20210203 josecarlos van rankin chivas
Chivas de Guadalajara

Why It Matters: How Van Rankin addresses the biggest need on Portland's depth chart

The Portland Timbers addressed one of the most pressing issues remaining in their offseason on Wednesday, with Mexican fullback Josecarlos van Rankin announced as a loan acquisition from Liga MX's Chivas de Guadalajara. The 27-year-old from Mexico City joins the Timbers after spending 2020 in Liga MX with Santos Laguna.

“Van Rankin is a quality player who will provide great attacking and defending balance,” Giovanni Savarese, the Timbers' head coach, said in his team's announcement. “We believe he will adapt quickly to MLS and his experience in Liga MX will be valuable across all competitions.”

Beyond the talent Van Rankin brings north, he helps address one of the thinner spots on the Timbers' depth chart. Here's why Portland's latest signing matters:

"Josecarlos is an experienced player whose flexibility to play numerous positions will help us not only in MLS, but in Concacaf Champions League play. Getting a proven player with his qualities on loan is a great acquisition ...”

Gavin Wilkinson
Timbers' President of Soccer

How We Got Here

Portland's undergone a small fullback exodus over the last year-plus. It began with Alvas Powell's departure to Cincinnati at the end of the 2018 season, was followed by Zarek Valentin's selection by arriving Nashville SC a year late, continued when Jorge Moreira's loan from Argentina's River Plate expired last June and culminated with Chris Duvall, Marco Farfan and Jorge Villafaña's departures this offseason. Though some remaining players are able to play fullback in a pinch, only two could be said to be natural fullbacks: the returning Pablo Bonilla and the recently-signed Claudio Bravo.

At a minimum, the Timbers needed to address that depth issue. In acquiring Van Rankin, the team has gotten slightly more. Capable of playing on both the right and the left sides (as well as in midfield), the one-time Mexican international augments both Bonilla and Bravo. At right fullback, though, Van Rankin will provide immediate competition for Bonilla, who was one of four players to start at the position in 2020.

At 21, Bonilla is still one of the youngest players on Portland's roster, and while he showed promise during the time he got last season, he still has room to grow. As that growth continues, Van Rankin will be able to come in and do what he did with Santos Laguna, Chivas and, before that, Pumas UNAM: compete for the starting job.

José Van Rankin career stats
Season Team GP GS MP G A
2011-12 Pumas 1 0 32 0 0
2012-13 Pumas 8 8 658 0 2
2013-14 Pumas 24 20 1783 1 0
2014-15 Pumas 32 32 2775 1 1
2015-16 Pumas 19 17 1393 0 0
2016-17 Pumas 24 19 1809 1 2
2017-18 Pumas 31 30 2645 1 1
2018-19 Chivas 33 33 2967 2 2
2019-20 Chivas/Santos 18 17 1531 0 2
2020 Santos Laguna 13 13 1110 2 0
Source: FBRef.com

Why This Matters (For 2021)

Given the average age of Portland's core players, the Timbers have a win-now roster. The Diegos Chará and Valeri, Sebastián Blanco, Yimmi Chará, Larrys Mabiala and Dario Zuparic are all well into the primes of their careers, and while young players like Bonilla, Bravo, Eryk WIlliamson and Jeremy Ebobisse are capable of contributing to their success, every team's always looking to improve. Given the Timbers needed fullback depth regardless, it made sense to seek out a player who could augment a position that, prior to Van Rankin's signing, had the least experience on the roster.

According to a self-assessment he gave Timbers.com, Van Rankin is a player that likes to "get up and down the field," venturing into attack toward the opponent's goal while being "intense defensively." While that may sound like how most fullbacks see themselves, it also could provide some symmetry to the new fullback Portland acquired for the other side of the defense. Though Bravo is a few years younger than his new Mexican counterpart, he is also somebody who provides value with his threat going forward, and while it remains to be seen how he adjusts to defending in Major League Soccer, he, like Van Rankin, is at least willing to throw himself into a challenge.

Where the future of Van Rankin is easier to foresee is in the attacking phase. As the Timbers showed during the 2020 season — particularly down their left side with the presence of Villafaña — getting a fullback high early as they build play was an important part of their approach. The type of combinations we saw come in from that flank involving Villafaña, Yimmi Chará and Valeri were some of the most impressive movements of the team's fall.

If Bravo and Van Rankin can replicate that presence, Portland can not only build on 2020 but, with a similar presence on the opposite side, be able to expand that approach, leveraging the return of Blanco and their fullback acquisitions to replicate what worked so well with Yimmi Chará and Villafaña.

Why This Matters (Beyond)

As of now, it's unclear how much this move will matter next year, but at a minimum, the acquisition should be a bridge to the next solution. Just as Moreira's signing was a solution for 2019 and the arrival of Duvall provided enough options in 2020, Van Rankin can, at a minimum, fit a need for 2021.

At some point, there will need to be a long-term vision for the position, though in truth, that vision may already be on the roster. His name is Pablo Bonilla. Bonilla was an option last season, too, when he was originally thought to be destined for Timbers 2. Though his level has elevated since then, the needs of this year's team are similar. As his development continues, the team will continue to need other options.

There is, however, the possibility that Van Rankin is here for more than one season. Here, the Moreira example is helpful again. Before a knee injury and the COVID-19 pandemic changed plans around his time in Portland, the Paraguayan was on track to be a long-term solution. Both player and club wanted the relationship to continue. Though he was originally brought in as a patch for that present, he became an option for the future, albeit an unrealized one.

Van Rankin is somebody who has been a starting fullback for three prominent Mexican teams. He's still only 27, so it certainly seems possible he could fill a similar role in Portland. If that happens, both sides may seriously look at the option part of his loan. If that means the Timbers have more than one starting-caliber player at a position, that won't be unlike a few other places on the roster.

What's next

Though his moves may go beyond one more signing, the shopping list Wilkinson shared at the beginning of the offseason has almost been addressed. The biggest need remaining: a young center back to address the last thin part of the depth chart.

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