Timbers look for energy, early goals
Let it be clear, the pressure of being on a five-match winless streak doesn't seem to have gotten to Portland Timbers coach John Spencer.
A few hours after the team's Friday training session, a reporter walked into a Jeld-Wen Field corridor leading to the coaches' offices.
Suddenly, Spencer jumped out from behind a door, screaming like a banshee with a Scottish accent and scaring the heck out of the poor unsuspecting reporter.
'You (soiled) yourself there, didn't you?' Spencer asked, laughing.
'Very much so,' the reporter responded.
Spencer continued to joke around as the interview began. When he was asked about Saturday's 8 p.m. home match against Sporting Kansas City, Spencer gave a quizzical look.
'There's a game tomorrow?' he asked. 'It's been cancelled, right?'
After it was established that there really is a match on Saturday, Spencer professed confidence in his club.
'I have a good feeling that we'll come out and play well,' he said. 'The guys are looking forward to getting back on track.'
Despite the Timbers' recent woes, Spencer has reason to feel confident. The Timbers (5-7-3, 18 points) have been dominant at Jeld-Wen this season, compiling a 5-2-1 record in MLS play.
'You'll see it tomorrow- whenever we're at home, we always bring the energy,' defender Steve Purdy says.
Also, Spencer may feel comfortable with the lineup he sends onto the pitch Saturday. The coach said there were no guaranteed spots in the starting 11 after Portland's 4-0 road loss to FC Dallas last weekend.
Prudy, based on how he was used during training this week, believes he might start.
'I've been training a bit with the A-team, so that's kind of a hint maybe,' Purdy says. '(Spencer) is going to announce the starting lineup tomorrow. So I'm ready to go. I've had some good training sessions this week, so whatever happens tomorrow, I'm going to take it.'
Purdy says that with spots opened up for competition, the practices this week were more focused.
'Very intense week of training,' Purdy says. 'We had a long video session yesterday, so that kind of magnified it even more. Guys were out there trying to prove themselves, trying to show that they should be out there. Because of that, the quality of trainings rose a bit. That's just going to give us the opportunity to win tomorrow's game.'
The uncertainty about the starting lineup has made this week almost feel like preseason to some players.
'There was a bit of an unsettling feeling about who's starting,' Purdy says. 'So it was kind of like the preseason atmosphere, where guys are really fighting for the position.'
Saturday's match might not be a cakewalk, though. The Timbers and Sporting Kansas City are sides heading in opposite directions. While the Timbers haven't won since May 21 at home against Columbus, Kansas City is 3-0-4 in its last seven matches, accumulating 13 of its 17 points [4-6-5].
'They're a team that's been really confident lately,' Purdy says. 'So they're going to come in really showing good soccer. We're going to have to match the intensity and make sure we take advantage of our opportunities so we can win the game.'
What Purdy calls intensity, Spencer calls hunger and desire.
'We need to come out and play the way we know we can play,' Spencer says. 'Control possession, move off the ball. Have a hunger and desire to get on the ball, have a hunger and desire to win it back once you turn it over.'
Purdy is looking for a fast start.
'Maybe get a couple of goals early and kill off the game early if we can,' he says. 'That's always nice.'
The 6-3, 190-pound Purdy would also like to see the Timbers expand their game to score in ways other than set pieces.
'It would be nice to just get a couple really nice goals from the run of play,' he says. 'We've scored a lot of set-piece goals. It would be nice to play some good soccer and get our confidence up in that manner.'
Purdy is hoping the Timbers can use a win Saturday as a way to get back on track with their season.
'If we focus on the details of the game, if every player knows their role and they beat whoever they're matching up against on the field, we have a really good opportunity to win,' Purdy says. 'That could change the rhythm of our season and hopefully (help us) get some consistent wins.'