There is a glaring hole in the Portland Timbers back line and the front office failed to fix it before the close of the transfer window on Monday night. Central defense has been a weak point for the Rose City since Nat Borchers showed his age with poor play last season before rupturing his Achilles and retiring. General manager Gavin Wilkinson tried to address the issue in the offseason with Gbenga Arokoyo, but the Nigerian import also ruptured his Achilles before the season.
Caleb Porter, Timbers Front Office, Have Ruined the Portland Timbers Defense
No Reinforcements from the Transfer Market
Wilkinson and his front office proceeded to sit on their hands throughout the rest of the preseason and early parts of the regular season. No central defensive reinforcements arrived as they watched their back four wilt away, conceding goal after goal and blowing lead after lead while losing or drawing games the club should have been winning.
Injuries haven’t helped, but they aren’t an excise for the lack of transfer action. Club captain Liam Ridgewell missed several games with a lower body injury while Roy Miller and Lawrence Olum filled in. They failed to impress as the Timbers put up the fourth worst defensive record in MLS through the first two months.
The team has apparently signed an unnamed center back from Turkey, but they couldn’t swing the deal before Monday’s deadline and will have to wait until July for him to join the club in the secondary transfer window. Meanwhile, the patchwork center back pairing will continue.
Where’s Roy Miller?
Setting aside the pathetic nature of Wilkinson’s procrastination, Caleb Porter isn’t even handling the defense properly on matchday. He insists on playing Ridgwell alongside Lawrence Olum, who was brought in as depth in the defensive midfield. He’s been playing out of position at center back all year and it hasn’t been pretty. Olum has played all 900 minutes of the Timbers season and has been torched repeatedly at the back. He’s not completing tackles, and not picking off key passes as you’d prefer a central defender to do.
Porter has a more suitable replacement sitting on his bench. Roy Miller had started six games while Ridgewell was nursed back to health and hasn’t started since the captain returned. Miller is the Timbers’ team leader in interceptions and clearances per game. He’s the second most effective shot blocker, behind only Ridgewell.
In summation, Miller is the highest rated central defender according to WhoScored and he has been an unused substitute in each of the three games since Ridgewell came back. The Timbers have conceded six goals in those three games and have a win, loss, and a draw.
They Will Have to Hold Together Until July
But even inserting Roy Miller isn’t a fix all for the Portland Timbers defensive woes. Porter probably has concerns about Miller’s ability to play well over a consistent period of time. He also spent a long winter playing with Saprissa in Costa Rica and he probably needs an extended rest. That might be all Porter is doing in order to keep his best defender in shape for the nitty gritty period of the season in late summer and fall.
Wilkinson still should catch a lot of heat for failing to bring a starting quality center back during the transfer window. It isn’t like he didn’t have enough time to do so. The Arokoyo injury news broke in February. The transfer deadline was this past Monday, nearly three months after this central defense hole formed. He has watched his team flounder around at the back for ten games and they will continue to do so for another couple months thanks to his own inability to get a deal done in time.
Expect a lot of goal fests at Providence Park until July, when the as yet anonymous defender from Turkey arrives. Be thankful the Timbers have one of the most electric attacks in MLS, or else the familiar narrative of Portland destroying themselves with a weak early season would continue.