The Portland Timbers are on the brink of the dawn of the Caleb Porter era, a Tuesday morning press conference scheduled to formally introduce the new manager of the club.
While the Porter announcement is no surprise to supporters eagerly anticipating the new gaffer’s official debut since his hiring last fall, an expected front office confirmation of the yearlong loan signing of Argentine playmaker Diego Valeri from Club Atletico Lanus brings the most exciting news to date in the offseason.
Should the South American complete his work permit and visa paperwork, the move could prove the biggest coup to date for the much maligned transfer record of general manager Gavin Wilkinson and owner Merritt Paulson.
As all parties grew disenchanted with the direction the club was heading before and after the dismissal of John Spencer at midseason, Wilkinson again found himself the firebrand in a heated war with voracious supporters throughout the ground.
Mixed results were the outcome of the Kiwi’s temporary tenure as interim manager for the latter half of the 2012 season, leaving many scratching their heads as to why Paulson trusted in his coaching ability after an abysmal start to the season under a roster handpicked by Wilkinson.
After seeing Wilkinson’s ill-advised coif during his playing days under the Australian spotlight, perhaps slightly more are feeling the symptoms of scalp itch again.
Valeri appears a much wiser decision, and the 26 year old attacking midfielder could prove just the player to serve as the instrument of Porter’s plans for an attack minded, possession oriented team. 26 goals and 30 assists seem a good return for close to seven seasons with Lanus, yet upon further inspection, warning signs are evident.
The Argentine is considered to be entering the prime of his career, although an argument can be made that he lacks consistency and confidence after falling out of favor with new Lanus coach Guillermo Barros Schelotto, a former Designated Player, league MVP, and MLS Cup winner with the Columbus Crew.
The fact that the deal is a loan with an option to buy shows guile from first time manager Schelotto, one that knows firsthand that a change of scenery can resurrect a flagging career and increase a player’s value on the open market.
Valeri’s been down the road of loan signings before, following a good spell of form in the Apertura season of 2007, declining statistics in subsequent campaigns saw him shipped off to FC Porto of Portugal followed by an even shorter stint with Spain’s Almeria.
There was little to write home about from those sojourns, only for Valeri to return home to Buenos Aires full time in the 2011 Clausura season and put up numbers reminiscent of his peak production.
The ebb and flow of finishing and provision again waned, and the opportunity for Valeri to re-ignite his career as a key piece of an ambitious club means Portland is welcoming a player hungry to once again perform at a high level.
That desire is one Bright Dike shares, the American with Nigerian roots overcoming inaugural season injury and sophomore season demotion to emerge as the squad’s top performer in the second half of a subpar season, one that ended bittersweetly as the Cascadia Cup was lifted while the playoffs grew further out of reach.
Dike’s story is one Valeri can aspire to emulate, the former Notre Dame forward using the stage in front of the Timbers Army as a platform to launch his international career with Nigeria. If Valeri can find a way to replicate the scoring prowess that earned him a call up to the Argentina national team in a victory over Venezuela in a 2011 friendly, additional caps may be in the making.
Whether Valeri comes good on the distribution that Portland lacks is reliant on the freedom he’s allowed in Porter’s new setup. If the former collegiate coach of a national champion can convert his skill in tactics and man management to the professional level, Valeri and others looking to lift their game in Portland are under the proper guide.
Players exhibit a natural affinity for Porter, providing belief amongst supporters that the squad will buy into a proven system and turn what many referred to as a headless chicken under previous managers into a cohesive group with an offensive intent.
Porter will continue to ring the changes, and Paulson hints at additional signings, so nothing is set in stone as to a starting lineup, so both Dike and Valeri must state their case for inclusion as competition for places hots up in the forward line and center of the park.
For Wilkinson, the next signing may be more important than a creative midfielder, as the roster’s most glaring weakness is still in defense, despite the addition of Michael Harrington from Sporting Kansas City to shore up the flanks. Another solid defender is a necessity for improvement, preferably one comfortable with the ball at his feet and capable of initiating Porter’s direction from the back.
While still early days yet, the prospect of Porter implementing a winning program in Portland is starting to take shape. Should Porter’s vision come to fruition, Paulson can save face with the morons and idiots out there in Timberlandia, and Wilkinson could be the phoenix rising from the ginger ashes of a tumultuous year.
Who knows, someday those dreamy dreadlocks may come back and find a place of honor amidst the green smoke of the North End, a visage that still smolders in the purple hearts of Perth supporters.