Alexander still transitioning as Timbers fight for playoffs

Portland Timbers midfielder Eric Alexander

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PORTLAND, Ore. – With the hoopla surrounding the Portland Timbers' fight for a playoff spot in their first MLS season, the recent acquisition of second-year midfielder Eric Alexander has flown somewhat under the radar.

Which is surprising, considering the way Alexander exploded onto the scene in his first year with FC Dallas, emerging as a regular during the team’s record-breaking 19-game unbeaten streak and culminating with a national team call-up in January.

But in the weeks after coming to Portland in exchange for defender Jeremy Hall in August, Alexander saw only limited minutes. That changed when the former Indiana University star received his first start in New York on Sept. 24 and significant minutes in Portland’s 1-0 win Sunday in Vancouver.

“The guys have had a good stretch, and it’s tough to break into that lineup this late,” Alexander said. “I’m just glad I’m able to come off the bench and help out where I can and just do what they need me to do.”

His role could grow as head coach John Spencer searches for the right matchups in the team’s final three games, starting Oct. 14 against Houston in the Timbers’ home finale.

Spencer said he started Alexander in place of Sal Zizzo against New York – a 2-0 loss – for defensive reasons and said he expects the 23-year-old to have a bright future with the team.

“He’s a good soccer player,” Spencer said. “We’ll probably see the best of Eric next year. He came from a good club that passes the ball well. He’s got lovely technique and good movement, and I expect him to be here for a long time.”

The soft-spoken Alexander said he’s unconcerned with when or where he gets minutes, merely delivering the diplomatic message that he’s ready to help the team in any way. Known as a playmaker from his college days and during his first year in Dallas, he has shown the ability to push the ball ahead to forwards Kenny Cooper, Jorge Perlaza and Darlington Nagbe.

“Inside [or] outside mid, it doesn’t really matter,” Alexander said about where he lines up. “I think I can do a good job with both.”

Off the field, Alexander said the transition has been a good one and that being thrust into a team battling for a playoff spot is exhilarating. He hasn’t yet gotten to know Portland – he’s been preoccupied with the team’s travel and moving his belongings from Dallas – but he has been around long enough to notice the obvious: “Dallas is a lot different city than Portland.”

He added: “The team has been great. They’ve been very welcoming. I really like it here.”

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