The Portland Timbers ended the Primary Transfer Window with a bang.
Their long-rumored, months-reported desire to land sign a big-money striker ended with a club-record deal for Brian Fernandez. All the while, the team grew stronger after a difficult start to their 12-match road trip to open 2019 and were awaiting their return to Providence Park after some offseason renovations.
Then, their star signing hit immediately begun humming to a historic tune, becoming the first player to score in five consecutive MLS matches upon making his debut. For good measure, he even had two Open Cup games in which he also scored in during that time, too.
Portland, despite sitting below the playoff line, are talked about as one of the league's contenders for MLS Cup. Discussions have stopped about whether or not they'll make the playoffs, given their star power, form and home-heavy second half of the season, as if it's a foregone conclusion, such is the expectation around this team.
Fernandez was a centerpiece for the Timbers, a transfer long in the making. That was their crown jewel of the Primary Transfer Window.
With the Secondary Transfer Window opening on Tuesday, things are different. It begs the question: Now what for Portland?
“We will look to bring in at least one player," GM Gavin Wilkinson told MLSsoccer.com last week, adding that whoever is acquired will compete for a starting place rather than make up the numbers. "Obviously, at this stage of the season, it needs to be a player who can impact the results and the performance of the group. But we need to manage the performance of the group—too many changes is not healthy.”
Furthermore, Portland have the sweet mix of a supremely talented group of players that have grown chemistry with one another. It's an abstract asset that Wilkinson and his staff are cognizant of, determined to keep.
“We have an amazing locker room, very much committed to the club," Wilkinson said. "It’s a matter of what will put us in a good position for the second half of the season. That has to be the whole focus ... rhythm, consistency and chemistry. When you’re on the road, it presents so many different challenges. We’re running on a small handful of home games, I think we were definitely tested on the road in many ways. I think the conclusion was that we responded positively. The group we relied on, we’ll continue to rely on. We’ll look to get a little bit better.”
Another reason Wilkinson isn't looking to add too many players externally is a pair of players on loan.
Conechny, who was signed on loan last July from San Lorenzo, has impressed the club despite his limited number of games. The 21-year-old Argentine has made just two league starts in his first calendar year in the Pacific Northwest, including one this year across eight appearances.
“Some of it has taken him a little longer to settle, but when you have players like Blanco and Valeri in front of you, it makes it a little bit harder (to get on the field,)" Wilkinson said. "To keep that in context, when you look at his age, profile and how we’re seeing him performing in training, he’s a player that we would like to figure out how to keep.”
Wilkinson added that the club will have a definitive resolution on Conechny by the end of the transfer window on Aug. 7.
Another way the club have organically improved the roster is promoting players from the club's USL Championship affiliate Portland Timbers 2. The likes of Renzo Zambrano, Marvin Loria and Marco Farfan started the season with T2 before getting opportunities with the first team. It's an area of Wilkinson hopes to grow in the coming years.
“There’s a few players playing from the academy at T2 right now, what we need to do is go back, revisit the academy and strengthen that so we continue to get one or two options from T2 every year," Wilkinson said. "Those options are, preferably, via the academy, but we also look at 18-year-olds coming in from abroad, like Loria and Zambrano, to see how they perform. With those two being very positive stories, obviously that’s created a pipeline.”