Finally back in the Rose City after an offseason that took him on a scouting trip to Argentina, the MLS Player Combine in Florida and then Philadelphia for the MLS SuperDraft, Portland Timbers head coach Caleb Porter was sounding understandably relaxed.
Not only did he at last get a weekend for some quality family time, but he also had a chance to look back on an offseason that probably couldn’t have gone much better.
Heading into the first two rounds of Thursday’s draft having already landed their top offseason targets – former Seattle Sounders attacker Steve Zakuani and the Argentine duo of striker Gastón Fernández and center back Norberto Paparatto – the Timbers were playing with house money, so to speak. So when Generation adidas and University of Maryland forward Schillo Tshuma fell to Portland at No. 17, well, it was just icing on the cake, Porter told MLSsoccer.com in a phone conversation over the weekend.
“Going into the offseason, we had a plan in place, and we followed that plan, carried it out,” Porter said. “The only real question of how things were going to go was the draft, and I think the draft went really well for us. So I think at this point we’re pretty close to being the team we’re going to have and have everybody in place prior to the preseason, which I think is really important.”
Indeed, with a week to go before the Timbers open preseason camp, there will be plenty of time to get their new players on the same page while fine tuning a squad that brings back just about everyone from last year's Western Conference regular season title winners. And while it would be pretty easy to pencil out Portland’s two-deep depth chart today, Porter said Tshuma just might surprise some people with how big a role he plays this preseason.
“He’s a very exciting, young, dynamic attacking piece,” Porter said. “And usually you’re not getting those guys late first round, usually those guys are snatched up. … I’d be surprised if he’s not pushing to play, but at the same time we’re not relying on him to play.”
With a few of Portland’s key attackers recovering form injury – namely Zakuani and midfielder Diego Valeri – and winger Rodney Wallace out until midseason at least, Tshuma could get “thrown into the fire, especially in the preseason,” Porter said.
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At the very least, Porter is extremely excited about his future with the club.
“I was looking to find a young attacking player to develop and work with because I really enjoy that, and again it’s part of our succession planning,” Porter said. “We had eight guys that we thought we’d get in that 17 spot, and honestly weren’t prepared for him to be available and as soon as he was we didn’t have to think twice about it.”
And Tshuma, a native of Zimbabwe, who starred for two years at Maryland after coming to the Washington, D.C., suburbs in 2008 as part of a partnership between Grassroots Soccer and Episcopal High School in Alexandria, Va., is ecstatic to mesh his talents with Porter’s attack-orientated tactics.
“Just hearing my name being called out by the Timbers, it’s one of the best moments of my life,” Tshuma told MLSsoccer.com in a phone conversation following the draft. “I didn’t believe it at first.”
Now he’s just one more weapon in Porter’s arsenal.
“We’re all ready for year two and trying to take that next step, although there are not a lot of steps to take,” Porter said. “… We don’t need to throw the baby out with the bathwater. We just need to do what we did last year and do it a little bit better than we did at the end of the year.”
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com