PORTLAND, Ore. – It’s been an offseason of changes and, the Portland Timbers hope, improvement. And with First Kick presented by Dick’s Sporting Goods looming against Philadelphia next week (March 12, 9:30 pm ET; ESPN2) head coach John Spencer is hoping several key pieces fall into place in the next few days.
Midfielder Darlington Nagbe and forward Kris Boyd have been nursing ankle injuries since the team returned from their preseason camp in Los Angeles two weeks ago. Both played only one abbreviated shift apiece during Portland’s three-game tournament last week, and both have some work to do to be 90-minutes fit.
Of particular concern is Nagbe, who participated in drills but was held out of an 11-vs.-11 scrimmage at Tuesday’s practice.
“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.”
Boyd tweaked his ankle again during that same training, turning it on defender Eric Brunner’s foot. But Spencer said he doesn’t believe it’s serious.
The Timbers are also missing midfielder Franck Songo’o, who is still out of the country dealing with visa issues. And midfielder Sal Zizzo is close to returning after having left knee surgery in November. He also participated in drills Tuesday but did not scrimmage.
“It will be nice to get some guys back,” Spencer said.
And to top it off, hulking forward Bright Dike collided with defender Mamadou “Futty” Danso, sending the latter to the sideline with an ankle injury.
“We have a running joke here that players get ‘Dike’d,’” Spencer said. “Because it always seems to be the problem that when Bright Dike gets near people, people get injured. So Futty got ‘Dike’d’ on the ankle.”
When everyone does return, Spencer will have a tough job selecting the starting 11.
“It’s been kind of picking itself lately,” he said. “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.”
Preseason look back
It may be easy to look at the Timbers unbeaten preseason – coupled with the team’s roster improvements – and expect success in the regular season schedule.
Spencer says that isn’t necessarily so.
“It doesn’t make you MLS champions winning preseason games,” he explained. “It’s just trying to ingrain the culture of winning games every time you pull on a uniform. I don’t think it’s bad to have, but it’s no indication of how the season is going to go.”
Spencer noted that the Timbers were also undefeated last preseason but missed the playoffs. LA, meanwhile, were winless in the 2011 preseason, but ended up doing the Supporters’ Shield/MLS Cup double.
This year, Portland finished 4-0-3 in preseason games and outscored opponents 11-3. Perhaps more importantly, according to Spencer, was that his Timbers posted four shutouts.
GET TICKETS to Portland Timbers vs. Philadelphia Union, Monday, March 12, 2012, 9:30 pm ET at JELD-WEN Field. Watch in on ESPN2.