Some of the players already are training here, and the Timbers plan to bring 40 to 60 hopefuls to a tryout camp Saturday and Sunday. The preseason officially starts March 17.

• Center back Justin Thompson hopes to re-sign with Portland. 'I don't foresee any problems,' he says from his home in North Vancouver, British Columbia. 'I've spoken to a couple of teams, but I've made it pretty clear it would have to be something pretty special for me to leave Portland. I think they're building a formidable force, something I can see myself being part of for a long time.'

Thompson came to the Timbers from a team in England.

'I told my old manager I'm not going to go back over there,' Thompson says. 'It's nice to be home, or back in North America, anyway.'

• The United Soccer Leagues First Division will have 11 teams instead of 12; California has dropped out. Last regular season, the Timbers went 5-0 against the Victory and 9-5-9 against the rest of the league.

This year, only seven teams, not eight, will make the playoffs.

'It's going to be a lot, lot harder than last year,' coach Gavin Wilkinson says. 'Minnesota has new owners, Vancouver has new coaching, and they and Miami are investing a lot of money. I'm more apprehensive.'

• Nine of the Timbers' 15 home games will be on Thursday nights, which traditionally draw the highest attendance and have featured reduced prices on beer. 'We consider Thursday nights at PGE Park to be phenomenal,' Wilkinson says.

Four other home games will be on Saturdays, with one game on a Friday and the other on Monday, May 26 (Memorial Day).

The number of games on back-to-back days has dropped from three to two, but the season will run a couple of weeks longer. Portland will open at home April 17 against Puerto Rico and finish Sept. 20 at Carolina.

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