Portland no place for English retirees - The Vancouver Sun

Timbers leery about signing fading stars

By Bruce Constantineau

Many English Premier League and Championship League players are keen to play in Major League Soccer next season but they'll have to come with the right attitude to land in Portland.

"They can't come over here to retire," Portland Timbers coach and general manager Gavin Wilkinson said in an interview. "They have to look at how they can come here and benefit the organization and the game."

Wilkinson becomes technical director of the Portland MLS squad next year and recently returned from a scouting and fact-finding trip to England, where he visited the operations of Chelsea, Manchester City and Sheffield Wednesday.

He's the Portland equivalent of Vancouver Whitecaps director of soccer operations Tom Soehn, logging serious air miles in a global search for new soccer talent.

Wilkinson looked at the business side of the English teams' operations, along with their scouting and player development programs.

"We're looking at the idea of partnering with a team in England so our good young players can experience the game at the highest level," he said.

Portland has a U-23 Premier Development League team but will consider operating a full youth academy system for long term player development.

Wilkinson met with several players and agents in England and felt many were very interested in making a switch to MLS.

"Unfortunately, English players are overvalued in many ways," he said. "They're very good players but also some of the highest paid in the world."

Wilkinson said Portland will consider signing a designated player for its MLS team if it makes sense.

Only a portion of a designated player's salary counts against a team's salary cap, which allows MLS clubs to attract high-priced talent like David Beckham and Freddie Ljungberg.

"Portland has to be a situation where no one player is bigger than the team or bigger than the city," Wilkinson said.

"Freddie Ljungberg has done well in Seattle and that's a good fit for them but it wouldn't necessarily be a great fit for Portland."

He feels Seattle set the bar high for MLS expansion teams -making the playoffs in its first season and setting league attendance records in 2009.

"But our success can't all be about results on the field," Wilkinson said. "It takes time to develop a winning squad and we're being realistic in the way we're putting things together."

He's pleased with the Timbers' early success this season and hopes several players from the USSF D-2 team will make the transition to MLS next year.

"Players know that if they do well this year, the door is definitely open for them next year," Wilkinson said.

bconstantineau@vancouversun.com
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