Timbers Notebook: Final Preparations for Rapids
PORTLAND, Ore. — As the clock ticks down to Saturday’s season-opening match against the defending-MLS Cup champion Colorado Rapids, the Portland Timbers spent Tuesday’s training session with an eye toward communication and decision making during an 11-on-11 scrimmage, followed by finishing drills.
Timbers head coach John Spencer directed traffic during the intrasquad scrimmage (with both sides running a 4-4-2 formation), at times halting play to impart guidance as Portland readies itself to face the Rapids and Conor Casey, one of the league’s most dangerous strikers, at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park.
Finishing drills directly after the scrimmage showed a concentration toward administering a quality first touch and a good finishing strike on goal. The Timbers, who finished the preseason unbeaten, also worked on volleys from the top of the box, clearly hoping to capitalize on whatever scoring chances the team might produce against the reigning league champions.
“I think that through our preseason we’ve been giving it our all and I think it’s time for us to perform on the big stage,” Timbers defender Rodney Wallace said.
We’ve been looking forward to this game for quite a bit now, so we’re going to be ready and pumped.”
Understandably, emotions and excitement will be at a high level for both sides entering Saturday’s contest, and several Portland players mentioned a hope to ride that wave to a good result.
“I think we’re all itching to get out there and play Colorado, they’re the defending champs — you respect that, but you don’t fear it,” said defender Eric Brunner, who scored a goal for Portland in a 1-1 draw with the San Jose Earthquakes on March 12 in the team’s final preseason tune-up.
I think that we’re going to come out and do the things that John [Spencer] wants us to do and try to get a result.”
“I think the best thing to do is really use the energy and excitement kind of as fuel for the game and get yourself a little added bonus with adrenaline for the first game,” defender Kevin Goldthwaite said.
It’s going to be exciting.”
“Of course it’s one of many [games], but it is one of our goals to get the season started in the right way,” Wallace said.
It’s going to be tough with three games on the road at the beginning, but I think to calm down the excitement we have to stay focused and do what we’ve been doing best.”
Carrying on preseason success
A challenge for Portland entering its inaugural MLS season will be translating the successes of the preseason, which saw the team win twice and draw six while never conceding more than one goal in a match, into regular-season points.
“I think it’s just developing good habits before the season,” Brunner said of the unbeaten preseason.
I know the defense and the goalkeepers, we want to keep clean sheets and if we do that it gives us a chance to at least get a point.”
Veteran goalkeeper Adin Brown acknowledged the team’s workmanlike style as something he hopes will pay dividends during the season.
“I think these last two months have been really important for the club, we’ve been together training hard,” said Brown, who was drafted third overall by the Rapids and played his first one-and-a-half years as a pro with the team from 2000-‘01.
[John Spencer] has instituted the mentality in the team, which is a very blue-collar team, everybody works hard and everybody is there to give everything they have and it has shown in the preseason that that’s the kind of team we’re going to be and it’s been successful for us in preseason, hopefully that translates into the season.”
Battling the Mile High atmosphere
Several members of the Timbers, including head coach John Spencer, who is in Colorado’s Gallery of Honor after a four-year playing career with the Rapids from 2001-’04, have played in the high altitude of Colorado. The atmosphere can drain even the most in-shape player if he’s forced to chase the ball for 90 minutes, so the answer it seems is to try and be the aggressor.
“Every time any team goes to Colorado or to Utah, [altitude] is brought up a little bit and you’ve got to realize it,” Goldthwaite said.
A thing John [Spencer] has been harping on this week quite a bit is that you’ve got to keep the ball in these situations because if you give the ball away you’re going to be chasing [it] for the entire game and if you’re going to be doing that you’re going to lose 3-0 or 4-0. It’s going to be something that is a factor and hopefully we’ll keep the ball and make them chase a little bit.”
- In his first regular-season match as head coach, John Spencer faces his former club. He was a two-time MLS All-Star for the Rapids during his playing career and captained the side to three playoff appearances in four seasons from 2001-04. Spencer was inducted to the Rapids Gallery of Honor on Aug. 30, 2009.
- Join fans on Saturday for a First Kick viewing party at Kells Irish Restaurant & Pub at 6 p.m. Located at 112 SW 2nd Ave. in downtown Portland, Kells Irish Restaurant & Pub will show the Timbers match against the Rapids throughout the restaurant as part of their St. Patrick’s Day celebration. Fans in attendance can enter to win a team-autographed soccer ball and meet Timber Joey.
- The Timbers' radio talk show, "Talk Timbers," will air Wednesday from 6-6:30 p.m. and Friday from 6-7 p.m. on Sportsradio 95.5 The Game.
- Starting at $8, individual-game tickets for the Timbers’ inaugural MLS season go on sale to the general public on Monday, March 21, exclusively at the JELD-WEN Field box office from 7-10 p.m. Single-game tickets will then be available for purchase through Ticketmaster starting Tuesday, March 22, at 10 a.m., and fans will be able to purchase tickets through the stadium box office, local Ticketmaster outlets, online at www.ticketmaster.com or by phone at (800) 745-3000.