December 7th, 2012 by Michael Orr
Monday was the day of reckoning for the Timbers’ back line, as contract options were declined for three defenders and a two others were traded. Thursday was the dose of reality for anyone who thought the blowing up of the defense might extend across the entire roster. Instead, Portland picked up options or re-signed eleven players from the 2012 season including four midfielders and two forwards.
While the club is certainly not finished making moves, the guillotine of Monday is not the model for the remainder of the offseason. There were always going to be several players dropped, and perhaps Monday’s reboot of the defense, particularly in the wide positions, was the easiest way to clear senior roster spots for incoming replacements. Already, Michael Harrington has been added to the fold. With four 2012 starters (Steven Smith, Kosuke Kimura, Lovel Palmer and Steve Purdy) jettisoned under various circumstances, not to mention centerback Eric Brunner, it seemed like the cuts through the roster were just beginning.
But Thursday was a reminder that an entire squad cannot be changed overnight, nor even in a single offseason. Senior roster spots are more valuable than those not counting against the salary cap. While fans might wonder why the club would retain Chris Taylor, he of zero first team appearances in his two seasons, and trade Brunner, it has little to do with their relative abilities to impact the team. Brunner held value and a senior spot. Taylor doesn’t. The point is that players like Taylor and newly re-signed Ryan Kawulok might not ever compete for starting roles, but every club needs thirty players and not all of them will end up being extremely attractive prospects.
Though more changes to the roster are expected even before the end of the calendar year, it is clear that the subtraction part of the overhaul is mostly complete. The re-signing of Rodney Wallace, for example, is a victory for Gavin Wilkinson and Caleb Porter. They value his flexibility and athleticism but did not want to continue to overpay for what is likely to be a full-time substitute in the future. The club did not have to negotiate a new deal with Wallace, but were he to exit now, it would be yet another spot to fill in what is an already busy offseason. Likewise, contract options were picked up for Eric Alexander, Bright Dike, Kalif Alhassan and Sal Zizzo. If the Porter era is to begin with a major shake-up of the offensive model, it will do so with more changes in emphasis than personnel.
As previously mentioned, it is impossible to throw out an entire team and import new players in one offseason. Porter was always going to keep a high number of existing players – the only question was which he preferred. It is still possible for players like Kris Boyd, Franck Songo’o or Danny Mwanga to depart before the 2013 season begins, but it is more likely that Porter will work with who he has in advanced positions and use the 2013/14 offseason to fine tune his attacking presence. That is not to discount the addition of Will Johnson, or others who will join him as new Timbers in 2013. But it is clear that the thrust of Porter’s supposed overhaul is past and the rest of the offseason will be used to augment what is already in place.