It's been a busy week at Providence Park, where offseason activity for the Portland Timbers and Portland Thorns has ramped up again after a holiday lull.
The Timbers this week have announced two additions to their 2016 roster and are expected to announce a third shortly. They've also, unofficially, announced a major departure as well. All three incoming players have MLS experience, and fill various needs in every part of the team.
In a move that should be announced today, the Timbers traded allocation money to their vanquished MLS Cup foe Columbus in exchange for forward Jack McInerney.
MORE AFTER THE JUMP!
It's a shrewd move. McInerney is young — just 23 — but his time in MLS predates even the Timbers. His profile matches that of new Timbers fullback Chris Klute in many ways — McInerney's best season was 2013, and he still has plenty of upside.
With Maxi Urruti's departure for Dallas, the Timbers needed a backup forward capable of providing a change of pace from Fanendo Adi and logging major minutes in both the CONCACAF Champions League and US Open Cup. McInerney fits the bill.
The last two years, in which the Chattanooga native has bounced all around the Eastern Conference — with stops in Philadelphia, Montreal, and Columbus — have been a struggle for consistency, comfort, and playing time. But with almost zero pressure in Portland, McInerney should have time to settle in and rediscover the form that saw him score thirteen goals as a 21 year old in Philly two years ago.
Zarek Valentin arrives by Portland by way of Norweigen football, but his roots are far closer to home. Valentin played for Chivas USA and the Montreal Impact in MLS before his move to Europe, and before that, he played for Timbers coach Caleb Porter at Akron. A versatile defender, Valentin will be expected to provide cover at center and right back and log heavy minutes in the cup competitions as well.
Valentin, who also played for Porter for the US under 23s, is one of Portland's younger offseason additions — the hope being that he'll come into his own in the Rose City. Depending on the status of Re-Entry Draft pickup Jermaine Taylor, Valentin could be the first man off the bench at several positions in 2016.
Ned Grabavoy is the third player the Timbers have snagged from the core group that won Real Salt Lake's MLS Cup in 2009 and knocked Portland out of the playoffs in 2013. The first two players who came over from that side — Will Johnson and Nat Borchers — have been two of the most influential in franchise history.
Grabavoy won't, of course, match the impact of his former — and, in Borchers' case, current — colleagues, but his presence will still be valuable. The midfielder was a glue guy for Jason Kreis' teams, and he'll be a glue guy in Portland — unusually sound on the ball, smart in tight spaces, and entirely professional.
Grabavoy took got a bad rap at NYCFC last year, mostly because his presence in the team seemed to often be at the expense of fan-favorite Kwadwo Poku, but this is a player who had plenty of options in MLS and picked the Timbers despite the fact that he likely won't be in the first eleven.
That's a coup — and it speaks to the Timbers' relatively new reputation as one of the league's premier clubs. Grabavoy's skill-set works well in a 4-3-3, and he will be an asset whenever called upon.
Of course, one of the reasons Caleb Porter so admired that Salt Lake team that Grabavoy was a part of was because of its continuity and systematic strength. The Timbers' stated goal this offseason was keeping together its championship core, and the impending loss of Rodney Wallace is an blow to that mission.
Wallace, who scored the MLS Cup winning goal in Columbus, was the Timbers' longest-tenured player. He was out of contract at the end of the season, but ineligible for MLS free agency. The Timbers wanted and expected him back, and extended Wallace a bonafide offer, but the two sides couldn't agree on terms. Wallace will land somewhere overseas, most likely in the Americas, and the Timbers will retain his MLS rights.
Make no mistake: Rodney Wallace was huge. The Timbers were absolutely lost without him in 2014 when he was coming back from an ACL injury, and, quite frankly, they were lost when he wasn't at his best in 2015 as well.
He'll go down in Portland for his goal in the final, but also as a fiery, fiery, tough-as-nails competitor who poured every ounce of his effectiveness into the Timbers' cause night in and night out. Like Jorge Villafaña, he was a guy you could win a championship with.
The Timbers will try to replace Wallace with a winger capable of starting in 2016. That player, according to reports, could come from inside or outside MLS. He'll have big shoes to fill. Rodney was never a star here, but he was part of the furniture of the club.
With two starters from the 2015 team — plus captain Will Johnson — out in Portland, it is becoming abundantly clear how unique and how fragile championship teams are. But to their credit, the Timbers have gone about reinforcing and negating those losses well. There's plenty of MLS nous on the way, and the team's spine remains intact. Training camp opens in just ten days.