The Morrison Report – Moving Monday Edition

Coming out of the 2012 season, it appeared as though serious roster turnover was inevitable.  On Monday, the Timbers took a big step toward seeing that through. In a flurry of action that will be remembered for some time, the Timbers added three faces and said goodbye to five more with potential for an imminent sixth departure. Here is what all happened on Moving Monday.

Incoming

Will Johnson – By far the splashiest newcomer of the day, Johnson has spent most of his career playing left mid at Real Salt Lake. In many ways he is the anti-Franck Songo’o. Gavin Wilkinson was clear on Monday that the team’s acquisitions were more about mentality than talent, and Johnson certainly fits that role. Although certainly a nice player, Johnson’s reputation largely centers around his work ethic and consistency – two attributes the Timbers have been lacking at left mid. It’s hard not to think, however, that Johnson’s arrival makes virtually certain an imminent move away from Morrison Street for Franck Songo’o. The question about Johnson, however, is whether he is worth his $243,750 price tag.

Michael Harrington – The Timbers’ biggest offseason positional need is clearly at fullback and specifically, until Monday at least, right back. While Harrington is naturally a left sided player, he has played both left and right back, as well as some defensive central midfield. Harrington, on at least a $125,000 salary number for 2012, spent much of the season on the bench for Kansas City behind two of the League’s better fullbacks in Chance Myers and Seth Sinovic. His salary number doesn’t shock the conscience considering his past solid form and versatility, but his lack of recent play is a little bit of a concern. Then again, the last recently relegated bench player the Timbers picked up from Kansas City turned out pretty well. At this point, considering the Timbers now have holes to fill at both fullback positions, it seems likely Harrington will have the inside track into the opening day XI at one position or another.

The HGP Rights to Bryan Gallego – As part of the deal that sent Kosuke Kimura mercifully far from these shores, the Timbers got back the Homegrown Player rights to Akron sophomore defender Bryan Gallego. Gallego started every game for Akron last season, and is ranked as the #52 upperclassman in NCAA Division I by TopDrawer Soccer. It seems likely that Caleb Porter will look to bring Gallego with him to Portland to continue his development this year. Don’t expect much from Gallego in the short term, but if anybody is in a position to know if this guy can play, it’s Porter.[1]

Outgoing

Kosuke Kimura – While perhaps the nature of his exit is a mild surprise – he was rumored to be getting looks in lower leagues in Europe – Kimura’s ultimate departure was utterly predictable. Timbers fans should come away from this one pleased that the Rose City got something – anything – in return for him.

Lovel Palmer – Palmer expressed frustration with criticism from Timbers fans about his poor play. My parting advice to Lovel, considering the quality of his performance in Portland over the last year plus, is if he wants unconditional love and adoration he should seriously consider getting a dog because his substandard soccer will never earn it. Adieu.

Steve Purdy – Purdy was another predictable release, as he struggled to break into the lineup at a position where the Timbers were a breath away from holding open tryouts. Nonetheless, Purdy’s tour in Portland was a more than honorable one. The players that came up with the USL side will always garner a little bit of extra love, and Purdy is no exception. He’ll be remembered as a good guy and solid player willing to play anywhere he could help on the backline. It’s guys like Steve Purdy that will always have a cold beer waiting for them in Portland.

Eric Brunner – While he didn’t come up from the USL side, Eric Brunner represented the second-to-last Expansion Draft pick on the team.[2] Traded to Houston for what must have been a respectable lump of allocation money, Brunner struggled with injuries in 2012, making way for the ascension of Hanyer Mosquera, emergence of David Horst, and development of Andrew Jean-Baptiste. In short, Brunner’s lengthy time away from the pitch made him a luxury. Still, Eric’s departure surprised me a little bit, as I thought his consistency when healthy and leadership role on the team would keep him in Portland through at least 2013. Perhaps as much as any other player, Brunner endeared himself to fans by seamlessly fitting in with Portland’s culture. That makes this departure a little more painful than some others.

Steven Smith – Late in the day on Monday, news surfaced that Steven Smith would not be re-signed. Word has trickled out that the offers he is getting in Europe would put him in the designated player salary range, something that is clearly too rich for Portland’s blood. Smith represents by far the biggest on-field loss, as he was one of the team’s better players over the last several weeks of the 2012 season. By all means it looked like Smith could become one of the better left backs in the MLS in 2013, a surprising development considering the Timbers picked him up in desperation last summer. Whereas his countryman Kris Boyd appeared to quit on the team after John Spencer’s dismissal, Smith seemed to become more dedicated to the team as the season went along. A tremendous professional and better-than-serviceable left back, Smith leaves Timbers fans with a decidedly “we hardly knew you” sort of feeling.

Rodney Wallace – Rod also found himself on the preliminary Reentry Draft List on Monday. While that generally suggests a player is on the way out, word has leaked out that Wallace is still in negotiations with the Timbers over a new, presumably smaller contract. If they can get a deal done before Friday, he may well be retained.

What’s Next?

For starters, I still expect a few more names to be added to the departure list. It seems almost inevitable now that Franck Songo’o and Kris Boyd will be leaving, if at all possible. The club’s comments on Monday almost exclusively focused on bringing in players that have a reputation as a hard worker. Any list of players in 2012 with a fragile mentality prominently includes Boyd and Songo’o – even if the latter showed substantially more on the field late in the season than the former. Simply put, Boyd quit on the team and Songo’o, while demonstrating solid play at times, was the green and gold standard of inconsistency. It’s hard to see how those two factor into what appears to be Morrison Street’s future plans.

Second, the Timbers seem to be in tough salary cap straights this year. This is probably in part due to Darlington Nagbe’s imminent removal from Generation Adidas designation and a rumored balloon in Danny Mwanga’s contract – perhaps to as high as somewhere in the $500,000 range. Obviously the Timbers won’t be parting ways with Nagbe, and would seem loathe to let go of Mwanga this early. Assuming the Timbers can offload Boyd,[3] don’t be surprised to see Portland re-designate Mwanga as a young DP for the year, making his salary cap hit a much more reasonable $200,000.[4] That way, Portland could keep Mwanga for the year with the possibility of renegotiating at the end of 2013, and save some much needed cap space for a couple more signings.

Speaking of signings,[5] where will the Timbers focus? Well, obviously, fullback must remain the top priority. Right now, the only outside backs on the roster are Harrington, Ryan Kawulok, and Chris Taylor. So there’s that.

I also still think the second priority is likely holding midfield. Seeing as how he is on the wrong side of 30, the Jack Jewsbury Era is living on borrowed time a little bit. While many have whispered Jonathan Bornstein’s name about as a potential fullback solution, I think it’s more likely he would slot in at defensive central mid if the Timbers choose to pursue him as an option.

Monday, then, posed as many new questions as it answered old ones.  While it is hard to quibble too much with any decision the Timbers made at the opening of the transaction window, it is clear that the moves’ genius or foolishness are far from determined. The offseason is just beginning.

Onward, Rose City!


[1] The story out of this trade, however, was the tradability of HGP rights, which apparently nobody had thought about before Monday. This adds an interesting new wrinkle to the notoriously nebulous MLS Roster Rules. Think, for example, how much the HGP rights to Rubio Rubin may be worth a year from now. Don’t be surprised if these sorts of transactions catch on, and, with further academy system development, become as routine as an MLB team trading established players for minor league prospects.

[2] Who would have guessed two years ago that David Horst would be the last man standing? And what happens to this status if Jonathan Bornstein or Robbie Findlay show up on our doorstep? So many trivial questions, so few answers.

[3] It’s worth noting, too, that the Timbers have not officially stated their intentions with Trencito Valencia. Remember, after the injury last year, the Timbers cancelled his purchase and instead took him on a year-long loan with an option to buy. The presumption all year was that the Timbers would exercise that option as long as recovery went well, but if PTFC isn’t satisfied with his form, he could be the source of another free DP spot.

[4] There is some ambiguity as to whether this would be permissible under the DP rules. While the rules do say a DP slot can be used to retain a current MLS player, it is not clear whether that is exclusive to out-of-contract players being re-signed, or whether a player currently under contract can be re-designated as a DP. If you care to look at the rules to make your own interpretation, check them out here.

[5] While I think signings are likely to have a strong domestic focus this offseason, we do know Gavin Wilkinson has spent at least a little bit of time overseas since the season ended.

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3 Responses to The Morrison Report – Moving Monday Edition

  1. Pingback: A Forecast High of 82 in Montego Bay Today | 5 Minutes to Kickoff

  2. Drayden Farci says:

    I’m confused about Valencia. I thought the deal was an extended contract/loan deal that basically added an extra year for him? They said in the article that his original contract would be effective immediately following the year. So is he not technically signed until we say so?

  3. Pingback: Slide Rule Pass - Roster Talk

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