The Morrison Report: Coming ‘Round the Mountain Edition

Another Monday.  Another rumor about Jose Valencia debunked.  Another snarky rebuke from Timbers leadership.

Surer that the arrival of the train in “Coming ‘Round the Mountain,” the rumors of Trencito’s departure on loan took another cyclical turn on Monday, as the day came and went with the young Colombian still in the Rose City.

But the rumors won’t go away after another non-denial denial, and not just because Merritt Paulson previously implied they were considering making such a move.  The rumors of Valencia’s loan won’t go away for a more fundamental reason: loaning Valencia into the right situation makes sense.

Too often, those in tune with the soccer world see a loan spell as an impeachment of a player’s performance.  The player isn’t helping his team, the thinking goes, so they send him elsewhere with the possibility of bringing him back if he succeeds.

This doesn’t fit Valencia’s situation because Trencito is helping the Timbers.  Any realistic expectations for Trecito have been met, or perhaps exceeded, this year.  Without question, the prodigy has established himself as a nice MLS player and genuine late-game threat that is oozing with upside.[1]

Rather, the loan would be justified solely on the premise of getting the youngster some first team playing time while the Timbers are busy chasing the playoffs.  So justified, a loan would be about the opportunities the Timbers aren’t creating for Valencia rather than any lack of opportunities Valencia is creating for the Timbers.  Also, so justified, a loan makes a lot of sense.

What Valencia provides the Timbers right now is relatively easily replaceable.  He’s the third forward on a team that uses his athleticism late in games in which they’re chasing a goal.  For D.C. United, that player gets a good amount of run.[2]  For the Portland Timbers, less so.  Search the roster of just about any MLS team and you can find a reasonably priced player who can capably fill that role.

More important for the Timbers’ future, however, is that using Trencito in this way isn’t optimal for his development for two related reasons.  First, and most obviously, the lack of first team minutes limit competitive opportunities.  Despite the Timbers missing two forwards[3] for much of the summer, Jose has only logged 108 minutes over 9 appearances in 2013.  The reserves league is insignificant relief, as games are sporadic, shoddy, and tactically deficient.[4]

Second, the Timbers tactical usage of Valencia in the first team does not develop the skills that need developing, and may even reinforce some youthful bad habits.  Valencia has largely been coming on for Portland late in games in which the Timbers are chasing a goal.  The combination of tired midfield legs, tight defenses, and ticking clocks has meant that Portland has done a lot of searching for Trencito with long balls and very direct play.  Jose fills this role well, as his athleticism and finishing talent make him a danger to tired defenses.

But what will determine whether Valencia turns into a nice MLS player on one hand, or a top-class striker on the other, is whether he can learn to play 90 minutes within an offense, making clever combinations and incisive runs.  Repeatedly putting the youngster in situations in which he’s being asked to break down defenses by his lonesome does little to develop these skills and understanding.  If anything, it encourages him to rely on his talent to beat opponents one-on-one and make a play by himself.

If Portland can find a good fit for Jose, then, loaning Valencia out for nine months makes a lot of sense.  Finding such a fit is no small task.  Portland needs to find a taker that 1) wants Trencito; 2) will play him consistently in their first team starting eleven; 3) is willing to take him without an option to buy; 4) will take good care of him without said option; and 5) is a good systemic fit to develop the aspects of Valencia’s game that need work.  Simply put, there likely aren’t that many clubs that meet all five of those criteria.

Nonetheless, I think a suitable loan partner likely exists, and I would venture to guess the Timbers are in talks with at least one party of mutual interest.

Finally, before any move is made, the Timbers need to have a replacement for Valencia on the line.  While this isn’t the tallest order, sending Jose out on loan without a suitable replacement would be reckless with Ryan Johnson and Rodney Wallace likely set to receive another call to international duty during a crucial part of the stretch run.

If these stars can align, however, expect Valencia to spend the fall and winter overseas on loan.  But don’t expect this because some foreign media source said so, or because Paulson implied via Twitter that he was considering it.

Expect it because it’s the smart thing to do.  And if the Timbers’ front office has been anything in 2013, it’s been smart.

[1] It’s also incorrect to assume the Timbers are disappointed with Jose’s development.  Valencia’s effectiveness within the offense – in friendlies, reserves matches, and to some extent in first team cameos – has improved since the beginning of the season.  It’s been subtle, but it’s been certain.  Against Philadelphia on Sunday, Trencito created an 80th minute sequence in which he won a ball back, drew two defenders, slipped a perfectly weighted and threaded ball to Diego Valeri only to have the Argentine talisman narrowly miss Jose on his clever ensuing run up the left touchline.  He wasn’t doing that in March.

[2] Or New England Revolution, for that matter.  See Imbomgo, Dimitry.

[3] Liberally defined.

[4] For more to this last point, see the second reason, below.

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3 Responses to The Morrison Report: Coming ‘Round the Mountain Edition

  1. buckyball77 says:

    A loan spell I think ultimately means that we didn’t get quite the youthful prodigy that we originally hoped for. Every young player signing has an instant gratification component as well as the long term project component. We’re viewing Trencito as being moldable into something good – but probably not great.

    In the EPL, a loan-out means your stay with the lending club didn’t work, and the off-loading requires that the new club gets a try-before-you-buy deal. However, Valencia hasn’t been a sharp disappointment. He’s a player with significant potential upside – for some team.

  2. joe says:

    A loan spell means nothing except that he needs seasoning. If this were Europe, he’d have a bunch of cups comps to play in and he also is coming off severe cruciate surgery, lest we forget. And he has a MLS and EPL vet in front of him – it isn’t like Ryan Pore is starting in front of him.

    I’m confident that he will be an electric player, his pace and power are two things this iteration of Timbers are sorely missing and could use a fat injection of down the stretch. That sounds delicious.

  3. Quesocaliente says:

    I would bet the Timbers will have a lower league affiliate like SKC/ORL. If it happens, I could see Valencia going there on loan.

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