Why Portland’s new striker news is underwhelming to some

by Charlie Folkestad
Nathan Fogaca Timbers

As reported by MLS’s Tom Bogert this morning, the Portland Timbers have signed T2 forward Nathan Fogaca to a first-team contract.

This came after multiple promises from Timbers GM Gavin Wilkinson that the club would sign a new striker. Wilkinson explicitly mentioned they were looking to use their third U-22 slot on said striker on the Soccer Made in Portland podcast last week.

He even put out a teaser last night through The Oregonian.

“We’ll have a number nine signed within the next 24 hours that will help the club and put us in a better spot and give us some positional depth,” Wilkinson told Clarke.

“We originally had three options: one in Mexico, one in Switzerland and one in Costa Rica. There were different challenges with each, and it got to a stage where the value for the expense couldn’t be justified.”

Bogert followed that up by mentioning Portland were looking at a youth national team striker from Europe, but that they didn’t want to force anything prematurely.

Essentially, it looks like the Timbers struck out on their main targets and settled for Nathan.

So what?

I have nothing against Nathan. He has experience playing in a tough Brazilian league and had a solid scoring record in the USL Championship last year. He has a good first touch and is a genuinely good finisher.

Let me be clear: I want Nathan to succeed on the Timbers. I’m excited for him. Nathan, if you’re somehow reading this, I’m rooting for you.

But there’s a few problems with this dynamic that’s been created.

Problem #1: This was not the signing fans were “promised.” More than that, it’s another slight against a fanbase that’s tolerating more than enough of them already.

It’s also a slight against Nathan himself. What a terrible way to be introduced to the first team: not with praise for making the jump, but with disappointment for not being someone else.

Problem #2 (and the question that keeps burning a hole in my skull): Once Wilkinson knew Nathan was the guy, why release yesterday’s teaser? Sure, the language was guarded…

“We’re going to keep our powder dry and, if we need to, use the (U-22) funds that we have to acquire a player coming into the secondary window this summer,” Wilkinson said. “The number nine we are signing right now is somebody that can be in quick, it’s somebody that can join the club immediately, and is someone that won’t have a long transition period.”

…But fans already expected a striker signing. Any piece with the “we’re signing a new striker” headline is going to be underwhelming when the result is a second-team guy. This seems obvious.

Problem #3: Jeremy Ebobisse was a fan favorite both on and off the pitch. Portland sold him to San Jose because they had too many forwards on the roster — Felipe Mora and Jaroslaw Niezgoda were deemed to be more than enough goalscoring firepower.

Portland now find themselves with an invisible DP and two second-teamers complementing the injured starter.

Problem #4: The elephant in the region. The Seattle Sounders are playing for the biggest trophy in North America tomorrow night. They’re the favorites against a Liga MX team. If they win, they’ll be the first MLS club to ever do it.

Seattle re-signed one of their MVP candidates to a TAM deal last offseason. They also poached the best attacking player (Albert Rusnak) from the team that beat them in the playoffs (Real Salt Lake) because they felt like it.

Meanwhile, Timbers fans are stuck trying to hype themselves up about a player who scored nine open-play goals in 29 second-tier starts last year. The gap between front Portland and Seattle’s front offices has never been more apparent than right now.

Upshot

Ahead of the Colorado loss, I caught a little flack for asking whether or not the Timbers would make the playoffs. It was a serious question, and there’s no way anyone can look at this squad and think they’re playoff bound without bringing in more players.

The club wants to be good throughout the entire season. It’s okay if you don’t care or think it will be fine, but it’s also okay to hold them accountable for poor performances (amongst other things) at any point during the season.

This entire piece could go down as an overreaction by the end of the season. Who knows, maybe Nathan scores a hat trick off the bench next week. Maybe Portland goes on a patented winning streak and grabs a Champions League spot of their own for 2023.

I think the more likely outcome is this: we see just enough good things to get the fans somewhat excited, followed by key players returning from injury, and a solid summer signing that gets the Timbers back on track for the playoffs.

At least I hope so.

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