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Timbers make strides in friendlies; Chabala overcomes fatigue in good debut; Hall stands out; Dike shows improvement

After last Wednesday's match against West Bromwich of the Premier League, the Portland Timbers closed their locker room to the media, making only two of the 16 players who participated in the match available for comment.

After a 2-0 win over Club Atletico Independiente on Tuesday night, the locker room was open, and every player who competed in the match were available.

• The Timbers played their four international friendlies with a mostly reserve squad this season. They lost the first three friendlies - 2-0 to Dutch side AFC Ajax, 1-0 to Mexico's Club America and 3-2 to West Brom. From the first match against Ajax to Tuesday night's win against Independiente, the home group showed constant growth and improvement.

'The exhibition games, the fans should be walking away thinking, 'I'll tell you what, they were exciting tonight,' ' Timbers coach John Spencer said. 'Probably with the exception of the Ajax game, we've played some exhilarating football at times.'

• If any Timber deserved to sleep in on Wednesday, it was defender Mike Chabala.

After being traded from the Houston Dynamo on Thursday, Chabala and Lovel Palmer met the Timbers in Columbus for last Saturday's match against the Crew. The two then flew back to Houston, gathered their things and flew to Portland on Monday night.

While Palmer got Tuesday night off, Chabala put in 90 hard minutes of work against Independiente.

'I was a little tired,' Chabala admitted.

Chabala made a good showing in his debut, recording an assist in the 39th minute when he placed a 40-yard free kick into the middle of the box, setting up a header by Brian Umony.

'I was just kind of showing the guys what I can contribute to the team,' Chabala said. 'A lot of these guys have never seen me play, or maybe they've seen me play, but I haven't played with them. It was kind of like my introduction to the guys and the coaching staff, as well. I wanted to come in and show well."

Chabala took a large portion of the Timbers' free kicks. He isn't used to that role, but he said he is comfortable with it.

"If John tells me to jump, it's 'how high?' " he said.

Spencer said he was already well aware of Chabala's talent from having coached him in Houston.

'I've known him for four-something years,' Spencer said. 'I had him on the reserve team down in Houston, I know what he's capable of doing.

'He's comfortable on the ball, and as comfortable playing on the right side as he is on the left because he's naturally two-footed, which is great for us. He's come from an organization that, when we were there, we won a couple of championships, and he's comfortable playing in big games.'

•• Losing seven of eight MLS matches, the Timbers have been experimenting with their formation. They have gone from a 4-4-2 with two strikers to a 4-4-1 with just a single striker. Against Independiente, Portland used a 4-3-3 formation with three strikers.

The formation worked especially well for Sal Zizzo, who played as a hybrid midfielder/striker. In the 36th minute, Zizzo scored his first goal in a Timbers' first-team match.

'I love it,' Zizzo said. 'You could say it's more my style, playing a winger/forward (role), making a lot of runs without the ball, getting forward. It was a lot of fun.'

Spencer kept his cards close to the vest, avoiding the question when asked whether the Timbers might consider using the 4-3-3 formation in this Saturday's 8 p.m. home match against Toronto FC.

'Well, we spoke to (MLS senior vice president for competition) Todd Durbin tonight and he said we were going to get three points if we win the game, so we're going to take the three points,' Spencer said, smiling.

••• As flashy as the three strikers made the offense look, the real sparkle Tuesday came on the backline. Defender Jeremy Hall wore iridescent yellow and purple boots that could be noticed all the way up to the press box.

'Adidas is coming out with crazy, crazy colors,' Hall said. 'That's just what they sent me, so that's what I wear.'

As long as the Timbers are keeping clean sheets, Hall plans to continue wearing the bright cleats.

'Whatever it takes,' he said.

•••• Timbers striker Bright Dike played in his third friendly after missing five months because of a ruptured right Achilles' tendon that he suffered in the preseason. Dike said he is beginning to feel more confident in his abilities on the pitch.

'I'm definitely getting more and more fit,' Dike said. 'That's starting to show on the field, being able to make more runs and harder intensity. The hesitance that I may have had in the beginning is going away. The biggest thing is confidence and not being hesitant on the field.'

Dike's lack of hesitancy was showcased in the 92nd minute of stoppage time, when he was issued a yellow card for a reckless tackle on Julian Velazquez.

'It was one of those things where I missed the ball just by a second,' Dike said. 'I tried to pick him up and say it was an accident. It's funny, because at the same time I was actually kind of smiling in my head because I don't know if I would have even tried a tackle like that (in previous matches), just because of hesitance.'

Dike will not have another friendly this season to hone his game. That makes working hard in training even more important.

'I might not have any more games until it's time to actually play in a league game,' he said. 'I just have to keep busting my butt in practice, and when the time comes then hopefully I'll be ready.'