PORTLAND, Ore. – With two months of the Portland Timbers offseason now gone, things are starting to look a little different in the Rose City.
Colombian striker José Adolfo Valencia, a 19-year-old phenomenon considered one of the country’s up-and-coming stars whose signing as MLS’ first young Designated Player was announced last week, highlights the list of recent dealings coming from the Timbers front office.
And in addition to a new piece being added to the front line, Portland locked up defender David Horst and veteran goalkeeper Troy Perkins with contract extensions.
“All we’re trying to do is strengthen the competition for places, so the players understand that to get into the starting 11, they’ve got to play well to keep their spot,” Timbers general manager Gavin Wilkinson said. “[Manager John Spencer] has done a great job of creating that atmosphere. And now by developing a stronger squad, it’s easier for him to uphold that.”
The addition of Valencia, known as “El Trencito,” (little train) – a name stemming from his famous soccer bloodline as the son of two-time World Cup star Adolfo “El Tren” Valencia – is an intriguing addition to capable goal scorers in veteran Kenny Cooper and fellow Colombian Jorge Perlaza. He’s expected to arrive in Portland soon after the New Year.
“If you start to look at the makeup of the team and how ambitious each and every player on the squad is, the prerequisite is the ability to develop within the organization and athleticism,” Wilkinson said. “So he fits the bill on those; we were able to check the boxes on those with him. Next is to get him into the preseason and see what he can do on the field, get him to acclimated quickly and move forward.”
The signing of Horst brings the back line into better focus, especially after the retirement of veteran defender Kevin Goldthwaite. Horst, a 6-foot-4, 210-pound center back, was physically dominant at times but struggled staying healthy throughout the year.
““I think that David, we’ve got to get him fit and healthy,” Wilkinson said. “We need to address one or two things with David. But as far as getting him fit and healthy, I think once we do that we’ve got a player for the future. And David is a good age now. He’s a very athletic, strong player and he fits well in this organization.”
Perkins, who the Timbers traded for before their inaugural season and became the team’s highest-paid player last year, was rewarded with a new contract after he recorded a career-high nine shoutouts.
“What we did with Troy is basically put him in a situation to be successful and also for the organization [to be successful],” Wilkinson said. “So we were able to restructure his contract so it didn’t have such a large hit on the cap number. It was beneficial for him and for the organization.”
The team also announced Wednesday that Spencer’s right-hand man last year, assistant coach Trevor James, resigned after just one year with the team.
“As an organization we’re continuing to look to develop and grow,” Wilkinson said. "And in a healthy way we put John under a lot of pressure to be successful, and it’s important that John has the pieces he needs to be successful. It’s as simple as that. It’s a matter of a good fit and a good fit for the personality and the organization. The coaching changes are just the evolution of the club, I would say.”
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.