Timbers have successful week of exhibitions in Ventura

Entering into their third week of preseason training, the Portland Timbers are turning up the intensity as they continue to prepare for their MLS regular-season debut on March 19.

Entering into their third week of preseason training, the Portland Timbers are turning up the intensity as they continue to prepare for their MLS regular-season debut on March 19. 

“You’ve got to practice how you play, and we’re going to try and play a high-tempo game, pressure teams all over the field and be aggressive,” head coach John Spencer said.

“Fitness level-wise, we’re still miles off,” Spencer emphasized. “We still have [time] to get prepared, but I keep telling these guys that to be successful in this league you have to be able to match teams physically from box-to-box for 90 minutes.”

Earlier in the month, the Timbers played their first two exhibition matches down in Ventura as the team spent one week training in California. Despite not having their full roster with them, the Timbers played the Ventura County Fusion of the Fourth-division PDL to a 1-1 draw on Feb. 4—the first opportunity for the new players on the roster to participate in a competitive 11-on-11 match together. 

“It’s about fitness, but results matter because if you start trying to win games early in the season it breeds a good habit,” Spencer said. “Winning is a habit, losing is a habit, and when you’re winning it builds confidence throughout the group.”

Rookie midfielder and first-round draft pick, Darlington Nagbe, scored the Timbers’ only goal off a header inside the box assisted by forward Doug DeMartin in the 46th minute. Although only an informal training match, the game provided a glimpse at the scoring and attacking qualities that Nagbe, the No. 2 overall selection in the 2011 SuperDraft, is expected to bring to the field for the Timbers this season.

“[Nagbe’s] coming from the college game, which physically is nowhere as demanding as the pro game,” Spencer reminded. “But it doesn’t take away from the fact that he’s a super-talent and he can go past people whenever he wants.”

On Feb. 8, the Timbers earned a tough

1-1 draw against a talented LA Galaxy team that won the 2010 Supporter’s Shield for finishing with the best record during the regular season. The Timbers used two different units for each half and were able to find the game’s equalizing goal in the 50th minute from forward Brian Umony, a trialist who made the trip with the team. 

“We put a together a solid 45 minutes with one group in the first half, and we put on a very good 45 minutes with another group,” Spencer said. “You could see the guys growing a little bit of that belief in themselves…it was good trip for us, well worthwhile.”

Spencer has said the most important part of the preseason process is perhaps “building camaraderie” and “forming partnerships” out on the field, especially with a roster full of new teammates.

“I could see the guys getting tired out there as the game went on, but instead of trying to just run hard as an individual, they were working hard collectively as a group,” Spencer noted.

The Timbers returned home to Portland for training this week, but the big news was the arrival of free-agent forward Kenny Cooper. The front office hopes the 26-year-old Cooper can bring the kind of relentless offensive pressure to Portland that once allowed him to score 40 goals in 90 games for FC Dallas. 

“We expect him to come out and be a leader and score a lot of goals for us,” Timbers owner Merritt Paulson said. “The guy knows how to put the ball in the back of the net and we think he has his best years in front of him.” 

This week, Cooper will travel with the rest of the Timbers to Casa Grande, Ariz., where the team will continue its preseason camp and prepare for its next exhibition match on Saturday against the Houston Dynamo. ?