Portland Timbers general manager Gavin Wilkinson believes the pool of players available to be drafted by Major League Soccer teams on Thursday is deeper than it was in 2011.
How might that help the Timbers strengthen their roster? Wilkinson wasn’t giving any hints in advance of the two-round draft of college players that takes place in Kansas City.
Barring trades, the Timbers hold the No. 8 selection in each round.
Wilkinson said the club’s priority is to improve depth so that there is more competition for playing time. He declined to say what positions the team might be focusing on for the draft, but a recently disclosed injury to central defender David Horst figures to make that position a priority — either through this draft or by adding free agents.
The Timbers announced on Monday that the 26-year-old Horst would be shelved for five to seven months following left hip surgery. Horst played in 16 games last season.
Central defender is the thinnest position on the Timbers’ roster. Eric Brunner played 32 games in 2011, and Futty Danso played 24. Steve Purdy, who appeared in eight MLS matches at right back for Portland in 2011, can also play central defender.
If Portland drafts for need at central defender, potential picks include Matt Hedges of NCAA champion North Carolina, Andrew Jean-Baptiste of Connecticut, or Austin Berry of Louisville.
Jean-Baptiste is a Generation Adidas player, meaning his salary will be paid by MLS as part of its sponsorship partnership with Adidas. Generation Adidas players do not count against a team’s salary cap. Portland’s Darlington Nagbe, the second pick in last year’s draft, remains a Generation Adidas player for 2012.
In addition to central defender, the Timbers also might be seeking to add depth in midfield. Diego Chara and Jack Jewsbury both had strong seasons in the center of the park for Portland in 2011, but it is a position that could use more depth.
The expansion Montreal Impact have the first pick, and Vancouver Whitecaps FC the second pick. Among the projected possible top picks are Akron forward Darren Mattocks, Duke midfielder Andrew Wenger, and UCLA forward Chandler Hoffman.
Seattle Sounders FC holds the 15th pick in each round.
The draft starts at 9 a.m. Thursday and can be watched on ESPN2.