti seemingly fell into Portland’s lap when changes came to Toronto FC. While the jury remains out on both players’ ultimate prospects, Porter clearly rates both youngsters highly.
There are two major conclusions to be drawn from the Timbers’ offseason moves. First, the Timbers are rightfully approaching this offseason as though the future is now. With a best-in-MLS midfield core aged 23, 26, 27, and 27, respectively, PTFC would be foolish to make developing young players for three or four years down the road a priority over winning trophies in the present. Simply put, the team is in its prime – a remarkable development considering where the club was a year ago.
Second, and perhaps more interesting, the offseason moves are a reflection of a quiet, but complete handing of the reins to Porter. When the Timbers hired Porter, the new coach was required to inherit the already existing coaching staff – an unusual move that seems to have worked out fairly well – and was reportedly signed to a relatively modest contract. While Porter was certainly given the latitude to make his mark on the club from the get-go, the Timbers were initially a little cautious in giving Porter complete control of the club.
But make no mistake, as 2013 turns to 2014, the Portland Timbers are Caleb Porter’s club. The reform of the Timbers’ youth very much reflects a club being built in Caleb’s image with the majority of Porter’s inheritance being jettisoned in favor of handpicked replacements.
The offseason acquisitions of the more seasoned variety also have the gaffer’s fingerprints all over them – with the Timbers aggressively pursuing and signing Akron alumnus Steve Zakuani, and the rumored strikeforce acquisition, Gaston Fernandez, reportedly being targeted for his consistency with Porter’s attack dogma and looking like a near-perfect fit to mentor Urruti.
Moreover, with the departure of Amos Magee, Porter is poised to place his first major stamp on a coaching staff that previously had a distinctly institutional flavor. And Porter’s rookie professional coaching contract has already been turned into a lucrative long-term commitment.
Thus, while the departure of Valencia and Jean-Baptiste has caught some by surprise, transformation of the Timbers’ saplings into Caleb’s kids, then, is indicative of a more significant development within the club – the complete empowerment of Caleb Porter to steer the club toward long-term success and a full trophy case.
Onward, Rose City!
 This is probably a little bit of an overstatement with respect to Valencia. While it appears he’s headed to Olimpo de Bahia Blanca on a loan with an option to buy, the likelihood of Valencia’s return turns on the details of the agreement. While a loan with an option is usually the most buyer club-friendly deal because it lets the club test the goods before making a long-term commitment, it really depends on the strings attached to the option. If, for example, the option requires the payment of a substantial transfer fee, Valencia’s return may be likely unless he makes quite an impression by the white bay – in which case Portland would be handsomely compensated. Nonetheless, when a player leaves on a loan with an option, the result, more often than not, is a parting of ways between the player and the selling club.
 This isn’t to say the Timbers don’t have good young talent – they certainly do – but the focus has shifted decidedly in the past year from building for the future to immediate success.
 Which, by the way, was completely understandable at the time. While Porter was certainly a headline-grabbing hire, there were reasons to question whether he could be successful at the senior level considering his one experience with professionals went far from swimmingly.