Wilkinson: Trades just start as Timbers take on new look
PORTLAND, Ore. – The Portland Timbers hit the first official day of the MLS offseason in full stride, with general manager Gavin Wilkinson assessing the torrent of moves made on Monday.
Wilkinson told MLSsoccer.com that the acquisition of Kansas City fullback Michael Harrington and RSL midfielder Will Johnson in separate trades is part of the transformation of the club into the image desired by new head coach Caleb Porter.
The new arrivals exemplify a hard-nosed mentality that the front office hopes the 2013 team will embody as it attempts to put the pieces back together after a difficult 2012 campaign.
“We have enough athleticism, we have enough ability,” Wilkinson said. “What we want to fix is maybe the mental side of it and bring in mentally tough guys who have been in the league and succeeded in the league.”
WATCH: Will Johnson scores in 2012
And that’s exactly what Harrington and Johnson have displayed during their veteran careers.
Harrington, a 26-year-old defender, started 27 or more games his first four seasons after SKC selected him with the third overall pick of the 2007 SuperDraft. He began seeing his playing time dip the past two years, however, as Seth Sinovic and Chance Myers emerged at the outside back spots.
“First of all, he’s a player who Caleb likes, and he’s a player who fits the system in the way that he plays,” Wilkinson said of Harrington, who will join the team full-time in two weeks. “But there’s also the character side of it. He’s a good competitor and works hard day-in, day-out and he wants to win. Here’s a player with MLS experience who can play left back or right back.”
Johnson, a fixture on one of the league’s most successful sides over the past five years, is a versatile midfielder who Wilkinson said was a “very important piece” of the Timbers’ offseason priorities.
“He’s a player whose mentality is infectious both on the training field and on matchday, and he’s a player who we think will bring tremendous assets to this organization,” Wilkinson said. “He’s another character guy with a tough mentality that will play on the road and at home and roll his sleeves up and represent our fan base on the field.”
Of course, there are also sacrifices that come with personnel decisions. And one of those was sending central defender Eric Brunner to Houston in exchange for allocation money. Brunner was a fixture on the Timbers backline the past two seasons before an ankle injury cut into his playing time midway through 2012.
“Eric is a phenomenal person,” Wilkinson said. “He was a great pickup by the club. The way that he carries himself, him as a person, him as a player, he’s just very, very well-liked. It’s just kind of the business side of it, unfortunately.”
The Timbers also parted ways with outside defenders Kosuke Kimura, Jamaican international Lovel Palmer and El Salvador international Steve Purdy. And Wilkinson said he expects to announce more moves in the coming days as the roster takes on a new look.
“The general manager’s job is to get the pieces for the head coach to help the success of the organization, and it’s about the organization,” Wilkinson said. “And it’s also about giving Caleb the pieces he wants to work with, the pieces he thinks will contribute the way he sees them contributing.”
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at email@example.com.