Portland's Wilkinson on 'keeper swap: "It's an upgrade"

Donovan Ricketts

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PORTLAND, Ore. – A mainstay starter, a veteran leader and a fan favorite.

If the surprising trade of Portland Timbers goalkeeper Troy Perkins for Montreal’s Donovan Ricketts (above) said anything it’s this: nobody is safe as the club rebuilds in the midst of a highly disappointing season.

“It’s an upgrade, in all honesty,” interim head coach and general manager Gavin Wilkinson said after the team’s training session Tuesday. “Troy is a fantastic person and a great goalkeeper. He was a tremendous acquisition for the club two years ago. But when you sit down and you have staff meetings and you give everyone an active voice and the unanimous decision is this is what’s right for the club, you do what’s right for the club.”

And while Wilkinson said the swap of high profile ‘keepers makes the Timbers stronger in the near-term, it’s also a nod to the future.

Waiting in the wings is highly regarded New Zealand U-23 international Jake Gleeson and rookie Joe Bendik. The style of 35-year-old Ricketts, at a lanky 6-foot-4, is a better fit to mentor the 6-foot-3 Gleeson, Wilkinson said, seemingly accelerating the young goalkeeper’s development timetable.

“Ricketts accepts that he’s a mentor for those two, that one day one of those two is going to surpass where he is,” Wilkinson said.

He continued: “We need to find out what we’ve got in these ‘keepers and give them the opportunity to be successful. I think you’ve seen we are willing to give one or two young players a chance, and I think that’s very beneficial for the club.”

Gleeson, barely back with the club 24 hours after his stint with the New Zealand Olympic team, said he’s looking forward to the opportunity should it arise.

“This definitely came as a shock to me,” Gleeson said. “I’m still kind of getting my head around it now. We’ll find out more when Ricketts gets in and see how he fits in.”

WATCH: Wilkinson discusses trade

Wilkinson also addressed the leadership role left by Perkins, a seven-year MLS veteran. Wilkinson even said after the firing of former head coach John Spencer that he could see Perkins wearing the captain’s armband at some point.

READ: Perkins vs. Ricketts through the years

“Donovan Ricketts is a leader,” Wilkinson said. “When you have a guy who has played 90 international [caps] and traveled around like he has and has an understanding of different cultures, has been successful with many teams, we’re adding to that. We’re not taking away from it in any factor or in any way shape or form. We’re actually adding leadership to this group through a player who has been there and done that.”

Still, it was a visibly tough day for many Timbers players.

“It’s sad to see him leave,” said team captain Jack Jewsbury. “That’s, again, the nature of the business, the hardest part. It’s one of those days that are hard on everyone. You know at any point, no matter if you're the highest guy on the totem pole or the lowest, you can moved and shipped out just like that. We all realize that at any point it can happen.”

Wilkinson also expects Perkins’ departure to reverberate through the fan base – a group that has been forced to digest a lot this season, from a 1-0 loss to an amateur club in the US Open Cup to the firing of a popular and outspoken head coach.

“You know you’re going to get a hit with some people that it may not be popular with fans, and rightfully so,” Wilkinson said. “I can understand that. Troy was a phenomenal person, a great human being and a very good professional for us. Ricketts is a very good professional, a great person and in my mind a better goalkeeper.”

Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com. Email him at dcitel@hotmail.com.