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  • 18 Sep 2014

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Portland Timbers

Timbers coach Caleb Porter says he likes the club he will be going to war with in 2014.

After studying the players during Portland’s 2-2-4 preseason, Porter declares this year’s group deeper and more dynamic than the 2013 squad that reached the MLS Western Conference finals.

“There’s a lot of flexibility,” Porter says. “From game to game, we can change the pieces in the front four spots to get some different dimensions out of a game. That’s exciting to me, to tinker with that.”

Portland’s MLS opener is Saturday night at home against Philadelphia.

“With a couple new pieces, we don’t have it completely figured out,” Porter says. “But we’ll have a good idea after five weeks of where we are and what looks good, what feels good.”

• The Timbers will be even more dynamic once they get striker Steve Zakuani back on the field.

Zakuani, who is recovering from offseason sports hernia surgery, has shown moments of greatness in Major League Soccer, like in 2010, when he scored 10 goals for the Seattle Sounders in just his second season. He has been snake bitten by injuries, though.

Porter says that when healthy, “Zakuani is a game changer. He can bring some one-versus-one penetration. We didn’t have that last year. He can unlock teams. It’s a different dimension.”

• Midfielder/forward Darlington Nagbe is no longer the youngster on the team. The Timbers’ first SuperDraft pick (2010) is entering his fourth MLS season. Nagbe, 23, says he feels more comfortable and confident than ever.

“Every year you get more comfortable because you get to know the team,” he says. “You get to know the team, there’s more chemistry.”

The softspoken Nagbe says he does not see himself as a leader, though he wants to try to become one.

“I don’t think I’m ever going to be that person,” he says. “But I’m going to try to. I’m going to let my play do the talking.”

• Pa Madou Kah looks like Porter’s choice as one of the Timbers’ starting defenders. The 33-year-old from The Gambia came to the Timbers midway into last season and played well at times, although he had some moments of inconsistency.

“When you come to a club in the middle of the season you always have to find your rhythm,” Kah says.

Kah is ready to step up his game and be a solid starter for Portland.

“This is a fantastic club and a fantastic team, and it’s easy to make the transition because you are surrounded by wonderful players,” Kah says. “I’m always confident. It’s a new season. It’s a new challenge.”

• The Timbers have upgraded their locker room. Among the changes: a paint job that makes the swinging doors look like oak, new green trim around the ceiling, a new sound system, a projector to watch video, remodeled foot lockers for every locker room, and new, cushier chairs.

“It’s comfortable,” Timbers defender Michael Harrington says. “Nice new chairs.”