High expectations challenging, but city fits goalie and family
Odds were against Troy Perkins becoming a Major League Soccer goalkeeper.
Perkins wasn't drafted when he came out of the University of Evansville. After landing with D.C. United on a developmental contract in 2004, he was making $850 a month and had to work at a sporting goods store until 11 p.m. to make ends meet.
But that didn't stop him.
'I've never doubted myself,' he says. 'I've been told my whole life that I didn't have the size, I didn't have the ability, whatever. Someone was always telling me 'You can't do that.'
'But the morals and the values I grew up with were that if you want it, you go get it, and you do everything in your power to go get it.'
Today, Perkins is the starting keeper for the Portland Timbers, whose final regular-season game of the 2011 season is 6 p.m. PT Saturday at Real Salt Lake.
Perkins has been MLS goalkeeper of the year twice (2006 and 2007 for D.C. United). He played in Europe for Norwegian First-Division side Vålerenga IF. He earned six caps on the U.S. national team in 2009.
This season, the 6-2, 190-pounder from Springfield, Ohio, has been a rock between the goal posts for the Timbers. Perkins has started every match since missing the first five with a knee injury. He has come up with 84 saves and kept nine clean sheets. He ranks in the middle of the MLS pack in goals allowed per game (1.33), but of the 36 goals he has allowed, most were balls he had little chance of defending.
Like many goalkeepers, the 30-year-old Perkins has improved with age.
'You become more consistent as you get older,' he says. 'That's the big difference from the young goalkeepers in the league. They have one or two games and you're like, 'Wow, there's potential.' I want to have 25 to 28 games a year where it's always that level.'
The biggest improvement in Perkins' game this year is that he has started to make match-preserving saves.
'It's a little bit of experience, maturity and the belief that that's what I'm there for,' he says. 'I'm there to do that job.'
Playing in Portland has brought a new level of challenge, though.
'The fans expect the best,' Perkins says. 'The club itself is built on a foundation of being successful. And it's also the fact that I want to keep my job. I've got to be the best I can be to make sure I have a job at the end of the day.'
Pressure aside, Perkins has found Portland to be the ideal place for he and his wife, Elizabeth, to raise their 2-year-old son, Jackson Gregory Perkins. While having dinner this week with some friends in Washington, D.C., before the Timbers' match against D.C. United, Perkins told everyone that he would never move back to the East Coast.
'You don't have that weight on your shoulders of, 'Man, I don't know if my family is safe,' ' he says. 'Living in Portland, people are fairly family-oriented, and everyone is really friendly. It's a great place to live.'
No one on the Timbers is more animated on the pitch than Perkins. He constantly shouts instructions to his defenders and lines them up for free kicks. Perkins admits that it used to be hard to turn off that competitive persona when he came home. But he is getting better at it.
'I've had my struggles doing that over the years,' he says. 'Especially having a kid, it's a process of learning to not bring that pressure and that stress home with you. When you're with an infant, it's even worse. You don't want the kid up at night or screaming and throwing tantrums. It's a whole new ballgame. It's a whole different bag of issues you have to deal with. But I think as a father and a family man, I've really transitioned pretty well.'
Perkins says that having a loving and supportive home has helped make him even better on the pitch.
'It really allows me to be more relaxed and more levelheaded on and off the field,' he says. 'It's not for everyone. But for me, it's helped out tremendously.'
Perkins went into the week saying that nothing mattered more to him than getting the Timbers into the 10-team MLS playoffs.
'From an individual standpoint, it's been a good season,' he says. 'But, personally, it doesn't really mean much if we're not in the playoffs. That's where you want to be.'