The Portland Timbers will begin their first MLS season Saturday on the road against the Colorado Rapids. Since the day it was announced that the Timbers were moving up a notch in North American pro soccer, there has been a whirlwind of preparations.
The stadium formerly known as PGE Park was turned into a hovel over the winter to be built back up as a soccer- specific venue. And it has been nearly impossible to travel through Portland without seeing a building draped with an oversized ad of ordinary people holding axes and chainsaws.
More than anything, there are questions. Such as:
Will there be a limit on how much beer members of the Timbers Army can buy per match?
Has anyone noticed that Timbers owner Merritt Paulson is a dead ringer for The Man in the Yellow Hat from the 'Curious George' books?
Those questions will have to wait.
Recently, though, the Portland Tribune caught up with some players and coach John Spencer to find out what fans might expect from the club on the pitch.
TRIBUNE: When the season opens, the Timbers will have been training for 12 weeks. Will they be ready for MLS competition?
SPENCER: 'Well, it's live on Fox Soccer Channel and it's the first game of the season and if we're not ready, we've done something wrong for the last 12 weeks. The guys know that. We've shown in most of the spring-training games that we've been ready from the first whistle, and I don't expect anything different.'
TRIBUNE: The Timbers promoted 10 players from last year's Division-2 and PDL clubs. How are those players fitting in on the MLS side?
RYAN PORE, a midfielder who played for the Division-2 Timbers last season: 'They're doing well. It's obviously challenging for some guys to go from consistently being in the starting 11 to maybe being on the outside looking in right now. We're continuing to compete each day in practice. Ultimately, we all want to be in the starting 11. But that's for Coach Spencer to decide. We're just working hard and going from there.'
TRIBUNE: How good can the offense be this year?
KENNY COOPER, forward: 'I certainly have a lot of confidence in my teammates. We have a lot of great quality going forward. Hopefully there's a lot of goals in us.'
TRIBUNE: How good can the defense be this year?
TROY PERKINS, goalkeeper: 'The defense has the potential to be probably about the best line in the league. We've got speed, we've got talent, we've got guys who are physically strong and tough. And not even just the four guys we've got on the field. There are guys are on the bench or on the reserve team that have been real impressive. We're very deep in that position. It's going to come down to pride and how much we want it. How much desire there is among them to be the best.'
TRIBUNE: Darlington Nagbe, who the Timbers selected with the second overall pick in the 2011 MLS SuperDraft, is likely to miss the first game of the season after undergoing surgery for a sports hernia. He's not going to be another Greg Oden, is he?
SPENCER: 'No. Darlington Nagbe is a top, top, top player, and he's going to be a top player in this league. Possibly one of the best players to play in Portland in the history of Portland. He's a fantastic soccer player. There are no problems with him whatsoever.'
TRIBUNE: One of the qualities the Timbers emphasized when filling out their roster this offseason was youth. But, are the Timbers too young to compete right away in the MLS?
JAKE GLEESON, 20-year-old goalkeeper: 'Absolutely we can compete and even out-compete the other teams. We have the young guys to really push against the older guys. As a younger team, we really bring a lot more energy to the table. We have a great set of young players here, and they're already pretty much mature. The more games we get, the more time we spend in a professional environment, the more mature we're going to get, for sure.'
TRIBUNE: Spencer has made it a point of calling the Timbers 'a new team,' not 'an expansion team'. Titles aside, how well do the Timbers expect to play this season?
SPENCER: 'It's important that we continue day to day to work hard regardless of who the opposition are. Whether it be Seattle, Vancouver, or whether it be Kansas City and Colorado, we've got to approach every game as a big game. And every game could be your last game as a professional player or a professional coach. So week in, week out, day in, day out, you have to have that desire to perform.'