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Fresh Timbers offer size, speed

Goalies Bayard Elfvin, Josh Wicks show complementary skills
by: DENISE FARWELL, Josh Wicks gets his hands on some blocked shots as the Timbers prepare for their season opener Saturday versus Puerto Rico.

If Bayard Elfvin ever says playing in goal for the Portland Timbers is like a day at the beach, he'll know what he's talking about.

Elfvin spent a couple of months last winter playing goalkeeper for the U.S. national beach soccer team. Former Timbers Yuri Morales and Ronnie Silva joined him on the squad late last year for two weeks of World Cup qualifying in Costa Rica and then three weeks of cup play in Brazil.

'We walked around and got treated like rock stars,' he says.

In other words, it was a tough job, but someone had to do it.

Actually, the game is no walk in the park. Running in the loose sand is a chore for the four players on the field, which is about 40 yards long and 30 yards wide. And the fifth man, the goalie, doesn't have much time to relax during the three, 12-minute periods.

'I gave up 10 goals to Brazil, the No. 1 team in the world -and had 50 saves,' Elfvin says. 'We lost 10-6.'

Now Elfvin is back in Portland and in the U.S. Leagues First Division, where players can dribble on grass or turf instead of just trying to flick the ball up off the sand.

The Timbers open 7 p.m. Saturday at PGE Park against Puerto Rico.

Portland love affair rekindled

Elfvin, 26, from Cleveland Heights, Ohio, has appeared in 10 games in two seasons with Portland. This year, he could be the main man in the net, although he is battling with Josh Wicks, 23, of San Bernardino, Calif., who has experience with the Vancouver Whitecaps.

'We're not very similar goalkeepers,' Elfvin says. 'He's a big guy, very powerful and relies a lot on his size, very similar to (former Timber) Josh Saunders. I rely more on my quickness, shot stopping and athleticism.'

The 6-1 Elfvin allowed only five goals in 502 minutes last year, posting three shutouts. He says he wants to work on being more consistent for Gavin Wilkinson, the new coach-general manager.

'After playing here in 2004, I fell in love with the city and the fans,' he says. 'When I found out Gavin was going to be the coach, I told him, 'I'll do anything to come back and play.' '

Whitecaps won it all last year

Wicks played basketball as a youngster and didn't take up soccer till he was 10 or 11 years old.

'I didn't know anything about the sport,' he says. 'They asked me if I could catch a ball, and I ended up getting stuck in goal.'

Not the most fun position for a lot of boys, who would rather run up and down the field and get to kick the ball more often and score goals.

'But I loved it,' Wicks says. 'I got to have physical contact with other players when it was a 50-50 ball. I loved to dive for balls. I was even diving for balls that were rolling to me. Yeah, it sucked that I couldn't score goals, but I got joy out of knowing that when people saw me in goal they were going to have a hard time beating me.'

Today, Wicks is 6-3, 'and I can get high balls, but I also feel I can get to the ground relatively quickly for a big guy.'

He played the last two seasons for Vancouver, starting part of the time. The Whitecaps didn't pick up his option after last season, so he put out his résumé and picked Portland.

'I'm back in the States, for one thing,' he says. 'I have a lot of family on the West Coast, I like the location, and it's a good group of guys.'

Wicks has a son, Dominik, who will be 3 in July. They are living here with his fiancée, Samantha.

The Whitecaps won the league title last year.

'That was amazing,' he says. 'At the time, some of the guys told me, 'You don't know how lucky you are, to win a championship in just your second year.' Hopefully, here in Portland we can have a great experience like that.'

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Portland Timbers

Next: Portland opens its 28-game regular season at home against Puerto Rico (7 p.m. Saturday). The Timbers split two games with the Islanders last year and lead the all-time series 3-2 (2-0 at PGE Park). Games two and three are at Seattle May 5 and home versus the Sounders May 11. … The Islanders are 1-0 this year after knocking off visiting Rochester 2-1 on Friday. …. Puerto Rico has former Timber Josh Saunders in goal. Other top players are defender Mauricio Segovia from Chile and forward Alen Marcina (fourth in the league with 13 goals last year) from Canada.

• Coach-General Manager Gavin Wilkinson is adding more of what he might call physical presence at his former position. The Timbers plan to have 6-4, 200-pound defender Justin Thompson from North Vancouver, British Columbia, on board, probably after the opener. Thompson starred at forward for Fairfield University and was the seventh overall pick (by Toronto) in the 2002 A-League draft. He comes to Portland after 97 games with Worcester City, which plays just below England's 92-club Football League.

• Green is the color, but blue-collar is the catch phrase for this year's team. 'No superstars, no big-name players,' goalie Bayard Elfvin says.

The work ethic comes from the top, the players say, pointing to Wilkinson. 'He emphasizes hard work, day in and day out, just get it done, no questions asked,' defender Cameron Knowles says.

• Knowles is from Auckland, New Zealand, not far from where Wilkinson grew up. 'Stupid of me to come all the way to the other side of the world to play for a guy from New Zealand, isn't it?' Knowles jokes.

• New forward Chris Bagley played with Paul Conway, former Timber and son of ex-Timber assistant coach Jimmy Conway, for three years, including when Charleston won the league title in 2003. 'He was like a mentor,' Bagley says.

• Ace defender Scot Thompson could play some in the middle, although he appears to be in line for his preferred right fullback position again this year. 'I like playing on the outside because I get to go forward. I like middle because I get to organize the defense,' he says.

Thompson, 26, expects to graduate in June from UCLA. He's taking final classes here for his degree in sociology.

• Former Timber forward Yuri Morales is playing for the expansion California Victory, while serving as the team's account executive, selling sponsorships. Portland will play California five times this season.

- Steve Brandon