PORTLAND, Ore. – After the Portland Timbers wrapped up their 2013 preseason with a 1-1 draw Saturday night against AIK at JELD-WEN Field, the message was clear: Bring on the regular season.
“We’re ready,” Caleb Porter enthused in his postgame remarks.
Portland’s new head coach gushed about the attacking brand of soccer his group has displayed in two games during the Portland Tournament, even calling their second-half performance Sunday against AIK “electric.” When Porter trotted out the presumptive starting XI, give or take a few players, last Sunday against San Jose and in the tournament finale against the Swedish first-division side, the offensive results spoke for themselves.
The Timbers scored three goals against San Jose and fired off 25 shots against AIK.
“They’re playing with a lot of swagger, a lot of confidence and a lot of mental toughness,” Porter said. “Boy, when we get going and when we’re playing Portland Timbers football, it’s fun to watch. It’s the tip of the iceberg, and that’s what’s scary. I think this team can be a really special group.”
There were certainly signs of the mental toughness Porter and Timbers general manager Gavin Wilkinson spoke of while remaking the roster after last season’s disastrous results. Portland battled back after ceding first goals against San Jose and AIK, something Porter said may not have happened last year.
“The mark of a good team is when you’re back is against the wall and when you need more you get more,” he said. “I’ve been seeing this team respond positively when their backs are against the wall.”
New midfielder Will Johnson, who wore the captain’s armband both Sunday and Saturday, said he’s not surprised with the way the team has come together.
“We have a group of guys who aren’t going to quit this year,” he said. “If we’re not playing good soccer, we’re going to fight. I always believe that you can not always be the best soccer player on the field, but there’s no excuse for not being the hardest working and being a team that is very difficult to beat.”
Porter did say there is some work left to be done on the defensive half. Against AIK, the Timbers started second-year player Andrew Jean-Baptiste and rookie Dylan Tucker-Gangnes at center back. But Porter is hoping newly signed defender Mikaël Silvestre, who he expects to join the team this week, helps in shoring up the backline.
“There are certainly a lot of things we need to continue to correct and sort out,” he said. “There were moments in the game, even when we were completely on top of that team, where they hit us on the break and we have to make sure we’re a little more tight in the back at times.”
Porter expects the coming week of training leading up to their regular season opener March 3 against the New York Red Bulls at JELD-WEN Field to be their best yet, playing off the confidence gained over the last week.
“I think we’re more than ready,” Johnson said. “We’re eager, when you put points on the line and when you fill this stadium up it’s going to be something else. It’s tough for me to put into words, but I can’t wait for next week. I know that every single guy in this locker room is just itching and ready to go.”