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TEAMING UP: ALL FOR ONE

No stars, no big egos, but sticking together has Timbers in playoff hunt
by: CHRISTOPHER ONSTOTT Portland Timbers striker Kenny Cooper gives thumbs up to a teammate in an early-season home victory over FC Dallas. The Timbers, under coach John Spencer, have preached unselfish play throughout the season, which is nearing its final week before the playoffs.

Former UCLA basketball coach John Wooden's quote, 'It is amazing how much can be accomplished if no one cares who gets the credit,' has become a sports cliché, preached far more than it is practiced.

Throughout their inaugural MLS season, though, the quote has come to define the Portland Timbers, who with a record of 11-13-7 (40 points) sit three points out of the 10th and final playoff spot, chasing the Houston Dynamo and the New York Red Bulls with three games to go.

Asked what has allowed him to score three goals in the past four matches, Timbers striker Kenny Cooper does not hesitate to give all of the credit to his teammates.

'If you just look at the goals I've scored, I've gotten great, great service from my teammates,' Cooper says. 'I have to give them credit for the great job that they're doing.'

Asked how much he wants to keep a clean sheet in Friday's pivotal 7:30 p.m. home match against the Dynamo, goalkeeper Troy Perkins says that posting a shutout does not matter to him.

'It doesn't matter if we give up goals or not,' Perkins says. 'It's about winning the game, getting three points at this time of the season. If we can win 6-5, it doesn't matter to us.'

While the Timbers want to have success individually, as always they seem more concerned with how those performances impact the team than with any personal glory that might come their way.

'A goal-scorer will always look at how many goals he scores,' Timbers coach John Spencer says. 'It's natural because you feel good if you're in the top two or three goal scorers in the league. The same with the defenders.

'(The players) do look at their individual stats. But they realize that if they fight together, work together, they're going to have a chance to win games. It's a sign of all successful teams that they want to work hard for each other. If you do that, then you have a chance to win.'

The team's chemistry is part of the reason the Timbers don't care about who gets credit. Though this season most of the players had never stepped onto a pitch playing for the same side, the club bonded quickly and carried the new relationships into matches.

'Any time you have a team like this where guys are picked up in the expansion draft or guys are traded here, you never know what kind of mix you're going to get,' Timbers captain Jack Jewsbury says. 'At the end of the day, the locker room and the camaraderie often times transition onto the field and how guys want to battle for one another.'

Professional athletes will always have some degree of ego. With a mix of young players and veterans, though, the Timbers have kept their egos in check.

'I don't think we have a bunch of huge egos on this team,' Jewsbury says. 'It's a young group -some young guys who are coming into their own -and the veteran guys don't have these huge egos and need certain things. It's a good mix.'

Portland has a roster largely filled with players other clubs did not want. Jewsbury became an MLS All-Star this season -his ninth in the league -but the Timbers do not have a household-name superstar. Not leaning on one player has forced all 11 players on the pitch to step up and get results.

'I don't think that just because you have a guy who scores 15 or 20 goals during the season it's going to guarantee you a spot in the playoffs,' Spencer says. 'If you get a guy who can score a few goals and the other players realize that they've got to chip in with a few as well … it's a team game. It's not an individual sport.'

Cooper, who turns 27 next week, calls the Timbers the most unselfish side he has played for in a career that includes stops in Europe. With a shot at the MLS playoffs hanging in the balance, he looks at the Timbers' desire to win above all else as one of the reasons that they have a chance to advance.

'It's important to go out there and fight for each other every training session and every game,' Cooper says. 'You can really see in the guys the desire to want to do well every time they step out on the field. That's a great thing.'