Not many batted an eye on Monday when Eric Alexander was shipped to New York in exchange for allocation money. Soccer By Ives reported the Timbers received the league minimum $75,000 in allocation for Alexander and will pay a portion of Eric’s 2013 salary. While Eric played well at times for Portland, and was one of the few players whose deliverables met his aesthetic effectiveness, it was clear in the first three preseason games that he was having a hard time making an impression on Caleb Porter. The compensation, however, seems light for a guy that led the team in assists in 2012.
The unsurprising turned perplexing at lunchtime on Wednesday, however, when Portland traded allocation money and the rights to Jonathan Bornstein to Chivas USA for Ben Zemanski. Zemanski is primarily a defensively minded midfielder who can play either in the center or on the right.
Whereas Alexander had six assists in 1302 minutes over 24 appearances and 14 starts in 2012, Zemanski had two assists in 1649 league minutes over 22 appearances and 18 starts. So Zemanski’s measurables don’t compare favorably to the guy the Timbers traded on Monday for $75,000 of allocation money.
So, then, why did the Timbers trade at least that much allocation money and the rights to a former U.S. national teamer that has extensive experience in a position of need in exchange for a guy who is less proven than the one they shipped out and plays a position of relative surplus?
Well, the most reasonable explanation would be that Caleb Porter is familiar with Zemanski from his days at Akron, rates his former player highly, thinks Zemanski fits well within his system, and likes what he brings as a leader and teammate.
That might be reasonable to everybody except the Timbers. On Twitter, Merritt Paulson suggested the idea that Porter was looking to bring players he’s familiar with from his days at Akron was a conspiracy theory. And as The Oregonian’s Geoffrey C. Arnold reported, Caleb Porter chafed at the notion as well, saying “It has nothing to do with [Zemanski] being at Akron . . . I’ve seen [what he’s capable of doing] in MLS. He’s one of the most underrated midfielders in the league.” Porter added, “The perception is I want a bunch of Akron players here. I could care less about having Akron players here. By no means is that going to be the basis for decisions.”
Apparently in completely unrelated news, the Timbers later on Wednesday traded a 2015 second round Supplemental Draft pick to Vancouver in exchange for the rights to former Akron midfielder Michael Nanchoff. Oh, and earlier this offseason the Timbers traded Kosuke Kimura to New York for allocation money and the Homegrown rights to Akron defender Bryan Gallego. And the Timbers drafted former Akron goalkeeper David Meves in the Supplemental Draft. Coincidences, all.
The troubling thing about this is not that the Timbers seem predisposed to bringing in players with whom Porter has experience. Instead, it’s that the Timbers are going to such strained lengths to deny it. Such a predisposition would be natural, to say nothing of completely rational. In soccer, just as in the real world, managers want to bring in players they are familiar with and like. And as long as the team isn’t making absurd moves to bring former Zips in, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with it. At least until today, all the moves made perfect sense. You could even say some were a steal.
Bizarre denials aside, however, it’s hard to see how the Zemanski trade pencils out in the context of letting Alexander go. Zemanski’s natural spot is either on the right wing or, although somewhat less likely, at right back. The spot on the right wing is the most crowded position on the team, with Darlington Nagbe, Sal Zizzo, and Kalif Alhassan all making legitimate claims to it. Will Johnson and Diego Chara have a mortal lock on the true defensive midfield spots, with Jack Jewsbury likely sitting on the bench as an enviable backup. And Ryan Miller has looked more than capable of providing the Timbers the best right back play they’ve had in MLS, with, again, Jewsbury and a decent looking Ryan Kawulok there to back him up.
So, in the last 72 hours, the Timbers have traded away their 2012 leading assistant and the rights to a former American national teamer who plays a position of need in exchange for a borderline starter. And we’re all conspiracy theorists for thinking it might have something to do with Porter’s experience with Zemanski.
Onward, Rose City.
 Details of trades, such as the amount of allocation money and partial payment of salary, should be taken with a considerable grain of salt. As a matter of policy, neither league nor club sources will publicly confirm or deny their accuracy. I assume their accuracy for lack of more reliable information and, simply put, because I don’t think the League’s absurd nondisclosure policy should be an excuse for not reporting the best information available. If either the League or the Timbers are concerned about inaccurate information being reported, they should report the correct information.