Adam Kwarasey, whose place in Portland Timbers lore was secured last November in the penalty-kick tiebreaker that launched the club on its run to the MLS Cup title, has been transferred to Rosenborg BK of Norway’s top league.
The move frees up salary cap room and an international roster spot for the Timbers. It made sense for both the Timbers and for Kwarasey because Jake Gleeson played so well after Kwarasey suffered a finger injury on April 16.
“This transfer gives the Timbers flexibility to strengthen the team and is a move that makes sense for Adam, his family and the Timbers,” general manager Gavin Wilkinson said. “We wish him all the best in his career.”
At 28, Kwarasey is in his prime. And his salary — listed at 335,000 according to information released by the MLS Players Association — was more than three times what Gleeson is earning this season. He was born in Norway and played in Norway’s top league before joining the Timbers prior to last season.
“I want to thank Adam for his contributions to the club and for helping us win our first major trophy,” Timbers coach Caleb Porter said. “I enjoyed working with him, and he was a top-class professional in his time here. We wish him nothing but the best with his new opportunity.”
Timbers owner Merritt Paulson thanked Kwarasey on twitter:
“Adam Kwarasey should never need to buy a drink in PDX. We owe him so much. Very tough decision but I cannot thank him enough.”
The owner also summed up the reasoning behind the move with this tweet:
“We now have some cap flex to do things we hope will help the team… now or later (needs to be right). Adam also needs to be starting/playing.”
The Timbers might sign an experienced backup keeper for the rest of this season. Rookie Wade Hamilton has been Gleeson’s backup but has not played. If the Timbers use their roster flexibility to add a field player this season, it might be at the wing position. The injury to Darren Mattocks and the transfer of Dairon Asprilla mean Portland lacks depth on the flanks.
Since taking over for Kwarasey, the 26-year-old Gleeson has emerged as one of the top shot-stoppers in Major League Soccer — an ability that was instrumental in Sunday’s 3-1 win over Seattle.
Of his five saves, a finger-tip deflection of a shot from distance just after halftime might have been his best. Seattle’s Cristian Roldan let fly from about 30 yards and the ball appeared headed for the upper right corner of the goal. Sounders coach Sigi Schmid pointed to that save as a potential game-changer because a goal would have tied the score moments after halftime
“He hit it pretty well, Gleeson said. “It’s one of those things where your instance kind of takes over and you just kind of run with it. I managed to get a finger tip on it.”
Plays like that have given the 6-foot-3 New Zealander a firm grip on the startling keeper spot for the Timbers. In his 15 appearances he has made 70 saves and been scored on 18 times (there of those penalty kicks). His 70 save are second only to Vancouver’s David Ousted (77) this season in MLS — and Ousted has played in six more games than Gleeson.
Gleeson has been with the Timbers since they entered MLS in 2011. But until Kwarasey was injured, his only action in league games was four appearances in 2011. He did, however, play for the ill Kwarasey in the first leg of last season’s Western Conference semifinals against Vancouver, a match that was a scoreless draw.
Gleeson also has championships on his resume. In 2010 he was the goalkeeper for the Timbers under-23 team that won all of its matches en route to the Premier Development League title. He spent most of the 2014 season on loan to the Sacramento Republic of USL PRO (now USL), and helped Sacramento win the league title.
Sunday was his first time playing against the Sounders. Gleeson clearly enjoyed the experience.
“I must admit this morning I woke up extra excited for this one. The fact that the fans have been lining up since Thursday morning, you can kind of feel the tension in the air,” he said following Sunday’s victory. “For me it was great.The more pressure, the more emphasis you put on the game, the more I enjoy it.”