His was an acquisition that had been foreshadowed since the week after MLS Cup, when Portland Timbers president of soccer Gavin Wilkinson, technical director Ned Grabavoy, and head coach Giovanni Savarese conducted a season-ending press conference, discussing both the season that was and the season that would be.
A long-time Timbers player, Alvas Powell, was part of what had passed, starting for most of the year at right back before losing his job late in the season, after Zarek Valentin had been switch over from the left side. Among the three-to-four starting-caliber players Wilkinson intended to import, according to him, one needed to be a right back. With Powell’s departure, Valentin was the only natural fullback at that position on the depth chart.
Enter Jorge Moreira, a player that has been unnamed since, in late January, Wilkinson made clear the team was closing in on its right-back target. Over the four weeks that have followed, a new lesson of the Timbers’ market reality played out: that their new, higher-value targets would be more difficult to secure. Hoping to capture a player that would compare to the best right backs in Major League Soccer, Portland also targeted somebody whose team was hesitant to let go. Though some would call that hesitancy negotiation, it still played out for the better part of a month.
“Experience,” was the first word that came to head coach Giovanni Savarese’s mind, when asked what Moreira brings to his squad. “He’s been in big games. He’s a player that’s confident on the ball. He’s a player that’s not going to be afraid to go forward, and from what I’ve seen of him, he makes very good decisions. The experience that he has is going to help us create more competition at that position.”
Now, Moreira is in Tucson, Arizona, having joined his new team this weekend ahead of the club’s official announcement. His one-year loan with an option to buy is reminiscent of so many other deals the Timbers have completing in recent years, giving both player and team a chance to evaluate the new relationship, even if that relationship, from the club’s perspective, comes with big hopes. Moreira wouldn’t have been the winter’s main Targeted Allocation Money target if the club didn’t believe he could live up to that value.
He was a regular at right back for Club Atlético River Plate in Argentina after his 2016 arrival from Libertad, a major power in his home country of Paraguay. In Oct. 2017, an injury to his right knee sidelined him for nearly a year, costing him not only his league and Copa Libertadores campaign but 10 months’ time from the prime of his career. As the Argentine season has gone on, Moreira has seen more time, playing in December’s Club World Cup and earning a start in league play three weeks ago. The place of Gonzalo Montiel, however – a 22-year-old academy product whose value has skyrocketed in Moreira’s absence – meant any full return to the starting lineup would be a challenge.
Throughout the last five months, Moreira’s continued to compete, bringing his knee back to full strength in training and reserve matches. As of today, however, it’s time for the next challenge. Through River may be remiss loaning a player whose work ethic has become an example throughout the club, the reputation earned by those intangible skills has created a demand for the Paraguayan international.
“(It’s) very, very important,” Savarese said, of that intangible part of Moreira’s resume. “Without work ethic, then you don’t get anywhere. It’s fantastic, because hopefully he can also move everybody else, to keep them pushing.
“Resilience was the perfect word that described our team last year,” Savarese reflected, “and we have to get back to that point.”
Moreira’s Portland move casts him alongside a fellow Paraguayan, Timbers’ midfielder Cristhian Paredes, who has said his time in fall’s national team camp offer key perspective on a challenging, initial MLS season. He’ll also be joining a team that has an established starter at right back, Valentin, who, six months after winning a competition for the position, will be asked to fight for his spot once more. Moreira will be joining a team that offers a soft landing thanks to an established Latin American culture within its group, as well as one which, enhanced by his acquisition, expects to continue to competing for trophies in the immediate future.
In terms of tactical fit, Moreira will offer a player who can have an impact in the opponent’s half of the field, giving Savarese options on the right flank that mirror the team’s qualities on the left. And in terms of chronology, Moreira’s age (29) adds to a class of player that includes Diegos Chara (32) and Valeri (32), Sebastían Blanco (30), Larrys Mabiala (31), Claude Dielna (31), Jorge Villafaña (29), David Guzmán (28) and Jeff Attinella (30) – a class that allows the team to play in win-now mode.
But there are still the younger players. Paredes (20) is one, as is Homegrown Player Marco Farfan (20), who, if Moreira’s reputation from River is any indication, should be able to add something new to his talents by training with the Paraguayan international. That none of the Timbers’ other young core – Tomás Conechny (20), Jeremy Ebobisse (22), Foster Langsdorf (23), Marvin Loría (21), Eryk Williamson (22) – make way in this move allows the team to address the present without compromising the future.
The question, now, is how much the present will be impacted. The Timbers finished fifth in the West, last year, before making an MLS Cup final, and without the need to integrate a new coaching staff or undergo significant roster changes, it was reasonable to expect that team to avoid its early-2018 struggles. As of today, though, the team has added another significant option.
Sporting Kansas City is still out there, as are Seattle Sounders FC. Perhaps the two Los Angeles teams will be better, too, while others’ plans could come to fruition this summer. Until then, though, as we play out imaginary games from names on paper, the Timbers may have taken a step forward, hoping to give themselves new options against their peers at the top of the Western Conference.