On Thursday, June 18th, 2020, the Portland Timbers declined the option to permanently sign defender Jorge Moreira. Despite offering a loan extension and a reduced buyout, General Manager Gavin Wilkinson and Co. couldn’t reach a deal.
In case you’re not familiar with how these things work, let me briefly explain: In soccer, a player can either be signed to (1) a permanent transfer or (2) a loan, where they play for a year or two and then go back to their old club.
In loan deals, there is almost always an option for the second club to purchase the player permanently or extend the loan at its conclusion, but the price is obviously set by the loaner, not the loanee.
With Moreira, River Plate clearly saw the immense value he brought to Portland’s squad and gave PTFC management a number that was just too high.
Moreira started in 31 of his 32 appearances for the Timbers, tallying a pair of goals and four assists. His first goal for the Timbers was an important one: a laser to finish off Columbus and earn Portland’s first win of 2019.
While Moreira was, in my mind, one of the Timbers’ best players, he was not without his flaws. Longtime readers may remember my repeated lamentation of Moreira’s inconsistencies, most notably his tendency to stay too far forward and leave the rest of the back line exposed.
Moreira is certainly the most dynamic attacking full back in Portland’s history, though, and it’s worth mentioning his intense speed, determination, and crossing skills as incredibly valuable assets to Portland on the field.
Overall, the Timbers are losing their only player that consistently landed on MLS “Team of the Season” lists, so the amount they kept to lose him better be pretty high.
This seems like the perfect opportunity for Bonilla to seize the starting right back role and grow into his own as a solid MLS player. But there are a couple problems with this.
First off, Portland has seen very little of Bonilla. He made a couple first team appearances in preseason, but he was only able to log one game with T2 before the COVID outbreak. (Side note: Bonilla recorded an assist in that debut, but T2 fell 6-1 to Phoenix Rising FC.)
The second problem with Bonilla starting immediately is that Portland won’t have the long stretches of summer matches that we’re all used to. The MLS is Back Tournament is coming in hot, and Giovanni Savarese will probably elect to start MLS veteran Chris Duvall over the youthful yet inexperienced Bonilla. Duvall was acquired at the start of the season and started Portland’s last match against Nashville in March.
This brings me to my final point: Bonilla might receive playing time anyway in Orlando, and even that might still be a bad thing. With the high temperatures and higher stakes of the MLS is Back Tournament, it would not be surprising to see Duvall need some rest. It’s then Bonilla’s time to shine, but the original problem is still there: We don’t know if he’s good enough to compete at this level yet.
The MLS is Back Tournament will be a tough test for every team, but the unfortunate departure of Moreira leaves the Timbers with an added chip on their shoulder.