Age, skill, roster spots: Timbers' latest signing Tomás Conechny checks all the boxes

Every team is going to try to hype up their new signings. That’s only natural. But even by that standard, Tomás Conechny gives Portland Timbers fans and coaches a lot to get excited about. You don’t acquire a player of his skill, age, pedigree and international status without getting a little into it.

But in a salary cap league with roster limits, as well as a certain level of scrutiny over the players who can and can’t be added to squads, there is always more to a player’s acquisition than what he can do on the field. Conechny may have just turned 20. He may have been a regular starter for Argentina’s U-17 and U-20 teams. And his left foot, on film, may look like one of the most promising weapons you could find on a player his age. But in MLS, there’s always how those attributes line up with the strain on your scarcest resources: your Designated Player and international spots, as well as the Targeted and General Allocation Money you might have to use to get him.

Those standards give Timbers fans even more reason to be excited about Conechny’s acquisition. When he hits the team’s roster, the San Lorenzo-groomed attacker will not occupy a Designated Player spot, and although he will require one of the team’s current international spots, Conechny’s salary will be in the middle-to-low end of the team’s wage bill. And, having drawn attention from other teams across Major League Soccer, there’s reason to believe Portland’s new attacker is ready to contribute in both the near and long terms.

“Tomás has been on our ‘potential targets’ list, and he was on the radars of other organizations in MLS,” team general manager and president of soccer Gavin Wilkinson explained, “so with his skillset, this acquisition was a no-brainer. We are able to take him on loan with a small budget hit and a future purchase price that makes sense for everyone.

“San Lorenzo went through a change in their technical staff and wanted to find a place where Tomás could compete for minutes. This gets the players’ wages off their books and onto ours while providing San Lorenzo incentives in the future.”

Wilkinson’s words answer a question that, if this transfer works out, could be asked often in the future: How did the Timbers get a player with Conechny’s resume without devoting more resources to the acquisition? In truth, it’s too early to say now much has gone into the move, as the player’s just on loan, for now. If all works out, there will be a purchase in the future, and another financial commitment with it, a process that has worked out well for the Timbers, before.

“This is a unique opportunity where we can take a young player on loan,” Wilkinson confirmed, alluding to the player’s situation with his club in Argentina. That the Timbers have done business with San Lorenzo before, for Sebastián Blanco, undoubtedly helped, giving the Argentine club a reliable partner when its prospect needed a home.

“As purchases like Fanendo Adi’s and Diego Valeri’s have shown,” Wilkinson said, “this structure gives us a chance to see how quickly a player acclimatizes, whether they like the environment with the Timbers, and whether we see them as a fit for the club.”

“We know Tomás has the skills to be a successful addition to the club, and we know he is talented, but part of the question with any acquisition is how well do they settle, can they fit in with their new teammates, and does the coaching staff see the player as somebody who is going to bring value to the group.”

Twenty-one appearances, mostly starts, for Argentina across the nation’s U-17 and U-20 teams speak to Conechny’s potential, as do the 14 appearances he’s already made for San Lorenzo in Argentine Primera Divisíon play, most of which came before his 20th birthday. His seven goals in youth international play show his ability to excel at his age level, and in his versatility (able to play forward, winger, attacking and central midfield), Conechny has a number of paths to success, as well as a variety of ways he can immediately contribute to an MLS squad.

“We’re getting a very technical player who is capable of playing any spot in the attack and while also providing another valuable option for our coaching staff,” Wilkinson explained. “When you look at his skill age, age, and the fact that we’re bringing him on loan early – and can extend our relationship long-term, should he perform well – this allows us continue building for the future.”

Oh, yes. There’s that part, too. When the Timbers went out and signed Marvin Loría to a USL deal earlier this year, they did so with the whole organization’s depth chart in mind. Having used an influx of Targeted Allocation Money to create a glut of talent in the first team, Wilkinson could devote more attention to succession planning. Hence acquiring the Costa Rican youth international. Hence signing him to Timbers 2.

In that way, Conechny’s acquisition is of the same thought. You always want to acquire players who are able to contribute as soon as possible, but even if the team’s newest attacker doesn’t hit the ground running, he will be filling a significant need in the club’s bigger picture, doing so without being a make-or-break acquisition, right now. At some point, the team’s stars of today will fade into different roles, and when they do, there has to be a plan of succession in place.

Andy Polo is part of that plan, even if he is contributing now. Same for Cristhian Paredes. Same for Julio Cascante. Whenever the next Timbers core is formed, those players likely be a part of it, just as the team hopes Loría, Conechny and others will be, too.

Until he starts training with the team, there is no way to know if Conechny will be more the first group – key factors in the team’s 2018 MLS hopes – or the second, but based on what he’s shown thus far, the Timbers believe the future can be now.

“Tomás has been a youth international at every single level for Argentina and has already played in some extremely tough environments,” Wilkinson said. “He’s also coming from a club in San Lorenzo where there is tremendous pressure, and he’s played first-team games. Like any other player, he will have to earn his place in this group, show the coaching staff that he wants to be here and prove he’s willing to work, but we expect him to be able to contribute to the first team.”

Yes, maybe this is just another club being excited about their newest player. Why sign a prospect if you can’t be thrilled about it? And why not get your staff’s new writer on board? But in the resume, here, there truly are hints Conechny could prove a better acquisition than most. And if he does – and how soon he does – the Timbers could be left with a very efficient use of a roster spot.

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