By this time next year, Portland Timbers coach John Spencer will likely be hailed as a genius or derided as an over-ambitious fool. What other conclusion can you draw after the latest pieces of news to emanate from one of MLS's two expansion teams?
In case you missed it, the Timbers signed former Arsenal defender Kerrea Gilbert and traded away fullback Jordan Graye on Monday. It's just the latest example of Spencer and the Timbers front office placing their faith in players who weren't in MLS last season.
Those moves leave the Timbers with just five players who spent significant time in MLS last season and are expected to play in MLS in 2011. Just three of those five players are among the 10 the team picked in last month's Expansion Draft.
In Gilbert, the Timbers seem to be taking the high-risk, high-reward tact. The 23-year-old has been under the control of Arsenal since 2003 and made his senior team debut as an 18-year-old in 2005.
Since then, though, he's received most of his playing time while on loan to several teams in various levels of the English soccer pyramid. His most significant playing time came in 2008-09 while with the Championship's Leicester City when he got into 34 league matches and scored the only league goal of his career. He has played for five different teams since his Arsenal debut. Gilbert was released in June.
That lack of stability was apparently a major reason for his decision to come to MLS.
"No doubt, this is a good challenge and a good place to get himself going again," Spencer told the Timbers website.
The trade of Graye, while possibly not directly related, does fit the larger narrative. Graye played 20 games for DC United last season and performed at about league average (8.19 shots per 90 allowed while he was on the pitch). He wasn't necessarily starter material for the Timbers, but he certainly had more potential to pay immediate dividends than a 2014 fourth-round SuperDraft pick (for which he was traded).
The Timbers seem pretty much dead set on moving forward with players they have essentially discovered themselves. The team has acquired two MLS players via trade, signed five players from outside of MLS and picked 10 in the expansion draft. Of that group, just 10 are expected to suit up for the Timbers in 2011. No player currently under the team's control is older than 27 and the players' average age is 24.7.
They'll have another opportunity to pick up some MLS talent in Wednesday's Re-Entry Draft, but they have already been given a chance to acquire almost all of those players before. The next influx of players probably won't be until the SuperDraft on Jan. 13 where the Timbers have the second overall pick. Other than that, their likely to be very active on the international market and will likely sign at least a few more Division 2 players.
While other teams have succeeded with limit production from players with MLS experience, few have ever tried this tact to such a degree. The Timbers still have about 20 senior and supplemental roster spots to fill and don't seem particularly concerned about finding players with extensive MLS experience.
"We’re asking for a little patience," Spencer said. "If we were playing our first game this week, we’d be in some trouble. Fortunately, we’re not playing this week. Rome wasn't built in a day."