Defensive backbone showing early results in preseason

In four Arizona matches, Timbers conceded two goals and held two clean sheets

Dylan Tucker-Gangnes, preseason training, 1.21.13

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Photo by Craig Mitchelldyer

Defense hasn’t exactly been the focus of the Portland Timbers preseason camp from an outsider’s perspective.

With new head coach Caleb Porter’s offensive attacking reputation, it’s understandable.

Speak to Timbers players, however, and you’ll find that defense has been an early focus as Porter installs his system – perhaps a nod to the league’s third-worst goals against total posted by Portland last season.

“Obviously the most important thing is team shape and your team defense, and now we’re starting to progress into how we’re going to attack,” midfielder Will Johnson told MLSsoccer.com from Tucson, Ariz., where the team wrapped up a four-game, two-week trip.

And the defensive results have been positive.

Including Friday’s preseason 3-0 win over FC Tucson as well as Tuesday's 1-0 clean sheet against rival Seattle, Portland have allowed two goals in four games.

“I’d say defense is the backbone of any team, so we focus quite a bit on our defensive mentality,” rookie center back Dylan Tucker-Gangnes. “Ultimately that leads to offense, but it starts in the back with defense and making sure you get a clean sheet. That’s ultimately the most important thing.”

READ: Rookie pair Tucker-Gangnes and Evans making the most of their opportunities

Both Johnson and Tucker-Gangnes said Porter’s emphasis – especially early in camp – was team shape and an organized, full-team defensive effort. Portland’s first goal allowed came after they took a 3-0 lead in an eventual 3-1 victory over Colorado on Jan. 29. The other tally came in a 1-0 loss to Sporting Kansas City on Feb. 1.

“(Porter is) making sure all 11 guys are bought in,” Tucker-Gangnes said. “He preaches a pressing mentality where we want to get back on the ball; we want to hunt the ball. Ultimately we progress with possession and attack, but you have to do the hard work defensively to earn it.”

Tucker-Gangnes, who was signed by the team on Wednesday after being selected in the second round of the 2013 MLS SuperDraft out of the University of Washington, is one of the many new faces who have manned the back line so far this season. Portland have also signed right back Ryan Miller, who has spent the past four seasons in Sweden’s top leagues, and former SKC left back Michael Harrington. Also in camp on trial with Portland is French international Mikael Silvestre, a longtime Manchester United defender.

“[Porter has] definitely preached that it’s a team philosophy, a team job and it’s not just the back line it’s all 10 guys, including the goalkeeper actually all 11 guys, working together, closing space, pressing the ball to get it back,” Tucker-Gangnes said.

He’s hoping to be a part of an improving defense – which includes 2012 fixtures at center back David Horst, Mamadou “Futty” Danso and Hanyer Mosquera and second-year player Andrew Jean-Baptiste.

“They’re fantastic,” Tucker-Gangnes said. “Being able to learn from David Horst and Futty Danso and [Hanyer] Mosquera and Andrew Jean-Baptiste, it’s really good for me, especially to be able to do their things day in and day out and try to mimic that. To have [Silvestre] here and be able to watch him on practice and on the field with how he goes about his business is also very beneficial for a rookie.”

Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com.