Eric Alexander knows what it’s like to be the new guy.
The third-year MLS pro, who at this time last year was just coming off his first appearance with the US national team, joined the Portland Timbers in mid-August after being traded from Dallas.
Alexander started just three matches while trying to discover his role with the team, so the midfielder can relate to the new faces in Timbers preseason camp as they try to meld with what Alexander said is becoming a well-oiled machine.
And after Friday’s 0-0 draw against Montreal Impact in Carson, Calif. – which came on the heels of Tuesday’s 4-1 victory against the LA Galaxy – Alexander is confident that all the pieces are coming together to form something special.
“I think John encourages a lot of creativity in the offense,” he told MLSsoccer.com after Friday’s match. “And I think we have a lot of guys who can bring that creativity and cause a lot of problems. And I think that’s something that’s been working for us. I think when you combine that with how hard we’ve been working defensively, I think we’re going to be a very good team this year.”
Futty Danso, Bright Dike, James Marcelin and Jorge Perlaza, all members of last year’s squad, scored in the LA game. But it was Cameroonian midfielder Franck Songo’o, in camp with the Timbers as a trialist, who assisted on the first two strikes of that match.
Against Montreal, both Songo’o and Alexander set up shots that banged off the goal post. And Designated Player Kris Boyd, the Scottish Premier League’s all-time leading scorer, has yet to even join the Timbers.
“The first two weeks of the preseason we had been playing small side games and working players around so everyone gets comfortable,” Alexander said. “I think it helps the flow of our team when we come into these 11-on-11 games. Definitely the guys who have been here last year have taken the initiative and are helping out the newer guys and helping bring them into the lineup and helping to make them feel comfortable.”
Alexander also represents a group of young talent present on the Timbers roster. And as Portland look to tighten their possession on the midfield wings to set up what the team hopes will be a dangerous front line, it would seem that Alexander fits into those plans.
“I think I’m getting closer to realizing what I’m going to be for this team this year,” Alexander said. “Obviously, I want to be a difference maker and help as soon as possible and be someone you can rely on offensively and defensively. I think I’m working toward that and making good strides.”
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.