Here we are again. With sunshine still busily engaged in machinations in the College of Cardinals it once again falls to me to provide the day’s entertainment. Unlike yesterday, it seems that there has actually been some action. For once I was a little ahead of the curve on this thing, if only because I actually got it together to read the series of texts that sunshine sent me last night constituting a sort of play by play of the whole thing.
Not entirely surprisingly, the Timbers acquired the right of first refusal on Vancouver Whitecaps castoff Michael Nanchoff. He’s looked reasonably good in the minutes that he’s played in preseason, and his services could probably be secured with the change found between the sofa cushions as Merritt Paulson’s house. The immediate cost of the deal was a second round pick in the 2015 Supplemental Draft.
The second move is a bit more interesting. Portland acquired the services of Ben Zemanski from the Goats. This cost us some allocation money and our right of first refusal on Jonathan Bornstein. Frankly, I think this is a pretty good bit of business. You may wonder why, given that this brings another midfielder into an already crowded stable. Having seen a fair bit of Zemanski over the last couple of seasons, I can say that purely in terms of his skills he represents and upgrade. An upgrade over what? In a word (actually two words) Jack Jewsbury. It’s been clear for some time that Jewsbury didn’t quite have what it takes to merit a spot in the team. Now he’s got a hamstring pull and there is no telling when he will be back. At his age, the prognosis for pulled hammies ranges from next week to the 12th of never.
Zemanski is being brought in to play the defensive midfield role in a diamond formation. This would involve playing deeper, just over the top of the two central defenders. Caleb Porter was asked if his role mightn’t duplicate something that Diego Chará might already be expected to do. His response was that Chará was more of a box to box midfielder than a guy who was going to sit on top of the defense and break down incoming attacks. His logic here is correct. Zemanski has a good four inches on Chará, which is a useful trait for a guy who’s going to need to track back and clear out aerial threats in the box. He’s also a bit more physically imposing that Chará. Given the current dearth of strikers at the club, it might be that we spend some time running what amounts to a 4-1-4-1. I suppose a 4-3-3 might also be in play, but the permutations for that get a little complicated.
One of the funny sidelines to all of this is that, with the arrival of Zemanski, we now have one of the largest collections of University of Akron alums in the league. Given that U of A has been a footballing power in the college ranks for the best part of a decade, it makes a certain amount of sense that there would be a lot of their former players around (I think the count is 19 or 20). But the fact that our new coach has such intimate ties to the place, the question has been asked if Porter was intentionally looking to stack the Timbers with former Zips. Porter hastened to deny it. I tend to believe him. That is to say, I don’t think that he’s going out there with a list of his former players and intentionally looking to sign them up. But it’s not inconceivable that he might play on his mind in an unconscious sort of way. He’s seen these guys play. They’re used to playing a style that he likes, and one that he’s currently building in Portland. It might be the sort of thing where he looks at people on film and sees qualities that he likes because there are exactly the sort of qualities that he has tried to imbue them with.
Anyway, just to be clear, I don’t think that CP is trying to corner the market on former Zips. For me, the moves that he has made are defensible purely on footballing grounds. What we have now, as we did not last year, is a team that is mobile and that moves the ball around quickly and (generally) effectively. We are going to be a much more difficult side to defend than we were last year because the point of attack isn’t going to be so thoroughly prefigured by our lineup card.
I guess the question that I have now is: has the University of Akron graduated any quality left wings lately? As far as I can see (and I would welcome correction by those better informed) we don’t really have anyone who convinces out there. It looked to me as if Nagbe was playing out that way in some of the preseason gigs so far. This merely served to confirm the proposition that Nagbe’s engagement and effectiveness decline precipitously with every step that he takes in the direction of the sideline. Perhaps this overstates the case, but not by much. I relish the idea of Nagbe interacting with Valeri, but that needs to happen in the middle of the park. I can understand why they took the decision to part company with Songo’o, but I’m just not very confident at this point that they have a serious plan for an upgrade there. This constitutes a rather different problem than the situation at striker. There were have some identifiable figures who could do the job (Mwanga, Valencia, maybe Zizzo, maybe even Nagbe if they wanted to go with a little more mobile option) but just need to show that they can step up. At left wing there’s…who? Granted, in the Porter system this isn’t a dramatic a problem as it would have been under the previous regime, especially if they are serious about the whole diamond midfield thing. But it is still a concern.
Our next test approaches. In three days we get to run out at the JW against San Jose. This should be a little more effective gauge of where we stand right now, since both teams will be a bit closer to their real opening day lineups. While we’ve made some distinct improvements, we still have a ways to go and not much time to get there.