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Portland Timbers 2013/14 kits … maybe

kits

Todos Sobres Camisetas – probably the best web site for those seeking what new soccer kits will look like, posted this photo of what they claimed are the Portland Timbers kits for the 2013/14 season. The photo was subsequently taken down after a sort of argument with Timbers owner Merritt Paulson over whether they were fake. I thought I’d post them anyway. Thoughts, Timbers fans?

Why are the Timbers so bad?

Image

What? I thought Frankie Hejduk was a Crew fan. Anyone? Anyone?

By Jeremiah Paschke-Wood | Only Love Soccer

Along with the Galaxy and the Crew, Portland is, for me, the most disappointing team in the MLS. After narrowly missing out on a playoff berth last year, John Spencer and co. brought in defenders Jean Andrew-Baptiste and Hanyer Mosquera, established striker Kris Boyd and winger Frank Songo’o to what was already thought to be a decent lineup. After an opening win and draw, however, the wheels have come off, and the team has now lost five of their last six matches. And the Timbers’ vaunted fan support has failed to have as much of an impact, where Portland has only won 2 of 4 matches. So why is this Timbers team so bad, and how should Spencer fix it?

Midfield

Captain Jack Jewsbury has been a shadow of the player he was last season, when he surprised many by being one of the best midfielders in the league, chalking up 7 goals and 8 assists. This season he has failed to score and has two assists (both coming in the season-opening win over the Union), but more worryingly, has failed to control any matches from midfield. In last week’s 2-0 loss to Montreal, the Timbers midfield of Jewsbury, Designated Player Diego Chara and defensive midfielder Lovell Palmer combined to complete 79 passes in the entire match – by contrast, the Impact’s two-man midfield of Felipe and Collen Warner completed 82. It was most evident in the center third of the park, where Montreal outpassed Portland 58-30. Portland has had the advantage in possession three times this season – in the season opener, and then in losses to the Revolution and Chivas USA where they spent most of the second half trying to rally from a deficit. And that lack of control in the middle of the park has been a particular concern, because when you play a three-man midfield and two strikers, you probably don’t have a lot of width, unless your fullbacks join the attack. Which brings me to the next problem.

Width

I know that possession can be an overrated stat in soccer. Some teams elect to play defensive, counter-attacking football, relying on speed and width to catch opponents when they have fewer defenders around their own goal. Unfortunately, Portland doesn’t do that. Playing the 4-1-3-2 formation that Spencer has favored since Khalif Alhassan was injured is fine, except that it relies on having attacking players who can create their own shots. The Timbers only have one player who fits that bill, however, Darlington Nagbe, and Spencer has had him playing in midfield as sort of a roving attacking midfielder and occasional winger. Typically the two starters at forward in this formation have been Boyd, who is a fine finisher but not the most mobile of players, and Jorge Perlaza, who must have incriminating photos of Spencer or something, or else how can his continued inclusion be justified? Perlaza has six goals in 39 matches for the Timbers, hasn’t scored in 2012 and has only attempted four shots this season in 8 matches. Boyd needs someone to cross him the ball, and it’s obvious that Chara, a natural central midfielder, and Nagbe, better suited as a forward, are not going to be the players to do it. With Palmer and Rodney Wallace playing fullback, the team had much better attacking width, but unfortunately, neither is a great defender. When Steve Purdy or Mike Chabala play, the team is virtually devoid of an attacking threat on the wings. It remains to be seen whether new signing Steven Smith will provide that or not, though he did look reasonably good against the Impact. In recent matches, the only time the team has looked threatening on the wings is when Songo’o has been brought on a substitute.

Defense

I’d imagine that probably one of the hardest things about being a Timbers fan this year is dealing with the fact that the Vancouver Whitecaps are suddenly a playoff contender while Portland continues to struggle. As drab and boring as the Whitecaps are, it’s pretty clear what the difference is between these two teams: Vancouver can defend. Except for defeats to San Jose and Kansas City, probably the two best teams in the MLS at this point, Vancouver hasn’t conceded a goal. And they’ve done this by signing established, physical defenders like Lee Young-Pyo and Martin Bonjour to go along with Jordan Harvey and Jay DeMerit. Portland has had no such luck. The one constant in the lineup has been Eric Brunner, who is neither physical nor composed enough to be the linchpin of the defense. Partnering Brunner has either been Hanyer Mosquera or Andrew Jean-Baptiste, with Futty Danso just returned from injury. Against Montreal, Purdy and Smith started at fullback, and after Purdy left with an injury, rookie Freddy Braun, normally a midfielder, played right back and was beaten on both plays that led to Montreal goals as well as two others where the Timbers were let off by poor finishing from Davy Arnaud. The Timbers propensity for letting players beat their defender to the byline and then cross the ball for all-too-open players running into the box to slot home has hurt the team continually this season, and it’s down to two problems: poor defending from the fullbacks and poor positional awareness from the central defenders. In fact, watch this, this and this, to see what I mean. And this, this and this. And this and this. In fact, forget everything else I’ve said. The Timbers are bad because their fullbacks can’t stop anyone and their central defenders don’t mark players running into the penalty box on crosses.

MLS Weekend Roundup: April 14-15

By Jeremiah Paschke-Wood | Only Love Soccer

Saturday

Philadelphia 1 Columbus 0. A Gabriel Gomez Panenka penalty is enough for the Union to notch their first win of the season. Probably not what the suits at NBC had in mind for a game of the week when they signed their deal with MLS. “Get ready America, because Lionard Pajoy and Eric Gehrig are lighting up your TVs! Move over Pujols, there is a midfielder named Bernardo Anor taking over where you left off!” And so on. Columbus were probably the better team but couldn’t score. The Gomez penalty came about because of another Gehrig “Oops!” moment with a handball in the box. Prediction: 0-0

Seattle 1 Colorado 0. A Zach Scott header gives the Sounders the win against Colorado. The biggest storyline of the match was Brian Mullan returning to the place where he practically chopped off Seattle winger Steve Zakuani’s leg last year. Zakuani is still injured. Mullan had a goal ruled off for offsides. Not a super-exciting match, but Fredy Montero showed signs of waking from his traditional six-match slumber to start the season. Prediction: Seattle 2-1

New England 1 DC United 2. I am actually grudgingly getting to the point where I can say the Revs aren’t so bad, and long-time readers of this blog should know how hard that is for me. New England was actually a bit of unlucky to lose this, despite dictating play for most of the match. Jose Moreno grabbed an early goal for New England before Maicon “See, I’m not totally useless” Santos tied it, then substitute Chris Pontius won it with a very nice strike late on. The Revs has a couple chances to tie and/or win it, but poor decision-making cost them in the end. Nonetheless, both of these teams could be playoff teams, though I doubt it. Prediction: 2-2

Toronto 0 Chivas USA 1. The big question now is, “How patient is Toronto management?” I thought after a fifth-straight loss to start the season, which now gives Aron Winter six wins in 39 matches, could end up with him losing his job. Clearly this team needs a change. A big one. As for Chivas, they’re still undefeated on the road, but still very poor in attack. But if they can keep picking up points on the counter, they might be able to stay in the playoff race. Oswaldo Minda got the goal off a header in another lesson in poor defending from TFC. Prediction: Toronto 2-1

New York 2 San Jose 2. This was actually the first match where I’ve been legitimately impressed by San Jose, who rallied to tie the match and probably could’ve – and should’ve won it in the end. New York took the lead through a goal from Kenny Cooper (tied for a league-leading 7) before Rafael Baca equalized. New York retook the lead through Dax McCarty, before Chris Wondolowski scored his seventh. Then San Jose dominated the second half but failed to find the breakthrough. Thierry Henry has seven goals and five assists for New York after six matches. He’s that good. Even though he’s annoying. Prediction: New York 2-1

Kansas City 1 Real Salt Lake 0. Sporting KC stays undefeated thanks to an Aurelien Collin goal (and shocking marking from Alvaro “Is it May yet?” Saborio. Impressive performance from KC, who should’ve had a second goal (from CJ Sapong), but it was incorrectly marked off for a foul. For the record, Sporting’s record of 335 minutes without allowing a shot on target ended in injury time thanks to a Nat Borchers header. Despite the loss, RSL still looks like the second-best team in the MLS. Prediction: Kansas City 1-0

FC Dallas 2 Montreal 1. For the second straight match, Dallas rallies to take three points at the death. Montreal took the lead against the run of play thanks to a Bernardo Corradi penalty (which he dedicated to Udinse player Piermario Morosini, who died Saturday after suffering a heart attack on the field). Dallas rallied late thanks to a header from Blas Perez and then Brek Shea’s winning strike. Nice performance from Dallas, and Shea is starting to return to form by the looks of it. Their Shea/Perez/Fabian Castillo attacking trio is a good one.  Prediction: Dallas 3-1

LA Galaxy 3 Portland 1. I actually feel sorry for the Timbers, who took the lead through Kris Boyd’s goal, had another Boyd goal incorrectly chalked off for offsides, then crumbled after conceding a goal to Landon Donovan late in the first half. Juninho and David Beckham scored after the 83rd minute. The Galaxy won by having better players – their performance wasn’t great again, and their defense is woeful. At their current form, they won’t possibly beat the likes of RSL, San Jose or KC. As for Portland, Jack Jewsbury and Diego Chara have been miserable this season – a big reason why they’re struggling. Prediction: Galaxy 2-0

Sunday

Chicago 1 Houston 1. Goals from Will Bruin and Logan Pause (deflecting in a Pavel Pardo free kick) give Chicago and Houston a share of the points in a match called early due to lightning, something that apparently angered ex-German international and new Fire signing Arnie Friedrich. Overall it was a pretty even match, though the Fire will be disappointed to once again not create much in front of their home crown. Where is Sebastian Grazzini this season? What happened to new signing Federico Puppo? And one more note to the MLS scorekeepers: Don’t give Pavel Pardo credit for an assist because his free kick was deflected in. Why not give the goalie an assist for not catching it?  Prediction: 1-1

Aston Villa to do 3-match U.S. tour in July

I sure hope posting this photo on the web doesn't ruin its resale value

By Jeremiah Paschke-Wood | Only Love Soccer

Aston Villa, who are terrible again this year, but it’s worth noting have won the English league, Champions League and FA Cup more than Chelsea, are doing a three-match tour of the MLS ballparks in July. They open against the Union in Philadelphia on July 18, play the Chicago Fire on July 21, and close the tour with a match against the Timbers in Portland on July 24.

I’m all for a tour of the U.S. by Villa, though they never seem to play anywhere I can get to. The optimist in me is hoping that the team will be buoyed by the recent jettisoning of dead wood like Emile Heskey (1 goal in 2012 – yes, he’s a striker), Richard Dunne and Stephen Warnock and a healthy influx of new players, though I’ll probably be disappointed in that end.

At any rate, I hope those of you in those cities get a chance to attend the matches.

MLS weekend picks: And we’re off!

Too late, Frank and Rita realized that photographers weren't interested in their family logging expedition, but rather, something far more insidious.

By Jeremiah Paschke-Wood | Only Love Soccer

Hello everyone. After a fairly nondescript offseason, America’s No. 1 professional American soccer league is back for its 17th season. Incidentally, MLS Live is a decent service if you feel like being able to watch most of the games in the season. Better than paying for the DirectTV package, anyway. Lots to watch for this weekend, with Canada vs. Canada (Montreal vs. Vancouver), the defending champs against the stingiest defense (Galaxy vs. RSL) and San Jose vs. New England. (anyone?) All times Pacific.

Saturday

Colorado vs. Columbus. (3 p.m.) I’ll be in Denver for this one, though I won’t actually watch the game, probably. Maybe on TV? Both teams have a couple new foreign players, but Colorado just found out a couple might not be able to play. Bummer. Crew fans are eager to see new signing Milovan Mirosevic, who they’re hoping is good enough to carry them into the playoffs. Colorado won’t have Conor Casey, so it’ll be up to Omar Cummings to carry the scoring load, something he didn’t do very well last year. (3 goals) Prediction: 1-1

Vancouver vs. Montreal. (3 p.m.) Last year, in their first-ever MLS match, the Whitecaps destroyed the other Canadian team, then proceeded to not win for their next 14 matches. Will the Impact suffer a similar fate? Well, not likely, given that A) Vancouver is much better than last year and B) The Impact are playing in Vancouver and aren’t very good. It should be fun to watch, anyway. Prediction: Whitecaps 4-1

DC United vs. Sporting Kansas City. (4:30 p.m.) In 2011, Sporting Kansas City played their first 10 (TEN!) matches away from home, were predictably in last place, yet somehow managed to make the playoffs and finish first in the East anyway. With LiveStrong (Don’t misspell it or they’ll sue!) Park now widely acclaimed as the best field in the MLS, they should have no such worries. But this weekend, they’re playing in Washington DC. Prediction: United 1-0

San Jose vs. New England. (7:30 p.m.) I’m actually pretty excited for what San Jose has done with their roster. They also have the momentum of having a new stadium on the way, though that won’t happen this year. New England had a surprisingly good preseason, which has gotta factor into their regular season, right? Prediction: San Jose 2-0

LA Galaxy vs. Real Salt Lake. (7:30 p.m.) The Galaxy open their season against RSL, so in terms of sheer quality, this should be the match to watch this week. But…the Galaxy are dull, and Real Salt Lake like to take the sting out of the game by passing it around the back a bit. I think I’ll pass. Prediction: Galaxy 2-1

Sunday

FC Dallas vs. New York. (Noon) I haven’t seen any FC Dallas preseason highlights, but I guess they’ve had a somewhat rough go of it in Mexico. I’ll be curious to see how new signing Blas Perez is bedding in at forward, if Colombian Fabian Castillo can take the next step in his development, and if Brek Shea returns to his early 2011 form as opposed to how he’s played since for club and country. New York has the potential for excitement but will probably fall short of expectations, just like George Lucas has done the last 29 years. Prediction: 1-1

Chivas USA vs. Houston. (4 p.m.) I couldn’t find the Spanish translation for “Gawdawful” (the closest I could get was “pinche terrible, ese”) to describe Chivas USA’s offseason/preseason, and they’re taking on the defending MLS Cup runners-up, which, well, doesn’t really mean anything. But Houston should be able to nab at least a point on the road, which is always a good way to start. Prediction: Houston 2-1

Monday

Portland vs. Philadelphia. (6:30 p.m.) The Timbers get to show off their new signings against 2010′s expansion team, so it should be a typically raucous affair with ironic mustaches shining with drops of PBR and home brew and the smell of food cart Korean tacos in the air as the sounds of cheering are mingled with arguments over questionable resource trading in Settlers of Katan games around Jeld-Wen Park. Then after the match, all the soccer dads in their vegi-oil-powered Priuses will gesticulate politely at the people stopping traffic with their unicycles and double-decker bikes covered in green and white streamers and confetti, before everyone meets at Hawthorne Theater for a midnight showing of “The Go-Bots Movie.” Prediction: Portland 3-1

MLS weekend preview: August 13-14

By Jeremiah Paschke-Wood*Games to watch ^Games not to watch
All times Pacific, as usual

Saturday

Seattle (6-3-2 at home) v Chivas USA (3-4-4 away). (1 p.m.) Seattle returns home after ending Kansas City’s 14-match unbeaten streak with a late 2-1 win last week and are currently in third place in the West. A win in this match, couple with a Dallas draw or loss, would see Seattle pull into second, four points behind the Galaxy. Chivas won at New England and have only lost once once in their last seven matches. As well as Chivas is playing, it’s hard to see them winning in Seattle. Prediction: Seattle 2-0

Toronto (3-5-4) v Real Salt Lake (2-3-3). (4 p.m.) Toronto somehow contrived to draw at DC United despite being a man up for 83 minutes and leading after 86 minutes. This was mostly due to the fact that Andy Iro is my new nominee as the worst defender in the league. Seriously, the way Toronto is playing, it doesn’t seem to matter who is playing defense, any team can score on them. With that said, their attacking play lately has certainly been improved. Unfortunately, they have to beat one of the league’s better teams, possibly without keeper Sebastian Freis. Real Salt Lake ended their 2-match losing streak by thumping terrible New York in Salt Lake City. They’re not as good away from home, but they should have enough to beat Toronto, though they’ll have to do it without Ned Grabavoy and possibly Jamison Olave. Prediction: Real Salt Lake 2-1

New York (5-4-2) v Chicago (1-6-5). (4:30 p.m.) New York are having a nightmare season where, despite having one of the best rosters in the league – and possibly the best player in Thierry Henry – they have somehow contrived to pick up only 15 points from their last 16 matches. In Chicago, they’re playing a team that has two wins on the entire season, and none since June 12. Their last match was an awful 4-2 loss to Vancouver, and Yamith Cuesta did his best Andy Iro impersonation. As bad as New York has been, this should be about as easy as it gets. Prediction: New York 3-0

DC United (2-6-3) v Vancouver (0-4-8). (4:30 p.m.) United escaped with a draw against Toronto, though that was due more to Toronto’s incompetence than anything they did – though Dwayne De Rosario had a great match. The big concern for United is that backup goalkeeper Sam Cronin is starting this game, and he was very poor against Toronto. Vancouver finally won another game, thumping Chicago. Eric Hassli scored twice for the ‘Caps, and the team was great in attack, though their defense is still a bit shaky. Prediction: United 2-1

Columbus (6-4-1) v New England (1-5-6). (4:30 p.m.) Fun fact: Columbus’s lone home loss is to Chicago. Who would have thought? The team is certainly playing better, and Robbie Rogers looks like a player reborn after sucking for half the year. They will be playing without Eddie Gaven, which is a bit of a loss. New England are having a forgettable season, though they have been a little better on the road lately. Prediction: Columbus 1-0

Philadelphia (5-5-1) v FC Dallas (4-3-4). (5 p.m.) Philadelphia welcomed in new signing Freddy Adu today. He will definitely improve an attack that has struggled recently, though you could argue some other teams could have used him more (namely, Chicago and Portland). Dallas got a disappointing performance from keeper Kevin Harttman, not for the first time this season, in losing at the Galaxy. A draw seems most likely in this match. Prediction: 1-1

San Jose (3-7-3) v Colorado (4-4-4). (7:30 p.m.) San Jose are attempting to give Vancouver, New England, Chicago and Toronto a run for the worst team of the year award. Their most recent match was a 1-1 draw at home with Portland, but they’ve only scored four goals in their last 10 matches and haven’t won any of them. They’ve especially missed Ryan Johnson and Steven Lenhart lately. Colorado have been in great form recently, beating Columbus, New York and Philadelphia and drawing with New England. Their main concern would be that they have a busy schedule the next two weeks. (5 matches) Prediction: Colorado 2-1

Sunday

Houston (6-3-3) v Portland (1-3-6). (6 p.m.) Houston are coming off with a late draw with Philadelphia. They have been decent at home, miserable on the road. They welcome new signing Carlo Costly, who should be a good fit for the MLS – something that’ll help a team missing Will Bruin. Portland haven’t had much success on the road, and it doesn’t figure to change with this match. They are undefeated in their last three matches. Prediction: Houston 3-1

Timbers draw with Ventura County Fusion in friendly

By Dan Hagan

The Timbers first preseason game ended in a 1-1 tie against the Ventura County Fusion. The game was the first time the new Timbers have worked together as a team, and it showed. The  Fusion scored in the first 17 minutes putting the Timber defense on its heels. Three minutes later, Timbers forward Bright Dike (Pronounced Brit Deekay) went down with an injury to his achilles. The Timbers looked like a team that had been working together for a few weeks, and the VC Fusion looked like a team that had working together for a few years.

The Ventura County Fusion have a soild history over the last few years and provided enough competition to battle against the Whitecaps in December, only to lose that game. The  Fusion are no pushovers as they won the PDL Championship last year. Reports had the attendance at 2,500 overwhelmingly Fusion fans. In fact Rodrigo Lopez, who helped them win that championship was now playing against his former team in this preseason game while trialing with the Timbers.

The Timbers divided each half into different squads. The first half featured the Timbers new defense of Troy Perkins, Eric Brunner and Jeremy Hall, all MLS veterans from last year. They also were the only squad to allow a goal.

The first minute of the second half Jorge Perlaza spotted Darlington Nagbe and crossed the ball over his defender perfectly giving Nagbe a header for a goal and himself an assist. Perlaza’s first minute and Nagbe’s first goal took a lot of pressure off the Timbers. This is a great example of what could become a common sight this year, smart forwards who can see opportunities and capitalize on them.

This wasn’t a big game for the Timbers, however it did provide a good idea of how players respond to teammates and the flow of the game and will help give a good idea of how some players might figure into Coach John Spencer’s first-team plans.

The game now gives  Spencer more complexities and variables to adjust and help define his new team, one of which is the loss of Dike, who could be out for the whole season, so they’ll need to make even more adjustments. If the Timbers get hit again with an injury to their forward line, it could really impact their success this season.

With a preseason game  Tuesday against the LA Galaxy, the Timbers will be looking to examine more of their strengths and weaknesses.

Until Kenny Cooper and Kerrea Gilbert join the team from Europe, it’ll be hard for the Timbers to make serious adjustments. Cooper and Gilbert are expected by the end of preseason, later this month in Arizona. These are the players needed to test individuals strengths and team chemistry. A young team like the Timbers needs as much time as possible together to learn to trust each other.

The Timbers are still learning what their idenity is, with injuries and more games ahead, have yet to define their strategy and style all of which needs to be in place in just six weeks.

Timbers have the talent, coaching to succeed

By Dan Hagan

It would seem that the Portland Timbers have methodically built a successful first year squad able to compete and win. With a broad range of players they have brought together an array of young talent – the kind of talent that on paper should be one of the better teams. But we know that games are not played on paper and high expectations in MLS are usually not met.

General Manager Gavin Wilkenson’s  strategy since taking over the Timbers as head coach in 2007 has been defense first, scoring second. His 24-game undefeated stretch is still a record in D2. As the Timbers make the move into the MLS, he has followed the same formula. Aside from snatching up the best goalscorers in the D2, the Timbers have gone after foundation players.

The kind of players that can keep them in games by defensive dominance, never allowing the offense to mentally feel a game is out of reach. Revealing how deliberate their intentions of the defense-first mentality are, they used Dax McCarty to get Rodney Wallace with the first draft pick. With big defensive players the Timbers were patiently building a foundation that should be able to withstand constant pressure. The kind of pressure that first year teams usually can’t keep up with, and that’s what Wilkenson fears most.

Head Coach John Spencer is putting his fears to rest. Spencer’s history is one of a short stocky tenacious player who had the ferocious intensity of having to compensate for his size. Having grown up playing in Scotland and sporadic time across Europe, Spencer often cites the qualities that define those leagues and how to be successful in MLS. Size, speed
and mentality. Basically tough players. These three qualities Spencer has found in his forwards.

Size
Kenny Cooper is a big 6’ 3” forward who has  proven himself in the MLS and whose own background includes training with Manchester United at age 16.

Speed
Jorge Perlaza’s quickness is referred by Spencer as explosive. “He looks to get behind a defense and create goal-scoring chances.”

Mentality
Darlington Nagbe may be a rookie but the intuition and cleverness with which he can play is natural talent. And you can’t teach talent.

These three forwards could be frustrating for many goalkeepers this season, and when you include three of the Top 5 goal scorers in D2 last year, you see a lot depth and stability finally put into place.

But the Timbers first year isn’t entirely dependent on the players. Assistant Coach Amos Magee, a former player and head coach of the D2 Minnesota Thunder, he has become a protege of Wilkenson’s defensive formula, joining him for the 2008 campaign. He has quickly gelled with Coach Spencer. Both are former players turned coach, both are a little
smaller and both played tough aggressive styles. They understand each other’s strengths and weaknesses. Spencer’s Offensive Ying to Magee’s Defensive Yang could provide balance that doesn’t come easy in MLS.

Trevor James could be a head coach in the MLS, instead he’s putting that energy into serving  the Timbers as Assistant Coach. The expectation of James tenure is to have Portland become a perennial MLS team. WIth his last 6 years with the LA Galaxy, James has coached them to within one game of the MLS cup three years ago, the MLS cup two years ago and then the Supporters Shield last year. The Galaxy have been scoring machines the last few years under James as he’s been able to transition through three different head coaches and retain a consistent level of play and stability.

The most telling aspect of the Timbers strategy isn’t Troy Perkins or Kerrea Gilbert but it’s reflected in their Mid’s, who are good defensive players too, a prerequisite of  Wilkenson.

On paper, this team should make the playoffs, but the season is long, the team is new and they will spend the first month on the road. None of these helps the case for a playoff spot but if the Timbers have early success on the road, they should be able to at least get the 10th spot. If they don’t make the playoffs they’ll need to just barely miss them for their first year to be considered a success.

It might seem like a lot pressure but the Timbers seem ready for a long tough road which travels beyond just the 2011 season. This is a foundation that Timbers fans can feel confident about for years to come. A dominating defense looking to frustrate and a quick strike offense that can keep every match close is what the 2011 season has in
store for the Portland Timbers. On paper that is.

Taking a look at the Timbers’ new home

By James Morgan

Work continues apace on the renovation and expansion of PGE Park in Portland, according to Mike Golub, chief operating officer for the Portland Timbers. “Everything is on track and on schedule,” he said in a recent statement.

The park, which opened in 1926, has hosted a variety of tenants over the years, including the Timbers in both their NASL and USL incarnations. It was in need of a face lift and  seating expansion in order to meet MLS requirements, but with an expected capacity of around 20,000, it will retain its small-stadium feel. According to www.portlandtimbers.com, the $31 million renovation will make it “[the] most intimate, exciting and authentic soccer facility in the United States.” While this may be an overly optimistic assessment, by any criteria, the park promises to be an excellent venue.

The nuts and bolts

1. The Pitch: The playing surface will be shifted to the north and west, adding 96,000 square feet of playing surface and freeing up space for new seating on the south and east sides of the stadium. New turf will be installed as well.

2. Amenities and public areas: A variety of amenities are planned for the east side as well as a public plaza that will be accessible when events are not in progress and will double as a group/family terrace. There will also be a private club entrance and restaurant as well as a sports therapy clinic and the usual team store.

3. Large Format Video/Broadcast: Upgrades to PGE Park’s virtually nonexistent video and broadcast capabilities include new camera positions, LED video “ribbon” boards along the pitch, giant video scoreboards and additional TV monitors.

4. Team facilities such as locker rooms and practice areas will also be updated to meet MLS standards. Additional amenities and seating are nice, but for the hardcore Timbers supporter, the bigger pitch, the institution of legitimate broadcast and video facilities and the retained intimacy at the stadium, look to figure as the best improvements. The stadium will likely go through another name change before the home opener against the Chicago Fire on April 14, and while it will never rival Seattle’s Qwest Field for capacity, Portland’s already well-established supporter base promises sold-out crowds and an exciting atmosphere. Others will be pleased to learn that vuvuzelas will be prohibited.

Spencer hopes to impose will on Timbers, Rapids in season opener

By Dan Hagan

John Spencer is a Colorado Rapids legend who in just four years with the club became second all-time on the team in goals scored (37),  third all-time shots on goal (115), second all-time in game winning goals (10),  first all-time in penalty kick goals (9),  second all-time in goals per game (.42), third all-time scoring percentage (14.3%), third all-time in shots on goal percentage (44.6 percent), and he was inducted into the Rapids Gallery of Honor two years ago as only the fourth player ever.

Up next for Spencer is the goal of trying to defeat this very same team that honors him as a legend. Not only is Spencer squaring off against his former team (and some former teammates) in his first game, but he will be taking the expansion Portland Timbers into the home pitch of the MLS Champions. This is exactly the tough, gritty underdog mentality that IS Spencer.

Spencer is only 5-6, so he knows it takes hard work and intensity to compete against guys who are usually bigger. As head coach, Spencer will apply this attitude to club management instead of players. This perceived inferiority motivates Spencer and now the Timbers. The idea that the MLS champions will dominate, at home, over a “rookie” head coach for a “rookie” team is the accepted predictable outcome for matches involving expansion teams. Even Toronto is already anticipating easy wins over both expansion sides in their first two weeks. Even ignoring Seattle’s successful first MLS season, Toronto expects the Timbers to struggle as much as they have in their first years in the MLS.

The question that will be answered on March 19 will be: are the MLS champions hungrier than an expansion team? There is no doubt that the Rapids playing together through the season, helped build the repoire that only comes from time spent on the pitch. Though they struggled with the addition of Kanji late in the season, they jelled at the very end for all to see. Add to that the sobering statistic that not since 2003 has Colorado lost its home opener, it would seem that Spencer and Timbers’ fate is sealed.

But the team Spencer has put together has played together and are familiar with each other. Six players are returning from the Timbers last year; Eric Brunner and Adam Moffet played together last year at Colombus and roomed together on the road. Rodney Wallace played with Jeremy Hall in college three years ago and played last year with new goalie Troy Perkins at D.C United. This may be an expansion team but they are professionals who know each other well.

Though the Timbers face a huge challenge in their season opener and first season in the MLS, they will hope to emulate the Sounders success on the pitch in 2010, starting off with their match against the defending champs. Like they say here in Cascadia, “The bigger the tree, the harder the fall.”

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