The Portland Timbers and the art of the expansion trade deal


Backing up a legend like Nick Rimando, means it’s a challenge to find photos of Jeff Attinella in the Prost Archives.

by Matt Hoffman (@mhoff)

“Fortune favors the prepared mind,” Louis Pasteur

Now into it’s third go round in the MLS Expansion Draft (2011, notwithstanding), the Timbers seem to have the dealings down to a science. Portland is the team that goes to the Holiday White Elephant party and seems to always be coming away with something even though the point of the exercise is to give.

In 2011, Portland was able to loan Ryan Pore on loan with Montreal. Some folks suggested, though nothing was ever officially stated, that the loan to Montreal (at that time struggling in their final year in the NASL), came with a gentlemen’s agreement that Montreal not select a Timber. Pore did not remain with either side following the draft.

In 2014, Portland enticed Orlando to select Donovan Ricketts. Ricketts was a year removed from a tremendous season but 2014 had been a down year for Ricketts. The selection enabled Portland to shed Rickett’s contract, keep Jorge Villafana and earn some allocation cash in the process.

Hailed as a replacement for Jorge Villafana, Chris Klute (left) did not prove to be a long term solution for either Portland or Minnesota in 2016.

In 2016, Portland had, once again, put a player on loan to a NASL team that was destined to be promoted at the end of the season. There was no talk, substantiated or not, about Chris Klute being a bargaining chip or not. However, hardly a week after the 2016 Expansion Draft took place, Portland was able to acquire Jeff Attinella, a product of the RSL system with limited time in goal given he was backing up Nick Rimando.

Officially the presser stated that it took only a “natural second round draft pick in the 2018 SuperDraft” to snag Attinella. Timbers have added a starting-caliber goalkeeper but there was a powerful undercurrent beneath the seemingly peaceful waters.

Injuries limited Klute last year for Portland (he missed time and was hampered by leg injuries), but it’s questionable how desired he was in Minnesota. Klute made with two appearances with Minnesota playing a combined eleven total minutes.

Or perhaps Timbers GM Gavin Wilkinson had again moved the goalposts of successful negotiating around MLS salary restrictions. Enticing Orlando to take Donovan Ricketts because Portland will eat part of his contract to being the first MLS club to trade for the rights of a homegrown player, the Timbers Front Office has proven itself as a bastion of creative abundance in the art of deal.

Not announced in the press release, but initially reported (and later confirmed) by our favorite English professor/reputable Loon blogger, Wes Burdine was there was more to the story than just a second round pick.

Burdine first reported Minnesota selected plucked Atinella from Real Salt Lake at the request of the Timbers.

Leading to Burdine reporting that in additional to that second round pick, Portland threw in the rights to Miguel Ibarra. 

Miguel Ibarra playing for the USMNT against Panama.

A one-time UC-Irvine Anteater, Ibarra was selected by the Timbers in 2012 MLS SuperDraft but, was never signed by the club. Meaning: Portland did not own his rights.

In fact, the New York Red Bulls did for awhile before Ibarra chose to go the Liga MX where he did what most Americans do in Liga MX: sit, seldom play but be paid handsomely in a way they never would be in the States.

Despite scoring in his first match with Leon, Ibarra languished in Leon making only eight appearances in eighteen months with the club. Portland obtained Ibarra’s Discovery Rights hoping to grab the midfielder earlier this year. Portland was not able to strike a deal with Leon, but the permanence of that Discovery Claim enabled Portland to swing a deal with Minnesota.

Never having donned the Timbers shirt, a contract for Ibarra in the Rose City would have been mildly surreal. Maybe not for him but for the fans and chattering classes. His later emergence in the NASL and on the USMNT were cited by Timbers GM Gavin Wilkinsons as reasons A and B for the creation of T2 at the Timbers USL affiliate’s introductory press conference in 2014.

One question I’ve been asked is: Had Ibarra remained with Minnesota, would Portland still own his rights or would he be “promoted” with the rest of the club? It’s a good one and I don’t the answer straight away. My hunch is players from lower divisions who enter MLS would keep their players. Otherwise that seems ripe for abuse, having established MLS clubs picking through a promoted clubs top prospects.

Muddying the waters is Discovery Rights have more to do with international soccer. It would be like comparing ice cream to the Star Wars saga. Two readily awesome things that don’t intrinsically go together.

Back so soon? There haven’t been any further rumors that Kwarasey will return to MLS this season.

The merits of this deal would always depend on if Minnesota were able to get both Leon and Ibarra to agree. Which they were able to do. However another wrinkle that is being reported through some channels is that Minnesota is pursuing another player with Portland ties.

Minnesota, who doesn’t have a keeper on their roster, is apparently interested in Adam Larsen Kwarasey. Kwarasey was with Portland before departing during the Summer Transfer Window. Does Portland still own his rights? We don’t really know. My guess is not, however it is an interesting exercise pondering if Kwarasey was a sweetener to this deal.

Year Two was a step back for Kwarasey, just as it was for the entire Portland backline.  With Gleeson playing at a high level and Portland needing having to fill a gaping hole in defense when Nat Borchers was lost for the season, Kwarasey’s contract made him expendable.

Put another way, acquiring Steve Taylor would have been difficult for Portland to swing with Kwarasey’s contract still  on the books.

Speaking of Gleeson, what does the Attinella trade signal for him? The likely answer is enhanced competition as well as depth at a critical position. Gleeson has had his share of injuries. Gleeson’s emergence in 2016 certainly has caught the eye of the New Zealand National Team. With the league’s schedule conflicting with FIFA dates, and adding in the possibility of suspension given Gleeson’s recent brush with the law, having a veteran goalkeeper able to step into the fire is not exuberance but, rather, pragmatism.

Like Kwarasey, Attinella’s 2015 numbers didn’t carry over to last year. However Portland won’t have quite the sticker shock heading into 2017. The team will have both Attinella ($95,083.33) and Gleeson ($96,722.67) for just over half the $335,000 Portland was paying for Kwarasey in 2016.

For their efforts, Portland gets precious depth at a key position on a reasonable contract. Not bad for the price of a Discovery Rights of a player who wasn’t going to play for Portland and second round pick.


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