When Kris Boyd left Wednesday's Portland Timbers game with a quad injury, it likely marked the end to his 2012 season. In many ways, it was already over, though. The only question is whether or not it was the last time he'd ever don Rose City Red.
Since Gavin Wilkinson had taken over as the interim head coach for the fired John Spencer, Boyd had become pretty much an after-thought. Boyd's start last week was his first in nearly six weeks, and he hasn't even played in five of the 12 matches since Spencer's firing.
Increasingly, the decision to sign Boyd in the first place appears to have been one of the biggest blunders in the Timbers' short MLS history. It's also the single biggest link to the only decision that has proven worse: not only hiring Spencer but giving him a significant say in player acquisition decisions.
It appears Boyd came to the Timbers based almost entirely at the behest of Spencer. The Houston Dynamo, for whom Spencer worked prior to taking the Timbers job, had initially been the MLS team that was wooing Boyd. But the all-time leading scorer in Scottish Premier League history apparently wasn't interested.
That's when the Timbers stepped in, offering Boyd a chance to play under his countryman and in front of boisterous crowds. They also reportedly gave him a two-year deal, with the first year paying him at least $1.5 million. For all this, they gave the Dynamo a first round pick in the 2013 SuperDraft.
It also set them up for what could be a rather ugly situation at the end of this season.
By any reasonable observation, Boyd is not part of the Timbers' plans moving forward. If he was, you'd have to imagine that coach-in-waiting Caleb Porter would have wanted to see him playing, rather than Bright Dike. You also have to imagine that Boyd's interest in sticking around is mutually limited.
Trouble is, parting ways might be easier said than done. Boyd is presumably owed at least another $1.5 million next season. That's a considerable chunk of change, especially considering he ended up in Portland only after voiding his contract with Turkish club Eskişehirspor, who he sued for late payments after only five months. It's hard to see him just walking away from money he's owed.
At the same time, it seems highly unlikely that any team is going to be clamoring to pay him that kind of money after he scored just seven times in 26 appearances.
With all that in mind, here's are the possible scenarios for how this all plays out:
He stays with the Timbers
Why they'd do it: Considering how much money it will cost the Timbers for Boyd to walk, it's an option they at least need to keep open. When Boyd is playing well, he's a target-forward type who has tons of experience that could be useful. There's also not someone on the roster who is an obvious upgrade, unless you really think Dike has a lot more upside than his four career goals have shown. If the choice is between paying Boyd to play to play for you and paying Boyd to play for someone else, it's not the craziest idea.
Why they won't: At least from the outside, this looks like a relationship that is broken beyond repair. Fair or not, Boyd is a symbol for everything that went wrong this year. Even if it proves very costly, you have to imagine the chances of Boyd being back in Portland are pretty close to zero.
He's traded within MLS
Why they'd do it: It might be the simplest way for them to recoup some of their costs. Even if they have to pay most of his salary, they could at least pick up a draft pick or something else of value. One imagines the Dynamo would still be interested, especially if it's at a discounted rate and they do have two open Designated Player spots that could be filled. If it's between getting traded within MLS and totally walking away from his contract, you have to imagine he'd accept the move.
Why they won't: The Timbers are fresh off being burned by the decision to do something very similar with Kenny Cooper. Although they didn't have to pay his salary, they did have to watch him have a standout season with the New York Red Bulls, with nothing but a draft pick and allocation money to show for it. Trading him somewhere like Houston, only to see him turn into a star, would be a pretty massive public relations disaster.
Timbers buy out deal, he's allowed to leave on a free
Why they'd do it: It's a clean break. Most of the Designated Player deals that go bust seem to turn out this way, with the Seattle Sounders and Blaise Nkufo being a notable example. The Timbers would get roster and cap space and could move on. For Boyd, he just turned 29 and if there's no transfer fee involved, there's probably a decent chance that he can find somewhere to play either in Scotland or England's lower levels. You have to imagine this would be his preference, as well, since it allows him to make a fresh start and still get paid.
Why they won't: Merritt Paulson may be a very rich man, but no one likes to just give money away. The idea of paying Boyd more money not to play than he is paying anyone to play is probably not something he likes thinking about.
None of these options seem particularly appealing, but hopefully the Timbers learned their lesson. Choosing who you let spend your money is just as important, if not more so, than who that money gets spent on.