PORTLAND, Ore. – Gavin Wilkinson and Caleb Porter made it clear Thursday that there is a progression to the Portland Timbers’ offseason moves, and the first dominoes fell with the acquisitions of Steve Zakuani and Jorge Villafaña.
And while they confirmed to MLSsoccer.com that they’re hoping to announce the additions of both a striker and defender in the near future, both Wilkinson, Portland’s general manager, and Porter, who will be entering his second season as the head coach, said the moves are only meant to bolster an already strong group, not transform it.
“We don’t want to disrupt the group, we don’t want to disrupt the good things and chemistry we have,” Porter said, pointing to the fact that the Timbers won the Western Conference regular season title and were one step away from the MLS Cup. “So we’re methodically enhancing the group in areas where we need to enhance it. Sometimes you can add a bunch of new pieces and you think you’re getting better but you’re getting worse. And that’s what we don’t want to have happen.”
The need to take a left winger, like Zakuani, who Portland nabbed with the No. 2 pick in Thursday’s Re-Entry Draft, came about when left winger Rodney Wallace tore his ACL in the second leg of the Western Conference Championship against Real Salt Lake. Porter and Wilkinson kept the injury under wraps so as not to tip off other clubs of their needs, and when Zakuani was let go by the Seattle Sounders, the club that took him with the No. 1 overall pick of the 2009 MLS SuperDraft, much to the surprise of Porter, he knew Portland had to act.
Minutes before the Re-Entry Draft took place, Portland traded center back Andrew Jean-Baptiste to Chivas USA for Villafaña and the No. 2 draft position.
“If you’re looking around the league to add a piece that brings width and penetration and a dynamic game-changing ability, for me Steve Zakuani has proven to be one of the better guys in the league,” said Porter, who also coached the Congo-born speedster at the University of Akron.
Better penetration on the outside was something Portland was already exploring before the Wallace injury. And both Wilkinson and Porter said the addition of Villafaña, who will be used at left back, will also address that, as well as depth behind starter Michael Harrington. Wilkinson did add, though, that Wallace “is still very much in our plans.”
“One of the things we potentially lacked at times was the ability to penetrate, the ability to stretch and get behind,” Wilkinson said. “And we feel that Zakuani offers that. And now with that, you’ve got the ability to use players in the middle of the park that are quality players.”
But to add, Portland also had to subtract and said goodbye to a second-year player in Jean-Baptiste with loads of “raw talent,” Wilkinson said. But Wilkinson said it was worth it to address a need and add depth, something that will serve them well as they embark on their first appearance in the CONCACAF Champions League next year.
“Depth around the park is what we’re looking for,” Wilkinson said.
Another transaction happened Friday with the trade of winger Sal Zizzo, who had been with the Timbers since the club’s first year in MLS, to Sporting Kansas City for allocation money. So don’t expect the moves to end anytime soon.
“We feel like we have a team that’s very close to being the team that we want, a team that’s capable of competing for trophies in the next several years,” Porter said. “We don’t need to change a lot. This is not so much bringing pieces in over a certain guy but just bringing certain dimensions to the team.”
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com.