Photo by Craig Mitchelldyer

For under-pressure Timbers, the end goal is clear

PORTLAND, Ore. – The Portland Timbers finished off their preseason slate last week with an undefeated record and an average home attendance of over 16,000.

On Monday night, the preseason gives way to the regular season against the Philadelphia Union (6:30 pm PT - kickoff near 6:55 pm, ESPN2/Deportes, 750 AM The Game / 940 AM La Pantera). And sporting players like all-time leading Scottish Premier League goalscorer Kris Boyd, the goals for the Rose City’s second MLS campaign are clear.

“The directors of the team really did a great job,” midfielder Diego Chara said through a translator. “They made a big effort to sign some quality players. And we have our objectives really clear, which is to make it to the playoffs.”

The Timbers just barely missed out on a postseason berth in 2011, four points behind the New York Red Bulls for the tenth and final spot.

With new players and a year of experience under their belts, the pressure is on in Portland. But if any squad is ready for it, it’s the Timbers.

“We’re expecting to win as always, so we’re expecting to get a good performance out there,” second-year midfielder/forward Darlington Nagbe said. “I don’t think it’s added pressure, but like [head coach] John [Spencer] always says, there’s always pressure when you’re playing here. I feel like just playing here in Portland the fans and the city expects you to win every game, so that’s what we expect also.”

There are obstacles for the Timbers right out of the gate. Defender Mamadou “Futty” Danso will be out another three to five weeks with a fractured foot suffered last Tuesday in training, while newly-acquired midfielder Franck Songo’o is away from the team sorting out visa issues. Boyd and Nagbe are both nursing sprained ankles, but should be ready to go against the Union.

Philadelphia have undergone a number of changes themselves, most notably trading leading scorer Sebastien Le Toux to the Vancouver Whitecaps and saying goodbye to goalkeeper Faryd Mondragon.

That doesn’t mean they can’t cause the Timbers problems.

“It’s a compact team and they have really quality players,” Chara said of. “And I think they’re going to be here to compete, and it’s going to be a really difficult game.”

Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com. Email him at dcitel@hotmail.com.