MLS- Portland Timbers

Timbers sign U.S U-20 midfielder Renken


One of the more potential-filled midfielders in the U.S. youth pipeline is coming to MLS.

The Portland Timbers have acquired U.S. Under-20 midfielder Charles Renken through the MLS waiver process, according to a team release, bringing the 18-year-old to the Pacific Northwest from TSG 1899 Hoffenheim.

As a member of the U.S. youth program since 2005, Renken has long carried promise, but knee injuries have disrupted his career. He was a participant in the joint U.S. U-23/U-20 camp held in Duisburg, Germany, in November, and he had been playing for Hoffenheim's U-19 team.

As for how Portland was able to acquire Renken, all other MLS teams passed on the chance to sign him, thus negating the need for the allocation or lottery process, sources told SBI. The past precedent for U.S. youth internationals coming to MLS from clubs abroad has been to put them through the allocation order.

So why did 18 teams pass on Renken?

It depends on the teams, but you had some teams that were scared off by his injury history, some teams that didn't want to give up their place in the MLS Allocation Order (which is determined by last year's record and determines who has first crack at U.S. national team players who return to MLS). There is also the fact that several teams already have stockpiles of young talent

Exceptions to that rule include players who have been previously offered Generation adidas deals only to turn them down and head overseas (like Lee Nguyen), who are then put in a weighted lottery. Other exceptions include players who have played in lower-tier leagues in America. While Renken falls into none of those categories, it seems that Portland was the only team willing to take a chance on the Zambia-born U.S. prospect.

What do you make of this development? Happy to see Renken come to MLS? 

Share your thoughts below.

  • jonk

    See above in regard to past injuries and his young age. Add to that the fact that teams might not want to burn their place in the allocation order.


  • Wayne Campbell

    I’d like to hear more analysis by SBI on this kid. I thought he was going to be awesome. I understand he’s had some bad knee injuries, ACL I believe. That being said how badly has his game dropped off? This really bums me out. Hopefully he reaches his potential with the Timbers and kills it! I will be certainly be watching out for him.


  • Union_Man

    All that being said, how does Portland not lose their allocation spot now and move to the back of the line if every team passed? Rules are rules for a player coming back from Europe right?


  • RSL123

    The Timbers have the POTENTIAL to have a really good team in a few years; with Nagbe, Valencia, Renken, etc….


  • papi grande

    sounds like severely damaged goods…if no other teams wanted him…and more so, if hoffenheim let him go without a transfer fee. i wish for the best for him…but sounds like portland did nothing more than take a flyer on a kid that is a longshot at best given his injuries of late.


  • RandomTimberFan

    Merritt Paulson just confirmed on Twitter that the Timbers keep their place in the allocation order precisely because this kid was offered to every team and they all passed. Allocation order only kicks in when multiple teams place a claim.

    In other words, everything went the Timbers way in this case and they have nothing to lose except what ever he will earn in salary.


  • zaggy

    Turf in Portland is better than most fields elsewhere. Has a special soccer specific underlay that makes it way more “springy”


  • Martha


    Another “future” star derailed by injury or otherwise failing to live up to promise

    Adu, JOB, Renken, Holden.


  • Puffer

    I still don;t understand how only one team wanted Renken. Is his salary exorbitant or something?


  • Kevin

    I think it’s a little early to put an 18 year old on that list. Holden doesn’t even belong there, either, considering the substantial success he’s already had.


  • CommonSense

    I can’t imagine he has a huge contract, but there have gotta be concerns about the knee history. Still, feel like we just got a nice little gift dropped into our laps. We have a very good PDL U23 side, coupled with the reserve league and he’ll have plenty of opportunities for matches.


  • fischy

    I’m surprised by 2 things:

    First, Hoffenheim giving up on him at this point. Last I read, things were going pretty well there for him — he was expected to move up a level when Gyau went up to the varsity. What happened?

    Second, only Portland was interested? Did other teams even have a scouting report on him?


  • JoeW

    It may be early to put an 18 year old on the “future star derailed” category. But it’s also true that a very talented 18 year old was allowed to leave by his club with no transfer fee and all other clubs in MLS passed on him. Unless a club was limited with the cap and had eyes on another priorities, that really makes no sense. Unless you conclude his knees really are that bad.


  • bird

    My only idea could be that his Hoffenheim deal was a split deal with Vancouver until he turned 18 at which time he could train in full with Hoffenheim. He just turned 18 last month, so maybe there was a complication with getting him on full-time so they sent him back to Vancouver who no longer has a spot for him due to all their signings of late so they let him go…..this is all speculation on my part but its all so odd. Last I heard he was looking good for the U-19 side and showed well at the recent U-23 camp in Germany…..


  • Andy

    I hope he tears it up! I’ve been to the village/slum area where he grew up in Zambia multiple times on mission trips, and it would be really cool to see a kid make it out of that and be successful.

    I think Portland will be a team to watch this year with Boyd coming in. The defense may still be pretty ugly though.


  • PDX Tom

    Obviously the Timbers are in tough shape with their sold out stadium and rabid fan base. It is crucial that MLS preserve the massive Portland, Oregon media market which clearly explains why there is such a conspiracy afoot to save the Timbers.



  • Gary

    I think the defense will be much improved with Mosquera and a healthy Futty in the middle. Brunner and Jean-Baptiste provide nice depth.

    Lovel Palmer seems to have found a home at Right Back.
    Chabala and Wallace give the team nice attacking options on the left side, but a stronger defensive player could be added here.


  • hush

    Adu?? OOOook. Maybe you felt Adu was goint to be the next Messiah of Futbol or something, but in a U.S jersey he does just fine. So I don’t understand Adu or even Holden on that list. You must have some REAL high expectations for decent U.S players…. remember, we follow USMNT players, not Brazilians. 🙂


  • The Imperative Voice

    “He was a participant in the joint U.S. U-23/U-20 camp held in Duisburg, Germany.” He at least used to be one of THE most important future US prospects. I find it hard to believe MLS teams were ready to fight over lesser kids (“young age”), some of whom have their own injury histories (“past injuries”), in a draft, but wouldn’t want a German-trained prospect who was bigtime enough to have ESPN articles about him.

    My assumption is Portland made loud noises about wanting him and the other teams gentlemanly let him fall. Your excuse is then the allocation order, the injuries, the rotation of the earth.


  • The Imperative Voice

    You know what makes the most sense here? A modified Eddie Johnson Scenario. Not so much that no one was interested in an absolute sense as that, at the negotiated salary, Portland might have been the only team left interested. Rather than get into the $ the teams then defensively point out he’s been hurt, would cost an allocation, other platitudes. MLS is probably in no mood to publicly debate the allocation process again — particularly when it could be argued they negotiated poorly if only one team will buy at the deal price — and Portland has an incentive to point out no one was picking to defend their argument that they shouldn’t lose their spot in the allocation order.

    This scenario makes more sense than a former wonderboy going nearly undrafted. But it would also be a good argument the allocation process is broken; MLS is overpaying if not many (any?) teams are interested at the agreed salaries.

    IMO Portland or anyone taking an allocation player should lose an allocation even if uncontested because they get a benefit — the player — and the other teams can’t control the price MLS and perhaps one team are (poorly?) negotiating. Should Portland really get a boon from MLS’ crap negotiating?


  • The Imperative Voice

    Step back and think about it a minute though. MLS makes lousy (expensive) deal on once-prized prospect, one team interested, team does not lose draft spot. MLS makes decent deal on cheaper, less desirable player, a few teams are interested, team does lose draft spot. Strikes me as absurd that the fact that a salary might be higher for a more prized prospect, deterring competition, would actually benefit the signing team by letting them retain draft order. They just got this prized prospect, and the fact he was that much a prospect is why presumably he commanded the higher salary. I probably won’t be able to confirm this til the salaries come out, but hey.

    For all the people who call BS, just look at Benny. Rationally, no other players on your cap, most every team would pick him. But working within a cap, with guaranteed contracts, etc., the calculus doesn’t work that way in practice at an allocation draft. To then say, well, no one else was interested so Portland keeps their spot, is absurd. Cause I think everyone would be jumping over Renken, Gyau, Boyd, and a list of other German-based players, all other things being equal, injury history or not.


  • rory

    Maybe Garber just feels bad for the city of Portland since they got totally hosed on the stadium deal in which the billionaire Paulson family got a stadium refurbished for them and a hell of a discounted tax rate on their profits for the Timbers.


  • ben in el cajon

    To be fair, though, if you of ever seen a terribly misused word, you know how annoying that is. It’s sort have like seeing a boogar on someone’s upper lip.


  • DemonJuice

    You do realize that Paulson doesn’t own the stadium, right? The city does. Paulson has to pay rent. Why should he foot the entire bill for upgrades on a property he will never own?


  • DemonJuice

    Also, the money from the city came from the Spectators Facility Fund which comes from ticket sales and parking revenue for sporting events in the city and NOT taxes. If you never attended a sporting event in the city of Portland you didn’t contribute a dime to the JWF upgrades.

    Try again.


  • JoeW

    But no-one WAS jumping over Renken…other than Portland. The rules say you lose your place if you win a lottery pick. But Renken wasn’t a lottery pick b/c there was no lottery.


  • DemonJuice

    In the interest of full disclosure, if the team fails then the taxpayers will be on the hook for the money due to the bonds the city had to sell to increase the fund. Yeah, the Timbers are really holding on by a thread compared to other teams in this league. LOL


  • The Imperative Voice

    Like I said, I think Renken was likely unattractive at a price rather than unattractive period. More like Benny than EJ. In which case you should lose your spot.

    The only reason a team should not lose their spot is if literally NO ONE wants them at their offer price, in which case he should be a free agent and the signing team should not be punished for getting the player.

    But to me if one team does want him at the established price, how is that different than a draft? In a draft, one team picks each player. I don’t think Portland should get a pass because MLS asked around before holding a draft, because Portland would have had to wait out all the other teams anyway. For them to draft Renken, x number of teams have to pass. That’s not really different than what happened.


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