The MLS season finally came to an end with New York City FC beating the Portland Timbers in Portland. An exciting final closed a great postseason that saw underdogs beat some of the best teams in the league.
While the Quakes are not on the same level as either club, the team can learn from both teams as they enter a pivotal offseason.
This year’s MLS final was an exciting game that had a last-second equalizer from Portland and an incredible penalty shootout to decide the champion. Both teams represent some of the best-run organizations in the league. NYCFC, a team less than a decade old, has gone from inconsistent to a champion, while Portland has been a contender since Diego Valeri joined the team in 2013.
Both teams weren’t seen as the clear-cut favorites throughout the regular season but grew in the playoffs. They showed the difference between a regular-season team and a postseason one which the Quakes are neither. However, the Quakes can pick up some tips from the way the two teams built their squads to prepare for a deep playoff run.
The Timbers are probably the closest of the two teams to the Quakes in terms of how they operate, with NYCFC being bankrolled by the same group as Manchester City. However, the management of NYCFC has done a better job recently with player development.
Portland is one of the best teams in the league and has been so for close to a decade, and the Quakes could learn a lot from the way they operate their team. In that decade of domination, Portland has built contenders with a budget close to the Quakes.
This past season, the Timbers had a reported payroll of 11.9 million dollars, with the Quakes’ payroll at 11 million dollars. That difference of .9 million dollars can be attributed to the amount paid out to the designated players on the Timbers, with the rest of the payroll close to the Quakes. The Quakes only had one designated player being paid over a million while Portland had two, and with one more designated player role opening up for the Quakes, it shows how close the two teams are.
Rather than splurging on a player for the sake of it, the Timbers have built around one player and found complementary pieces that are of MLS quality. Comparing the two highest-paid players on both teams, Sebastian Blanco is one of the best midfielders in the league, and Cristian Espinoza is a top MLS winger. However, it will always be easier to build around a creative attacking midfielder than a winger who isn’t a prolific goalscorer but an excellent creator.
That is not to say that Espinoza isn’t worth his contract; he is the best player on the Quakes and should be an MLS all-star. Rather he should be used in the same way Portland uses Yimmi Chara, their second-highest player, as an elite complementary piece to a centerpiece. While that player isn’t on the Quakes now, as Chofis isn’t that player but still a quality piece, there is the money to find that centerpiece.
While it may not seem like it, Portland’s financial situation shows that they are closer to the Quakes than NYCFC, and they should serve as an ideal model for the Quakes. Portland’s roster and payroll management are standards that the Quakes should aspire to go into next season.
NYCFC is in the Andromeda galaxy compared to the Quakes when it comes to the payroll, and the transfer fees dolled out for players. It is that their clear player development model that the Quakes should follow.
The early seasons of NYCFC were filled with disappointment after signing aging European stars and interesting managers but constantly failed in the postseason. Andrea Pirlo, David Villa, and Frank Lampard paired with managers such as Patrick Vieira failed to even reach the eastern conference finals.
In the past three seasons, management decided to move away from the stereotype of MLS being a retirement league and move towards preparing players for a move to Europe. They have done this by allowing academy players to develop in the first team while not forcing them to be the focal point, as well as acting as a springboard for players from abroad who are looking to prepare for their move to Europe. This shift has paid dividends for both club and player, with academy player Joe Scally becoming a mainstay in a good Borussia Mönchengladbach side and current player Valentín Castellanos developing into an interesting prospect for European clubs.
With a promising young core, the Quakes should be able to provide that platform for young players, with Marcos López being an example of a foreign player looking to develop in the MLS. Cade Cowell and Jackson Yueill are also good players that would benefit from quality veteran players who could help ease the burden on them. By allowing the Quakes to develop players, as well as finding veteran players who can help compete for championships, the Quakes could be prepared for both the short and long term like NYCFC.
The Quakes will never have the financial backing of NYCFC, but they can still follow their development method to get the best out of players to help them move to greater clubs. This would help the Quakes contend by mixing experienced players with a platform for young players to develop.
NYCFC and the Timbers are on a much higher level than the Quakes, but it doesn’t mean that the Quakes shouldn’t pick up some of the techniques those clubs have used.
The Timbers have incredible roster management while NYCFC has a cohesive strategy from the front office to the coaching staff that allows for success.
In this upcoming offseason, it is imperative that the Quakes move away from the mistakes clouding the past and look towards winning teams as models to replicate.
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