The way Portland Timbers head coach Caleb Porter sees it, their first two picks in the 2015 MLS SuperDraft on Thursday provided his club – in a perfect world – with valuable first-team depth.
Porter said No. 5 overall selection Notre Dame midfielder Nick Besler, the brother of Sporting Kansas City and USMNT star Matt Besler, gives them a valuable commodity in midfield as captain Will Johnson works his way back from a broken leg and a versatile piece who can also slot in at center back.
While Andy Thoma, the University of Washington left back who slid to Portland in the second round following a sub-par Player Combine after being projected as a first-round prospect, could wind up at No. 2 or 3 on the depth chart, Porter said.
“I’m real big at this stage in our club’s evolution of finding guys who can fit roles,” Porter told MLSsoccer.com in a phone conversation from the draft in Philadelphia.
And the role Porter sees for Besler is as a true holding midfielder, one area of their roster he said was lacking. The fact that Besler could possibly fill a need in backing up defensive midfielder Ben Zemanski, Johnson’s expected replacement, was one factor that made Besler appealing.
And with just three center backs on their roster at the moment in Liam Ridgewell, Nat Borchers and Norberto Paparatto, Besler’s ability to slide to the backline, where he mostly played before coming to the Fighting Irish, was another plus, Porter said.
Of course, his pedigree was yet another “layer” that led to the pick.
“Nick was very high on our list, and ultimately he was high on our list because he ticks a lot of boxes,” Porter said. “We feel like he is a guy who will play with the first team, whether that’s now or in the future that remains to be seen and is based on him and the other players. … He thinks like a pro already, and that helps give him a better chance.”
In Thoma (24th overall), the Timbers have found “one of the top left backs in the draft,” Porter said.
He said the scouting they did on the Third-Team All-American made his slide at the Combine a non-factor.
“He’s a guy that is a specialist, he’s a left back, he’s an attacking left back,” Porter said. “He’s highly rated, good program and he fell because he didn’t have a great Combine, but ultimately if you watch this guy and have done your homework he’s definitely one of the top left backs based on potential.”
Porter was also bullish on their final two second-round picks, Southern Illinois-Edwardsville’s Christian Volesky (32nd overall) and VCU’s Kharlton Belmar (34th), forwards who can play at any of the three front-line positions in the Timbers’ system and will likely develop with their USL PRO side Timbers 2.
Porter called Volesky, the Combine MVP, the “sleeper” of the draft and said Belmar, a Timbers U-23 player who played under head coach Dave Giffard, a former assistant under Porter at Akron, is a “beast athletically.”