Portland Timbers' Mikael Silvestre looks forward to mentoring role

PORTLAND, Ore. – Just in the nick of time, the Portland Timbers’ last major piece of their offseason-rebuilding project has arrived in the Rose City ahead of Sunday’s season opener against the New York Red Bulls at JELD-WEN Field (7:30 pm ET, ESPN2, live chat on MLSsoccer.com).

French defender Mikaël Silvestre trained with the Timbers for the first time as an official member of the club Friday after he was signed last week, following a nearly three-week trial early in the preseason. And the 35-year-old arrives touting an impressive resume that dates back to when some of his new teammates were just learning to kick a ball.

“I’m here to play my role as a 35-year-old player,” Silvestre said in his first meeting with the local media. “I have a lot of experience, but I’m also learning about the MLS and my teammates. But for sure, they’re going to look to me and wait for my guidance, so I need to bring that to the team.”

Silvestre’s body of work speaks for itself.

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He played 11 seasons with Manchester United and Arsenal, won five Premier League titles and the 2007-08 UEFA Champions League. He has 40 caps with the French national team and played in the 2006 FIFA World Cup.

And that type of experience is just what Portland’s backline needs. For example, his likely partner at center back for Sunday’s game, 20-year-old Andrew Jean-Baptiste, was just four years old when Silvestre led France to the 1996 U-18 European Championship.

Injuries to more veteran defensive players, David Horst and Hanyer Mosquera, who are both expected to miss the start of the season, made Silvestre’s addition more urgent.

“He’s going to be great to sit next to one of these youngsters and help joystick him and organize and teach him,” Timbers head coach Caleb Porter said. “That was a big part of the reason for bringing him in, not only is he going to help on the field and help settle our backline but we think he’ll help mentor some of these young guys that need a professional like him next to them.”

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Silvestre, who last saw action in 2011 with Werder Bremen of the Bundesliga, said he’s been impressed with the talent already in place in Portland. He started training with Manchester United last September as he began searching for a new place to play, so said he’s more than ready for Sunday’s game.

“When you’re out of contract, you have a lot of opportunities and I was waiting for the right one,” he said. “I’ve always wanted to join the MLS.”

He said when he was in Tucson, Ariz., with Portland and then briefly Seattle for the Desert Friendlies, he ran into an old friend, countryman and Red Bulls forward Thierry Henry, who Silvestre has known since they were 16-year-olds coming up through the French youth national teams. Silvestre said Henry spoke highly of MLS, and as fate would have it, the two will face off once again, this time on US soil.

“He shared his vision about the MLS and being involved in this league,” he said. “It was good to speak to him and see him after such a long time.”

And for those who think his breadth of experience is the only reason Portland brought Silvestre on board, they would be wrong, Porter said. The Timbers new boss said he’s in prime shape and doesn’t appear to have lost a step at all.

“I was impressed with just how well he moves, you look at his age but you would never know it,” Porter said.

Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com.