Cooper and crew stay positive, as team preps for its home debut
When the Portland Timbers play their first MLS home match at Jeld-Wen Field on April 14, the Timbers Army wants to see a rare sight: balls flying from Portland players' boots to the back of the net.
After scoring two goals on 34 shots in three MLS matches, it might appear that Portland is in desperate need of an executive decision from FIFA to make the goalposts wider and taller.
How many goals a side scores can be a voodoo science, though. Often good chances turn into nothing. Sometimes, chances can turn into a mark on the scoreboard.
For Timbers coach John Spencer, the fact that the club has created so many chances is reason to be optimistic.
'We're creating chances,' Spencer says. 'If we weren't creating chances for the forwards to miss them or score them, then we'd be really concerned.'
Spencer, a former striker, knows what it takes to put the ball in the back of the net. He scored 43 goals from 1992-96 for Chelsea of the English Premier League and 37 goals in 88 matches in the MLS for the Colorado Rapids.
The first-year Portland coach laughs when asked if there have been times this season when he wished he could be on the pitch to turn some of the Timbers' chances into goals.
'You're trying to put me on the spot,' he says. 'I missed a lot more than I scored. If you scored on every chance, then you'd have 700, 800 goals in your career. But that's not the way it happens.'
The Timbers' season continues with the home opener on April 14 -an 8 p.m. game versus the Chicago Fire.
Pressure to score this season will fall heavily on 6-3, 210-pound forward Kenny Cooper, who racked up a career-high 18 goals in 2008 while with FC Dallas. Cooper scored the first goal in Timbers' MLS history in the March 19 opening match against the Colorado Rapids on a free kick. He has struggled of late, though, while taking a club- high eight shots.
Cooper has been able to remain positive, and he says he believes that more goals are going to come.
'As a forward, it's important to just keep going and just keep working and believe that you're capable of putting the ball in the back of the net,' Cooper says. 'Hopefully there's a lot of goals in me this season.'
A culture shock
Cooper's partner on the attack, Jorge Perlaza has been ice-cold, taking three shots this season and putting one on goal.
Talking for the 5-10, 155-pound Perlaza, who speaks little English, Spencer says that it has been difficult for Perlaza to assimilate himself after coming to Portland from Columbia's Deportes Tolima, where he scored 15 goals last season.
'There's a big settling-in period when you come from a foreign country to Major League Soccer or any other team in the world,' Spencer says. 'It's a culture shock. He's away from his family, he's away from his fiancé and his baby. We need to try to get him integrated. We just need to try to get his family over here and maybe ship in two or three thousand more Columbian people and make him feel more at home.'
While the Timbers' offense will only be as good as their strikers, the midfield may help alleviate some of the pressure.
One of the most pleasant surprises has been 6-0, 185-pound midfielder and club captain Jack Jewsbury's ability to make his presence felt on the attack. Jewsbury scored his first goal as a Timber in the U.S. Open Cup first-round match against Chivas USA. And Jewsbury's goal against the New England Revolution last Saturday helped the Timbers earn their first MLS point.
'All through my life I've been an attacking player,' Jewsbury says. 'I feel comfortable around the goal. Always have.'
The Timbers' midfield will be adding some firepower soon, when Darlington Nagbe, Portland's No. 2 pick in the MLS SuperDraft, begins playing more minutes after recovering from sports hernia surgery at the start of the season.
'I just want to get out there and help create, and if I can help score some that's great,' Nagbe says. 'As an attacker, you want to score goals and help the team win. So I'll do the best I can.'
As the Timbers try to build an offensive attack that can make them a competitive MLS side, Spencer is hoping that a bit of luck will open the goal floodgates, too.
'Forwards sometimes just need that one that hits off the backside and goes into the back of the net,' he says, 'or they get a lucky deflection and it goes in, and it kick-starts the run.
'We're hoping that comes quickly for these guys.'