Backyard matches led Neil Dombrowski and brothers to big pitches

When Neil Dombrowski was growing up in Milwaukee, Wis., 'it was all soccer, all the time.'

And all Dombrowskis.

Neil Dombrowski, 23, is the fourth oldest of eight children, who all played or are playing soccer.

The five oldest Dombrowskis all played for the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. The three youngest siblings are not yet in high school.

Neil Dombrowski is expected to start for the Portland Timbers when they open Saturday night at home against Puerto Rico. Last year, he was with Rochester, mostly as a reserve.

His road to the pros was paved in the family's backyard.

'It wasn't a big yard, but with the five older boys and some neighborhood kids, there was always a three-on-three or four-on-four game going on,' he says. 'It got pretty rough sometimes.'

Neither of his parents played soccer, but his mom, Judy, has run marathons and his dad, Mark, is a former high school football-basketball player who has been a firefighter for 11 years.

Scott, 28, is the oldest of the Dombrowski bunch. He coaches youth soccer in Milwaukee and used to play for the A-League Milwaukee Rampage.

Chad, 26, plays for the expansion Carolina RailHawks.

Tighe, 25, is playing in the Swedish second division.

Then comes Neil, who is followed by Zeke, 20, a senior-to-be at Milwaukee-Wisconsin.

Still at home are Quinn, 13; Cade, 9; and sister Keally, 7.

All the Dombrowski boys play midfield or defense.

'Nobody argues about who's better,' says Neil, 6-0 and 175 pounds.

None of the brothers have played professionally against one another. Last year, Rochester faced Minnesota, which had Chad in the lineup, but Neil didn't get on the field. 'Kind of disappointing,' he says.

But Neil and Chad could meet in Portland's sixth game, when Carolina visits PGE Park on May 27.

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Portland Timbers

Next: Game 1 of 28 is 7 p.m. Saturday at PGE Park against Puerto Rico (1-0). … Portland is 2-4 in season openers, 3-2-1 in home openers. … Puerto Rico is a strong playoff contender and goes into the season with a lot of continuity. The Islanders opened last week with a 2-1 win over visiting Rochester. 'Their players have been going for 18 months without taking a break, and their preseason hasn't been two months, it's been like six months,' Timber coach Gavin Wilkinson says. … The Islanders made the playoffs last year after going 10-10-8 (strangely, 8-3-3 on the road but only 2-7-5 at home). 'They don't take shortcuts when it comes to travel or accommodations, and they travel with a large squad,' Wilkinson says.

• Wilkinson: 'We're definitely a better team than last year, but I think it's a better league. … I'm apprehensive, and quietly positive.'

• Go for the win? 'That's the only way to play at home,' Wilkinson says. 'Any points lost at home you're going to find hard to get back on the road.'

• Seven players are back from the dismal 2006 season: Bayard Elfvin, Scot Thompson, Lee Morrison, Garrett Marcum, Tom Poltl, Luke Kreamalmeyer and Troy Ready.

• 'Timber Jim' Serrill is back as the team mascot and looks in midseason form. He figures the new scoreboard at PGE Park will help him interact even better with fans. And he wants to support the club as it strives to put 1,000 youngsters in the stands for each game, with Section 117 likely being designated for youths.

'My goal is to work with kids and have the whole stadium singing,' Serrill says. … Green-and-yellow 'Timber Jim' scarves made in honor of his daughter, Hannah, who died in a car crash in August 2004, still are available from the club or the Timbers Army boosters. Proceeds now go to Habitat for Humanity.

• One big question: Who scores goals for the Timbers? Portland had a league- and franchise-low 25 goals in 28 games last season, and no big gun emerged in preseason.

Hopes remain that forwards David Hague and Chris Bagley can be productive or that the team will add a finishing presence up front. But it looks like scoring will be a collective effort. 'It can be anyone scoring for us this year,' midfielder Andrew Gregor says. … 'A lot of it has to do with the chemistry of the players,' Wilkinson says. 'We're creating enough chances, and I think the players we'll have up front will work hard and can create on their own. Then we look at their movement off the ball to see if it's effective enough.'

- Steve Brandon

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