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March 7th, 2012 MATTHEW KORFHAGE | Sports
 

New Bag Of Kicks

After a hopeful first season, the Portland Timbers field a roster of players to watch.

news3-darlingtonnagbe_timbersDARLINGTON NAGBE - Photos: Craig Mitchelldyer/Portland Timbers
Let’s get the niceties out of the way: The Portland Timbers’ first season in Major League Soccer was a qualified success. 

The Timbers missed the playoffs and turned in the 12th-best record out of 18 teams, had a dismal 2-9-6 road record (they were 9-3-5 at home), allowed opponents to score eight more goals than they did, and let too many chances to win slip away.

Still, this is actually no terrible shakes for a newly minted expansion team, and the famously active fan base and sold-out season tickets bode well for the team’s future buying power. 

The Timbers jettisoned troubled, unpopular forward Kenny Cooper (why was he always falling down?) in favor of Scottish goal machine Kris Boyd. They’ve added Cameroonian high-hoper Franck Songo’o to their midfield. And—in true Portland sports fashion—they traded for much-ballyhooed forward Jose Adolfo Valencia, who will sit out the new season after undergoing knee surgery.

It’ll be a tougher season than last year. The Timbers will play more games against teams in the talent-stacked Western Conference. Minor injuries to a number of key players make the season’s March 12 opener against Philadelphia an ulcerous uncertainty.

Still, the Timbers went through the preseason without a loss (4-0-3). Bookmakers put a Timbers playoff appearance at even money. So bet as you like, hold onto your scarf, and keep an eye on these players.

Photos courtesy of Craig Mitchelldyer/Portland Timbers

1. Kris Boyd

 Boyd, 28, the Scottish Premier League’s all-time leader in goals, scored seven minutes into his Timbers debut in a March 4 exhibition against Swedish team AIK. The striker was Portland’s biggest offseason signing. The knock on Boyd is that he doesn’t do enough to create scoring opportunities for teammates. Michael Grant of Scotland’s The Herald tells WW that Boyd is “a cool finisher in the penalty box, but did not do enough work on other parts of his game.”


2. Jack Jewsbury

Team captain Jewsbury, 31, is a highly physical player, with deadly crosses that helped him lead the team in assists (eight) last season. Portland’s first MLS All-Star, a midfielder, Jewsbury is also the field marshal, using his longtime league experience to become something of a statesman on the young team.


3. Darlington Nagbe (pictured above)

Nagbe, 21, is famous for taking a volley against Sporting Kansas City last season, juggling it twice with his right foot and firing a screamer that won him 2011 MLS Goal of the Year honors. But he scored just two goals last season-—and yet remains a bright hope who could move from midfield to forward this season once he overcomes ankle troubles.


4. Kalif Alhassan

Alhassan’s whirring footwork can look like something out of a Looney Tunes cartoon: a wild blur from which a foot emerges here, a ball there, impressive and entertaining to see. Crosses from Alhassan, 21, are inspired (six assists last season), but the midfielder scored no goals in 2011. His Feb. 27 preseason goal against San Jose was an encouraging sign.


5, 6, 7 & 8. -  The Backline

Portland’s porous defense often made goalkeeper Troy Perkins look as if he were trying to stop the firebombing of Dresden. The Timbers allowed opponents to take 465 shots in 2011, against a league average of 430. The defense slowly showed improvement: About two-thirds of goals against Portland came during the first half of last season. The addition of defenders Andrew Jean-Baptiste and Hanyer Mosquera (notwithstanding the bad luck of his preseason own goal against San Jose) should help.

 
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