Preview: For Portland, Philly, playoff push begins now

PORTLAND TIMBERS vs PHILADELPHIA UNION
JELD-WEN FIELD, Portland, Ore.
March 12, 2012 (WEEK 1, MLS Game #8)

6:30 p.m. PT (ESPN2; ESPN Deportes)

Two of the newest clubs in Major League Soccer make their 2012 debut in front of what should be a packed house at Jeld-Wen Field and the first broadcast of the year on ESPN2 as the Portland Timbers meet Philadelphia Union. The Timbers fell just short of a playoff berth in their inaugural season a year ago, nearly riding the wave of their remarkable support to success. Union did claim a postseason berth in their second campaign, and come into the new campaign looking for more.

REFEREE: Baldomero Toledo. SAR (bench): Frank Anderson; JAR (opposite): Ian Anderson; 4th: Juan Guzman
MLS Career: 125 games; FC/gm: 24.9; Y/gm: 3.5; R: 47; pens: 47

INJURY REPORT:

  • PORTLAND TIMBERS -- OUT: DF David Horst (R hip surgery); FW Eddie Johnson (concussion); MF Sal Zizzo (L ACL surgery); QUESTIONABLE: DF Futty Danso (R foot contusion); MF Darlington Nagbe (R ankle sprain); PROBABLE: FW Kris Boyd – R ankle sprain)
  • PHILADELPHIA UNION -- PROBABLE: DF Chris Albright (L groin strain)

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INTERNATIONAL ABSENCES: none
SUSPENDED: none

HEAD-TO-HEAD
ALL-TIME (2 meetings): Timbers 1 win, 1 goal … Union 0 wins, 0 goals … Ties 1
AT PORTLAND (1 meeting): Timbers 1 win, 1 goal … Union 0 wins, 0 goals … Ties 0

LAST YEAR (MLS):
5/6: POR 1, PHI 0 (Danso 71)
9/10: PHI 0, POR 0

  • This is the only league meeting between the teams this season.
  • The Timbers won 1-0 in the first meeting ever between the clubs, May 6 at Jeld-Wen Field. They played to a scoreless draw at Philadelphia in the second meeting.
  • Coaches record: John Spencer vs. PHI: P2 W1 L0 D1 … Peter Nowak vs. POR: P2 W0 L1 D1

PORTLAND TIMBERS

In their inaugural season, the Portland Timbers came within a week of claiming a spot in the MLS Cup Playoffs, in the mix to the very end. The club was one of the great stories in 2011, with Jeld-Wen Field sold-out for every match with a boisterous throng – a trend that continued even in a preseason tournament earlier this year.

  • The Timbers concluded their preseason with a 1-0 victory against AIK of Sweden in the finale of the Portland Preseason Tournament. Newly signed Kris Boyd scored the game’s only goal in the sixth minute.
  • Here’s the Timbers team: Troy Perkins - Mike Chabala, Eric Brunner, Hanyer Mosquera, Lovel Palmer, Rodney Wallace, Diego Chara (James Marcelin, 79), Jack Jewsbury, Kalif Alhassan, Kris Boyd (Bright Dike, 75), Jorge Perlaza
  • For Boyd, it was his first appearance of the preseason with his new club. “It was a good start, but the most important thing is to get the fitness out of the game,” he said. “But to top it off with a goal was good. It was good to get out for 75 minutes. It was my first game in a long time. It may take a few more weeks to get up to full speed, but it felt good tonight.”
  • Said Timbers head coach John Spencer: “If you get the ball in there, he’s going to get onto it nine times out of 10. And if you’re switched off for a moment, he’s going to punish you. For him, that just gives him a complete injection of confidence. And the fans can now appreciate many more games and many more goals.”
  • For a second consecutive season, the Timbers completed their preseason schedule unbeaten. They went 4-0-3 in training matches this year (1-0-2 in their tournament at Jeld-Wen Field); they are 6-0-9 in preseason matches since coming into MLS.
  • In addition, the Timbers outscored their opponents 11-3 this preseason, and recorded four clean sheets.
  • “I think we're in good shape. I think we had a good preseason last year for an expansion team. I think we've had a good preseason this year considering up until we started to get all our injuries,” said Timbers head coach John Spencer. “ … I'd rather be winning, you know, six or seven games in preseason and conceding not many goals than losing every game in preseason and conceding a lot of goals.”
  • Heading into the season opener, there one injury concern. Midfielder Darlington Nagbe was kept out of a training scrimmage during the week after suffering an ankle injury, and played only one match during the preseason tournament.
  • “We wanted to make sure that he walked off the field feeling positive,” Spencer said. “We didn’t want to train him too long and someone catches him and catches the ankle and he comes off feeling negative.”
  • The Timbers have also lost defender Futty Danso for 4-6 weeks after the Gambian international suffered a fractured fifth metatarsal in his left foot Tuesday during training. Danso made 24 appearances in 2011 (23 as a starter).
  • “I'd like to be standing right now telling you that we've got 25, 26 guys that are fully healthy and ready to go and fight for a spot next week, but we don't. So that's a little bit of a disappointment,” Spencer said. “But as I've said, we've never made excuses in the past and we're not really starting to come out now. We're in good shape.”
  • There will be rich competition for starting spots in the wide midfield roles. With Jack Jewsbury and Diego Chara holding down the central roles, there’s a wide variety of candidates for the outside spots. Sal Zizzo is just coming back from offseason knee surgery, Franck Songo’o is in Spain with visa issues, James Marcelin and Rodney Wallace have both recently represented their respective national teams, and returnees Nagbe, Eric Alexander and Kalif Alhassan all figure into the mix.
  • “It’s really tough every day in training with so many good players at every position,” Alexander said. “It’s going to be interesting to see who plays. Whoever has the best trainings is probably going to be who plays. It’s tough every day, it’s really competitive but it’s good. It brings the best out in you.”
  • Said Spencer: “(The team has) been kind of picking itself lately. In the last couple games we’ve had to play guys more minutes than we’ve wanted to, but as I say, it’s not going to do any harm. We’ll just ease back into training with certain individuals who played more minutes in preseason.”

OFFSEASON TRANSACTIONS

  • IN: F José Adolfo Valencia (12/14: Independiente Santa Fe/Colombia); F Brent Richards (1/4: Homegrown); D Andrew Jean-Baptiste (1/12: SuperDraft); D Hanyer Mosquera (1/17: free); F Kris Boyd (1/30: free); M Charles Renken (1/31: waiver wire); M Franck Songo'o (2/16: free); GK Joe Bendik (2/24: Sogndal)
  • OUT: D Kevin Goldthwaite (11/29: retired); F/M Ryan Pore (12/1; option declined); G Adin Brown (12/12: option declined); M Rodrigo López (12/12: option declined); M Peter Lowry (12/12: option declined); F Brian Umony (12/12: option declined); F Kenny Cooper (1/12: trade to New York)

PHILADELPHIA UNION

Philadelphia Union went from strength to strength in their second MLS season, gaining a spot in the MLS Cup Playoffs after a third-place finish in the Eastern Conference, though they lost in a semifinal series to eventual East champions Houston Dynamo. Peter Nowak will again be in charge of the outfit, featuring a host of changes from last season.

  • Union head into their third MLS season after returning home from a week-long trip to Costa Rica, where they faced Primera Division sides Municipal Perez Zeledon and Belen (in a fractious contest), along with the Costa Rican U-20 national team.
  • That trip followed a sojourn to Florida, where Union defeated the University of Central Florida 5-0 and played to 1-1 stalemates with the NASL’s Orlando City FC and Florida Gulf Coast University.
  • Here’s the Union team from the Orlando City match: Zac MacMath (Chase Harrison ’46), Sheanon Williams (Raymon Gaddis ’46), Carlos Valdes (Greg Jordan ’65), Danny Califf (Gabriel Farfan ’46), Porfiro Lopez (Zach Pfeffer ’65), Freddy Adu (Jimmy McLaughlin ’46), Gabriel Gomez (Roger Torres ’46), Brian Carroll (Amobi Okugo 46), Jack McInerney (Michael Farfan ’46), Josue Martinez (Chandler Hoffman ’46), Danny Mwanga (Antoine Hoppenot ’46)
  • “He’s put the petal to the metal,” Califf said of Union manager Peter Nowak. “I think we’re all looking forward to getting back into the training routine where we’re here and able to establish that routine and not be 100 miles per hour all the time. Just to walk out and be in our locker room again, it feels good. It feels comfortable.”
  • During the preseason, Nowak has emphasized defending of set pieces. A year ago, Philadelphia allowed three goals from free kicks.
  • “We need to focus on preventing (goals), instead of just concentrating on the target guys,” Nowak said. “We have to make sure the guys who are around the area – targets three, four and five – that they’re also covered. So it’s not only a job for a few players, it’s a job for the whole team. We worked on that, we’re going to continue to work on that, and we’re going to try to prevent those goals.”
  • While goalkeeper Farýd Mondragon has also left the club, Union operated heavily in the transfer market, signing Costa Ricans Josué Martínez and, Porfirio López, Panamanian Gabriel Gomez and Colombian Lionard Pajoy.
  • “As I said, there’s going to be a mistake here or there,” said Nowak. “I think we got generally bigger this year with Porfirio Lopez and Gabriel Gomez. They’re a couple of guys who can (defend set pieces). So we’re working on that, and we’ll see.”