Timbers to open 1st MLS season Saturday

Timbers to open 1st MLS season Saturday

Timbers to open 1st MLS season Saturday

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by Associated Press

NWCN.com

Posted on March 17, 2011 at 7:55 AM

Updated Thursday, Mar 17 at 10:37 AM

PORTLAND, Ore.  -- The Portland Timbers need only look a three hour's drive north for inspiration in their inaugural Major League Soccer season.

That's because the rival Seattle Sounders had arguably the most successful launch in MLS history.

The Seattle franchise sold 22,000 season tickets before the start of its inaugural season, a new MLS benchmark. The Sounders sold out every home game in their first season and set a league record for average attendance.

But it is Seattle's success on the pitch that first season that impresses the Timbers.

The Sounders won the 2009 U.S. Open Cup championship and were the first expansion team in 11 years to reach the MLS playoffs. They went to the playoffs again in their second season.

"There have been certain teams in the league that have come in as new teams or expansion teams that haven't had the success they probably hoped for," Timbers coach John Spencer said. "Then I look at Seattle as being a great example to everybody of coming in and being competitive. Thinking back on it, when they were coming into the league, I never once heard anybody complaining about the fact that they were an expansion team. They just seemed to get on with it very professionally -- and then they did a great job."

The Timbers open their first MLS season on Saturday against the Colorado Rapids.

Portland has assembled a strong roster, led by veterans Kenny Cooper, goalkeeper Troy Perkins and captain Jack Jewsbury.

Cooper is one of the highest profile players brought in by the expansion club. The 26-year-old forward had 40 goals in 90 games for FC Dallas from 2006-09 and was an MLS All-Star in 2008. He was signed by the Timbers after two seasons in Germany with TSV 1860 Munich.

Jewsbury, a midfielder, was acquired in a trade with Sporting Kansas City, where he spent the last eight seasons with 15 goals and 21 assists in 195 regular-season matches.

Perkins, the 2006 MLS goalkeeper of the year, will likely start. He was acquired in a trade with D.C. United.

"John (Spencer) and the rest of the coaching staff have set the level of expectation and intensity to where it should be during the season," Perkins said. "For us, this doesn't feel like a buildup. It feels like since we've gotten here we've been right in it."

There were also high hopes for Darlington Nagbe, the No. 2 overall pick in the MLS draft who helped Akron to its first NCAA title. The junior forward and midfielder won the Hermann Trophy earlier this year as the top men's college soccer player.

But Nagbe is sidelined for the time being after sports hernia surgery. A timetable for his return has not been set.

The Timbers recently added Colombian striker Jorge Perlaza, who had 15 goals in 31 matches with Deportes Tolima.

"I think the biggest challenge is no different than any other team. You're looking to put a winning group on the field week in, week out," Spencer said. "A team that can compete in all different climates and all different time zones. The mentality can't be any different from any of the other teams in MLS, (like) the Dynamo, the L.A. Galaxy.

"The challenges are the same. We have the same salary cap room, the same roster size. So I think you can go make excuses for yourself or you can go and try to be as competitive as you can, and that's what we aim to do."

The MLS brings about a lot of change for the Timbers, who have been around in one form or another since 1975 when the team was part of the North American Soccer League.

The team will play in a refurbished stadium, which is newly named Jeld-Wen Field after the Oregon-based window and door maker. The team's kits are sponsored by Alaska Airlines.

The Timbers have sold more that 12,000 season tickets, filling more than half the seats at their downtown home. More than 3,000 tickets in eight sections have gone to members of the rabid Timbers Army supporters' group, which fills the north end of the stadium.

There's added excitement from the three-way rivalry that MLS purposely set up between the Timbers, Seattle and Vancouver. The Whitecaps are also playing in their first season as the MLS expands to 18 teams.

Perkins can't wait for it all to start.

"We know what's expected from us every day, the hard work," he said. "We'll take it day by day and let the other teams worry about us."

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