Along with recent trade activity, GM Wilkinson has been scouting South America
Last week's flurry of trades and roster moves by the Portland Timbers certainly signaled that changes were afoot ahead of the 2013 MLS season. With new head coach Caleb Porter soon to arrive in Portland, no time was wasted in altering the roster to better fit his vision.
However, prior to the numerous transactions, general manager Gavin Wilkinson had also spent a good deal of time after the season ended scouting overseas as well to explore further possibilities overseas--primarily in South America.
The first stop was Ecuador where Wilkinson checked in on a player that the Timbers have had their eye on for some time. Next up was a visit with the Colombian side Santa Fe where Wilkinson spoke to Jose Valencia’s former team about the player’s loan agreement. The bulk of the trip, however, was spent in Argentina.
With over 40 professional teams in the Buenos Aires area and a schedule that included youth and reserve games in the morning followed by evening matches at 7 and 10 p.m., Wilkinson spent just over seven days watching a minimum of two matches per day. “It’s incredible over in Argentina,” he said. “It was a very productive trip as far as looking at the quality of the players.”
Armed with a list of needs and ideas for the team from Porter, Wilkinson was also in constant communication with the new head coach while he finished his duties in Akron.
“We’re in communication every day, many times over email, over texts and at least speaking two or three times a day,” explained Wilkinson. “If there’s a player that I think Caleb would like, immediately he receives all the information. Games are downloaded to our server and he’s watching games on a daily basis based on what I saw the day before.”
Given the speed at which the two stayed in contact, if Porter saw something that he liked, Wilkinson would then look to try to meet with the player while still in country.
Another asset for Portland was the occasional assistance from clubs with whom the Timbers had built relationships via past friendlies played in Portland. Boca Juniors, who came to Oregon in 2010 to play the then-USL Timbers, as well as Independiente, which came to take on the MLS Timbers in 2011, both worked with Wilkinson while he was in Argentina.
“I was at the Boca Juniors game in the presidential suite,” he said. “I think the way in which we’ve treated those clubs when they’ve come to Portland has been reciprocated when I’ve traveled.”
But at the end of the day, it comes down to who you can find. Wilkinson says he and Porter have been creating lists, spreadsheets, and depth charts for every position on the squad taking into account a checklist of skill attributes, budget, succession planning for long term and more.
“There’s certain criteria we want in every position: proven starter, work ethic, communication, organization, winning mentality, leadership, the right age, athletic, good positional sense, good size,” said Wilkinson. “We’ve broken down all this and we take it in as a shopping list.”
Balancing those and how many boxes they can check off for any given player remains fluid. For example, a scouting trip to Africa was planned but knowing what was seen in South America and what was accomplished via MLS-related trades, it was called off.
Wilkinson has said that more moves remain on the horizon and with the 2013 MLS SuperDraft drawing near, there’s still plenty of time for significant roster alterations to occur prior to next season’s 2013 First Kick.