How Offseason Moves Will Help The 2024 Portland Timbers

Every winter, the Portland Timbers wait until the final moments of the primary transfer window to make changes for the upcoming Major League Soccer (MLS) campaign — a high-risk strategy that has historically failed to yield early-season victories. The Green and Gold have had seven instances in their current 13-year period in MLS where they’ve earned just three points or fewer in their first four matches of a calendar year. That is a fiasco no other club has ever gone through.

Some fans have pinned the blame on the annual preseason injury crisis, others on strength of schedule. Still, the delayed materialization of new signings leaves depth thin until those players fully acclimate, which can take months once the action is in full swing.

In 2022, these same problems had an even more significant impact on the rest of the year than before. The Timbers missed the MLS Cup Playoffs by a single point, falling out of the postseason picture with a gut-wrenching loss on Decision Day. General Manager Ned Grabavoy and the rest of his staff then delayed making any reinforcements to a back line that had conceded 53 goals in 34 league matches until the middle of the following season. Consequently, 2023 ended up being twelve months of misery as they allowed five more goals and again suffered elimination from playoff contention in a manner similar to the previous year.

This time, however, the approach in the transfer market has been more immediate and ambitious from the executives overseeing the product on the field. Just 15 days after the 3-1 loss to Houston on Oct. 21, 2023, the club announced the hiring of former Manchester United player and Canadian Men’s National Team assistant coach Phil Neville as their manager. He instantly started utilizing the connections he had built while serving on John Herdman’s staff to recruit quality players for his new job.

Neville first instructed the front office to call Inter Miami regarding a potential trade for left-footed center-back Kamal Miller, who made 35 appearances for the South Beach squad during the 2023 season. The two sides were able to finalize a deal on Jan. 4, with Miami receiving substantial cash and Portland snagging their prized target. 

Miller was an MLS All-Star two years ago with Montréal and played 270 minutes at the 2022 FIFA World Cup. More notably, Neville coached him last season with Canada. Known for his superb skills on the ball, this addition to the roster forms a potent CB duo with Zac McGraw, who possesses the potential to be among the best in the league. 

The Timbers were also in dire need of a starting goalkeeper, with veterans David Bingham and Aljaž Ivačič set to depart and secured the most talented one available thanks to the help of Neville yet again. Maxime Crépeau, who recently won an MLS Cup with LAFC, was looking for a new home after his previous club acquired 3x Ligue 1 GK of the Year winner Hugo Lloris. Portland signed him in free agency days after trading for Miller, completing their overhaul behind the goalposts with Trey Muse and James Pantemis coming in to understudy the 29-year-old.

Crépeau has accumulated seven years of service time and counting for Canada, where he developed a strong relationship with the Timbers’ new manager, just as Miller did. His résumé includes 100 regular season starts for three MLS clubs and a USL GK of the Year nod in 2018. 

These moves bring upgrades at positions where the club used to lack both ability and consistency in its starting lineup for several years. Additionally, the urgency the front office has shown in getting these individuals on a plane to PDX gives them ample time to build chemistry with teammates before the games begin, a luxury the players haven’t had in past seasons. 

They aren’t done yet, either. With two Designated Player (DP) spots open, insider Tom Bogert has reported that the signing of a new attacker this offseason is “100%” on the way. He also mentions that a second DP might come later this winter or in the summer. Regardless, the Timbers are extremely prepared for the season opener, which is just a few weeks away on Feb. 24 against the Colorado Rapids at the friendly confines of Providence Park.