Timbers offseason watch
• The Timbers will continue to train for several weeks — probably through the conclusion of the MLS Cup playoffs on Nov. 20. The team plans to bring in several players for tryouts during that time.
• Over the next month, general manager Gavin Wilkinson will travel to Columbia, Ghana, Togo, parts of Europe and several cities in the United States as he scouts for potential players. The Timbers have an undisclosed amount of allocation money available above the league salary cap to acquire players.
• The format for the 2012 MLS schedule is not yet decided. The season is expected to again run March through October. The Timbers training camp likely will open in late January.
• Brent Richards’ status. The Timbers expect MLS to soon decide whether Richards counts as one of their home-grown players. If he isn’t, the Washington Huskies forward from Camas will be available in the SuperDraft.
• MLS expansion draft. Montreal will join as the 19th in MLS team in 2012. On Nov. 23, the Impact will pick 10 players off of current MLS rosters. Teams can protect 11 players.
• MLS SuperDraft. The 2012 college draft will be held Jan. 12 in Kansas City.
PORTLAND — The Portland Timbers first season in Major League Soccer produced some magical moments.
Among them: the first MLS win over Chicago at rain-soaked Jeld-Wen Field; the 3-0 throttling of the L.A. Galaxy; Darlington Nagbe’s amazing goal against Kansas City; Troy Perkins’ amazing saves in the first road win at Chicago.
And, of course, a stream of compliments for the Timbers Army and the energized environment for home games.
But a prominent emotion as the team began postseason training sessions this week was disappointment.
“The disappointing thing was we had the points in the bag,” coach John Spencer said. “We were (a few) points short of the playoffs, and we had those points in the bag here and let them go by conceding late goals.”
Giving up leads at home to New York, Colorado, and rival Seattle provided some stinging lessons for the young Timbers. But there were plenty of positive strides for a team with a youth-dominated roster — among them improved play away from home in the second half of the season.
“It’s been an honor to be leading this group of guys,” team captain Jack Jewsbury said. “It’s an unbelievably talented group of young players that we have. I’ve said it before, I don’t think some of them really realize how good they really are. They need to continue to push themselves because they have a lot to give.”
The challenge for Spencer and for general manager Gavin Wilkinson is to shape the roster so it is able to push for a championship in a couple of years, when those younger players mature into consistent contributors.
Neither Wilkinson nor Spencer would comment on the specific players or positions that will be the focus of offseason moves. But Wilkinson will spend much of the upcoming month globetrotting in search of players. Among the stops on Wilkinson’s schedule are Colombia, Ghana, and Europe.
“As we continue to build this squad, the philosophy definitely will not change,” Wilkinson said. “We’ll have a young, athletic team who will continue to work hard on a day-to-day basis and hopefully improve in the standings next year.”
Given that only three teams scored fewer than the 40 goals Portland produced over 34 games, forward might be one area the Timbers look to upgrade. Kenny Cooper led the team with eight goals, but was ineffective for several months. Does Portland look to add a dynamic scorer? Or do the Timbers count on better production from Jorge Perlaza and Bright Dike going forward?
Perhaps most pressing is adding depth. Wilkinson said one of his goals is to increase the competition for playing time throughout the squad.
In 2011, depth was an issue particularly in the central midfield and central defense.
In midfield, Jewsbury and Diego Chara were an effective duo, and each could be considered the Timbers MVP this season. James Marcelin filled in well as a holding midfielder. But no one else stepped up to push the starters for playing time.
At central defender, Eric Brunner and Mamadou “Futty” Danso were usually reliable, and David Horst was a solid fill in. But at a position that is particularly prone to injury, more depth is needed.
The salary cap is expected to increase 10 percent to $2.85 million next season. But that is misleading, Wilkinson said, noting that owner Merritt Paulson spent an additional $2 million for designated player Diego Chara, and the extra money allocated to teams for expansion and other reasons also helps.
“That’s a challenge on how to spend it when to spend it,” Wilkinson said.
For the players, the process of preparing for Timbers Year 2 is under way. The Timbers will train several days a week through the end of the MLS playoffs before taking off for a couple of months.
“We gave the paying public here some memorable nights,” Spencer said. “It’s important now that we don’t look back. We have to look forward and give them more memorable nights so that this stadium is packed for many years to come.”