Merritt Paulson discusses Diego Valeri, Gio Savarese and incoming targets after "bizarre" Portland Timbers season

Portland Timbers owner Merritt Paulson is never shy about expressing his opinion and he provided plenty about a “bizarre season” for his team in a wide-ranging final episode of Timbers in 30.

A year after reaching MLS Cup, the Timbers fell short of their goal of getting back there, losing, 2-1, to Real Salt Lake in Round One of the Audi 2019 MLS Cup Playoffs. He called watching the Seattle Sounders defeat RSL in the Conference Semifinals “painful.”

“We gave Seattle a gift. We really did,” Paulson said. “All due respect to Salt Lake, we’re the better team. We had a lot of success against Seattle in the playoffs.”

There were challenges — the 12 consecutive road games to start the season due to the renovations at Providence Park — chief among them in a season full of adversity.

“I can’t remember a season where we had so much adversity,” Paulson said. “Some of it was public, some of it was not public.”

Paulson credited coach Giovanni Savarese “for keeping things in-house that should be kept in-house.” He also gave his stamp of approval for the job Savarese, who was criticized for some tactical decisions against RSL, did in his second season at the helm.

“I’m pleased with the job Gio did, that the coaches did,” he said. “I’ve got no issues or questions with tactical decisions made down the stretch. Again, i’ve got a full perspective on everything happening. I think we’re in good hands. Ultimately I think we’re going to be in good shape going forward.”

The biggest offseason question is the future of Designated Player Diego Valeri, who is out of contract at season’s end. Will the 33-year-old Argentine, who has 76 goals and 81 assists in 211 regular season games, be back?

“First and foremost, we want Diego back. I want Diego back, I’ve told him I want him back,” Paulson said. “Gio wants him back, [Timbers GM] Gavin [Wilkinson] wants him back. He, along with Diego Chara, have been the faces of this franchise. They both should retire Portland Timbers.”

Paulson said there’s a multi-year offer on the table “pretty similar to his current situation,” in which he’s been the highest paid Timbers player since he arrived in 2013.

“But we also have to work within the realities of the MLS cap structure,” Paulson said. “It’s important that we had to have flexibility and we have flexibility with the DP spot. I’m cautiously optimistic. At the same time, I want him to be happy and he’s got to do what’s best for him and his family. I’d love to see him back here.”

Paulson also would like to see Brian Fernandez, who is currently in the MLS SABH Program, return to be the impactful player he was in his first season with the Timbers, scoring 11 goals. “When himself,” Paulson said, Fernandez is a “different-level type of difference maker.”

Paulson said Wilkinson and Savarese were in Europe on a scouting mission and they’d address the media at a press conference next week. But the owner gave a few tidbits into what additions the Timbers hope to make this offseason.

“We already have terms basically agreed to with a young, promising outside back, or right back,” Paulson said. “The plans are to add a central defender, We probably will add a center midfielder and I think, moving to the attack, we need a productive winger, a right winger likely, a scoring threat. And then we’re really thin at the forward position, with or without Brian right now. … We’ll add a forward as well.”


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