Flush with USMNT experience, Michael Harrington finds new competition on Portland Timbers return

Harrington Timbers

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PORTLAND, Ore. – It’s safe to say that Michael Harrington returned to his second year with the Portland Timbers a new man.

At the very least, he had quite the offseason.

The veteran fullback got married, and then he got his first call-up to the US national team. And now that he’s been back with his club for a couple weeks, he said the latter experience is helping him take his game to a new level.

“Being able to play with that coaching staff and obviously a group of players that is very accomplished and experienced, I think I have just a little bit more confidence coming back,” Harrington said of his January USMNT camp experience after a recent training session at Providence Park.

And while the theme of the Timbers preseason camp has been continuity – with a majority of the players from last season’s regular season Western Conference Championship club returning – Harrington is coming back to a slightly different situation.

He’s got someone nipping on his heels at left back – a position in which the former Sporting Kansas City mainstay logged a team-high 2,951 minutes last year. The Timbers acquired former Chivas USA midfielder/defender Jorge Villafaña over the offseason to not only provide some much-needed depth along the back line, but to also give the team’s most comfortable player last year a little healthy competition.

“He’s ahead of Jorge at this point,” Timbers head coach Caleb Porter said. “But the nice thing is, and the reason we added Jorge, is to have a good one and two guy and hopefully there’s a competition there, because that will make both of them better.”

And both players are embracing their roles, something Harrington said is aided by the fact that the locker room has become such a tightly knit group.

“That chemistry is already there,” Harrington said.

He also said it will be nice to have someone ready to come in and give him a break every now and then, especially with the added responsibility of CONCACAF Champions League action on the schedule starting in late summer.

“It’s important to have a deep squad and have people who are always pushing you and helping everybody to get better,” Harrington said. “That’s going to help our team a lot this year.”

Villafaña – who played for Porter with the US U-23 national team and received the bulk of the first-team time at left back while Harrington was still away at national team camp – said he’s just happy to contribute to a team expected to compete for the MLS Cup.

“You have to put your work in and try to win the spot,” Villafaña said. “Nothing is going to be easy, and you just have to work for it.”

There has only been one problem, noted Timbers club captain and right back Jack Jewsbury, no stranger to competing for a spot.

“There’s always new guys coming up who are faster and stronger,” he said earlier this preseason, noting that Harrington might have come into camp just a little too confident after his USMNT experience.

But Jewsbury said the guys quickly took care of that.

“We definitely had a little banter about him being a big-timer now,” Jewsbury joked. “He took it pretty well; he’s good with that stuff. So yeah, it was fun.”

Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com.