Coach’s trip down under brings more talent to Portland

Gavin Wilkinson took time off recently to attend his brother’s wedding in Melbourne, Australia. Wilkinson also conducted a little business while he was away. The second-year coach and general manager of the Portland Timbers signed one player from his native New Zealand and says he is closing in on a contract with another young forward from there. Wilkinson, who returned a few days ago, opened training camp Monday with 12 players who were part of the 2007 Timber team that made it to the United Soccer Leagues First Division semifinals before losing a home game. Wilkinson says the only other player from last season’s squad who might return is defender Justin Thompson, For now, Thompson is tending to another business opportunity in British Columbia. “Justin would be a key figure, alongside Cameron Knowles in the back,” Wilkinson says. The Timbers still are looking for a “left back, a couple of midfielders, another forward and another goalkeeper,” Wilkinson says. “We’ve got about 16 players on trial for the last spots, and I consider our squad to be stronger than it was last year. We’ll be two deep at every position.” Wilkinson says the Timbers’ player-salary budget remains “one of the more modest” in the league, “but I think we proved last year that you don’t need a huge budget to do well. You need a good group of guys.” He says starting spots are not guaranteed to anyone, either. “I would use (forward) Bryan Jordan as the example there,” Wilkinson says. “He started most of the games as a rookie last year, and he was one of the last players I signed — and one of the cheapest players. Recent signees include 6-4, 195-pound goalkeeper Jordan James, 25, and 5-8 midfielder Arsene Oka, 24. “Jordan has a lot of upside,” Wilkinson says. “He’s a big, athletic boy with a good head on his shoulders. “Arsene is technically very gifted. He’s very similar to (2007 Timber rookie) Lawrence Olum in that he’s trying to develop and establish himself, but he’s a different type of player and will play a different position for us, probably wide left or wide right. I’d like to keep Lawrence in the middle.”

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