PORTLAND, Ore. — Things haven't exactly been strawberries and champagne around Portland Timbers camp this week.
Still stinging from a self-described dismal performance in a 1-0 loss last Saturday at New England, Portland players and coaches are eager to move on.
But there's one Timbers player who is still basking in the sun of a recent triumph. Backup goalkeeper Jake Gleeson returned to training Tuesday fresh off a shutout performance in the New Zealand Under-23s' Olympic qualifying 1-0 victory on Sunday over Fiji.
"It hasn't quite hit me yet that I'm going," Gleeson said. "I think it will take a few days to sink in. But at the moment, I'm just really excited. Obviously, the Olympic Games is the biggest sporting event in the world, aside from the World Cup. And I'm playing with a great group of guys, and being in England, home of football, where else would you want to play?"
The victory at Owen Delany Park in Taupo, New Zealand, culminated the Oly Whites' triumph in the seven-team Oceania Football Confederation's Olympic qualifying tournament. Gleeson allowed just two goals in the three games he started in the net, helping New Zealand win all four of their qualifiers.
The 21-year-old, who has spent his entire MLS career with the Timbers starting with their U-23s in 2010, said the championship match against Fiji was particularly nerve-wracking.
"It was just a big weight off our shoulders," he said. "Obviously we were the favorite team going in, and we should have won and we did in the end, but we probably made it a little hard on ourselves than we should have."
He said the time spent with family and friends during the two weeks in his home country was just the icing on the cake. And he said playing in the qualifiers and this summer in the Olympics would only help his development.
"Obviously it's fantastic," he said. "Coming out here in training is fantastic. But it's just another team to get involved with and another level to get involved with on the national the international stage. There's going to be large crowds. It's just going to be really excited. As a footballer, that's what you play for. You play for games like that; you play for tournaments like that.”
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.