Timbers taking their time
The Portland Timbers hope to name a new head coach by the end of the year. But the search won't impede necessary roster moves.
And the Timbers won't drastically change their style of soccer no matter who is hired as the new head coach.
"In a perfect world, we will have identified the candidate to be the next coach by the end of the year. But the decision won't be made unless there's confidence in the fit," Timbers CEO Merritt Paulson said.
Paulson and GM/president of soccer Gavin Wilkinson spoke to the media on Wednesday for the first time since Caleb Porter departed after five seasons as the Timbers' coach.
The Timbers are seeking a successor with a good knowledge of MLS so the transition will be as smooth as possible for a club that finished atop the Western Conference in 2017. The ideal candidate will be bilingual and have experience in different countries.
"Ideally, the coach will have MLS experience, or will have MLS knowledge, but that doesn't limit us to just American candidates within this country," Wilkinson saaid.
No candidates were named.
Wilkinson said the club will identify five or six finalists, then trim the list to two before making a decision. There already have been both in-person and phone interviews with some candidates.
"We've started to and we're in the process of identifying the best available coaches in this country, and that includes the divisions below MLS," Wilkinson says. "It includes some of the coaches that are no longer in MLS and have MLS experience and it does include the best college coaches.
"With that, we will be identifying the best foreign coaches and putting them up against what we think are the best coaches within the U.S."
Paulson emphasized that the coaching and general manager jobs need to remain separate.
"I've strongly subscribed to the theory that a head coach shouldn't also be a GM and be negotiating salaries," Paulson said.
Both Paulson and Wilkinson praised Porter and said the working relationships among them were good.
"I absolutely loved working with Caleb. I thought the culture in the club changed and developed for the better," Wilkinson said.
Paulson is impressed with the coaches who have expressed interest.
"I can already say that we're going to have multiple excellent options and we're going to be in the fortunate position of making what is going to be a very difficult decision," Paulson said.
The MLS calendar means Wilkinson, with the help of scouting director Ned Grabavoy, must work now toward finalizing the 2018 Timbers roster.
Wilkinson pointed to three positions where the Timbers are looking to acquire new players: an attacking player, a younger central defender who can start in MLS, and a player who can provide depth in midfield.
For the attacking player, Wilkinson said the Timbers' goal is to add "a proven player that has international experience. Somebody that is dynamic, somebody that adds something a little bit different to what we've currently got."
Wilkinson mentioned Lawrence Olum and Bill Tuiloma as defensive midfielders who provide good depth. But with David Guzman going to the 2018 World Cup with Costa Rica, adding a younger midfielder is another offseason priority.
No matter who becomes the Timbers' next coach, the club's on-field approach will not drastically change, according to Wilkinson.
Pointing to the key roles for players such as Diego Valeri and Diego Chara, Wilkinson said: "We need to make sure the coach is in line with the club, values the players that are proven to be successful, and will use those players accordingly."
The same applies for seeking to add players.
"We still want to be a proactive, possession-based team that looks to pressure and play the game in the opposing half. Some of those characteristics define the players that we're going after," Wilkinson said.
On other subjects:
• After injuries have hit the Timbers hard in 2016 and 2017, Wilkinson said the club is making changes to the medical and sports science departments.
Several candidates to be the new head athletic trainer have been identified. And the Timbers will hire a staff physical therapist for the first time.
• Although MLS has not announced the allocation money teams will have to spend in 2018, Wilkinson said: "We may have a little bit of flexibility" in putting together next season's roster.
• On the future for T2, the Timbers team that finished 3-23-6 in the United Soccer League: "This year was abysmal. There's no hiding from the truth. It did not achieve what we needed it to achieve, and that is providing players for the first team," Wilkinson said. "I think it needs to be carefully reviewed. I think the head coach that's coming in needs to have some say. We do believe in a vertically integrated club where the head coach is aligned with the T2 program and with the academy. Caleb was heavily involved in that."