PORTLAND, Ore. – When Portland Timbers players and coaches reported to town Friday in advance of Monday’s start to preseason training camp, they were finally witness to the offseason changes that have transformed the team’s roster since the conclusion of their inaugural MLS season.
Most notable was the absence of forward Kenny Cooper, the Timbers' leading scorer from last year.
Part of the Portland’s new identity: two recently signed Colombians, young Designated Player José Adolfo Valencia, a 20-year-old forward, and defender Hanyer Mosquera, a six-year veteran of Colombia’s top pro league.
“I think it’s a good thing,” said defender Mamadou “Futty” Danso, perhaps the closest thing the Timbers have to a team veteran as a member of the USSF Division-2 Timbers before becoming a mainstay on the MLS side’s back line last year. “We definitely want to have a solid team. I think it’s definitely going to help us push toward the playoffs. Playoffs are definitely our first priority this year.”
Another newcomer expected to be in the mix on the first team could be 19-year-old rookie defender Andrew Jean-Baptiste. Danso said he ran into the former University of Connecticut standout taken with the eighth pick of the recently held MLS SuperDraft at JELD-WEN Field on Friday.
“I haven’t seen him play, but from what I’ve seen he’s going to be a big body over there,” Danso said of the 6-foot-2, 205-pound teenager.
Portland just missed the playoffs last season after a frantic late-season surge, and the hope is that an offseason of roster building and another year together can bridge that gap.
During the break, Danso said a number of players stuck around Portland to train together. He said he and fellow veterans such as team captain Jack Jewsbury and midfielder Diego Chara spent a lot of time together with one goal in mind: getting over the hump and into the postseason.
“All the players I’ve talked with want to be stronger than last year and want to improve on where we were last year,” Danso said. “Everyone I’ve talked to during the offseason, the first thing they say is that, ‘I’ve been working out, and I need to make a difference this year.’ So I think everyone has the mentality of I want to make a difference this year. We all definitely want to have a good season.”
Danso said he expects the core group who spent the offseason training together to foster better continuity for the entire team.
“I definitely think it helps, working with guys who are experienced in this league,” Danso said. “I chat with them about stuff, and they give me their feedback. We’re all were working toward a good season.”
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org