At long last this offseason, changes are afoot on Morrison Street. No, it wasn’t the SuperDraft selections or a rumored international signing that did it, rather it was the unexpectedly timed departure of Kenny Cooper that signaled the imminent changes for the Timbers.
Half an hour before the SuperDraft the news leaked out: Portland sent Kenny Cooper to Red Bull New York in exchange for New York’s highest 2013 first round draft pick and allocation money. The primary goal for Portland was to clear Cooper’s hefty salary off their books, presumably in preparation for one or more forthcoming international signings.
The departure of Cooper, however, does create a bit of a hole up front. Cooper was Portland’s only true target up front, even if he was somewhere south of effective at times. His ineffectiveness probably wasn’t entirely his fault, as he was often starved for service. While Portland occasionally sported outside backs who enjoyed overlapping and whipping crosses in toward a target, Portland’ offensive MO was really centered around set piece execution, interior runs from the wings, and the occasional long ball forward. With the lack of change on the wings and flanks thus far, there really isn’t reason to expect change in the near term.
The reality is Kenny struggled to hold the ball up at times, often being easily dispossessed or stalling an attack with the ball seemingly Velcroed to his feet. Darlington Nagbe seemed better suited to that withdrawn spot, and with the lack of quality service from out wide Kenny was sometimes a man uncomfortable with his role in the strikeforce.
The question, then, is where does Portland go now that it is seemingly flush with cash? Gavin Wilkinson has already telegraphed part of the answer, suggesting to MLSSoccer.com’s Simon Borg that the Timbers are in the hunt for a top-quality striker in the transfer market. The suspicion here is the Timbers have already identified and likely signed said striker, who is just awaiting approval from the League or FIFA.
It is also likely the Timbers would have the financial wherewithal to make a second significant move – likely to bolster the backline, and maybe even a third smaller move, depending on Portland’s allocation money reserves. Considering the unit’s tepid production last year, it seems likely the Timbers would be interested in bringing in a right wing, especially in light of the injury to Sal Zizzo. The other place Portland could look to upgrade is on the flanks, although improvement there comes at a steeper price than in the midfield, and once it came together the defense performed fairly well in the last half of 2011. Finally, with Horst out at least into the summer, the FO is probably looking to bring more center back depth to Morrison Street.
Center back was never a serious problem for Portland last year, and the tandem of Futty and Eric Brunner seems perfectly serviceable going into 2012. The problem is the Timbers are one separated shoulder away from 19-year old Andrew Jean-Baptiste being forced into starting first team action – something the Timbers aren’t likely wild about early on. Look for Portland to make a smaller move – something like picking up Portland native Ryan Cochrane on free transfer – to provide a little more depth to the middle of the defense.
Regardless of what ends up going down, it seems likely that next week will be an eventful one for the Timbers. So don’t stray too far from the internet.
After speculation the Timbers would trade out or down in the draft, Portland made their two assigned draft picks on Thursday. With the Eighth pick in the draft, Portland selected Andrew Jean-Baptiste from the University of Connecticut. A hulking, raw center back, Jean-Baptiste comes in as a high-upside guy who could need a year or two of seasoning before he is ready for substantial first team action. Nonetheless, the physical tools are there for Jean-Baptiste, who looks primed for at least two years of Generation Adidas designation, meaning he will stay off Portland’s books while he develops.
With the 27th overall pick, Portland landed Brendan King from Notre Dame. King likely projects as a central midfielder, although absent a breakout, will likely spend time roaming the midfield in the reserves before getting his shot at the first team.
Finally, before draft day the Timbers picked up a young man who needs no introduction to the Timbers Army, Brent Richards. After dominating the U-23 level for three years, Portland made Richards their first Home Grown signing. Richards put up a video game-like 26 goals and 12 assists in his three-year Timbers U-23 career, leading the 2010 U-23ers to an undefeated and untied season and, obviously, the PDL title. Former U-23ers have already seen success at the senior level at Morrison Street, with Jake Gleeson and Freddie Braun impressing in their senior debut last year. Richards is arguably the best of that bunch. While he starred as a striker at the U-23 level, Merritt has suggested Brent may fit in on the wings in MLS.
With that said, we are 9 days from training camp opening.
Onward, Rose City!
 It has been rumored, but not confirmed, that the allocation money is conditional on Cooper staying in New York beyond 2012. If true, this is a clever hedging mechanism. If Cooper’s form doesn’t improve in 2012 from where it was in 2011, Portland received more than fair compensation in the form of New York’s draft pick and, more importantly, salary cap relief. If his form improves, on the other hand, and New York wants to keep Cooper, the Timbers will have another wad of allocation cash coming their way. Either way Portland wins, and isn’t likely to have seller’s remorse.
 Steve Purdy at right back and, to a lesser extent, Mike Chabala on the left side being the best examples.
 It is certainly worth noting, perhaps unjustly in a footnote, that Kenny fared quite well paired with Darlington up top. For a variety of reasons, that pairing seemed to be able to get Kenny the ball in front of goal more often. Not surprisingly, his output increased dramatically.
 Don’t get me wrong, though, I would love an upgrade at either fullback position.
 I have had to resist the temptation to muddle King’s name into Bernard King – the great Washington Bullets basketball player.
 That’s a total of 37 matches.