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Porter busy preparing Timbers to pick up where they left off

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TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Coach Caleb Porter had to get after his players one day last week, but training camp in Tucson, Ariz., went smoothly overall for the MLS Cup champion Portland Timbers. When it comes to assessing a team’s progress in the early stages of a season, leave it to Caleb Porter to use a psychological concept.

“We’re kind of in this norming and performing stage, but the reality is, it’s a new year so there needs to be still some forming and storming,” the Portland Timbers coach told the Tribune last week from preseason camp in Tucson, Ariz.

The term “forming, storming, norming and performing” comes from a team-building theory by psychologist Bruce Tuckman in the 1960s, and it describes the path most teams take to high performance.

Porter could be considered an authority on the matter as the leader of last year’s MLS Cup championship Timbers team. And, on that particular day last week, Porter felt “storming” was in order.

In other words, he got after his players.

“Today in training was a little bit casual, so it was a good time for me to rattle the cage,” he said. “That’s really important, because while continuity and comfortability are good, we can’t get complacent. That’s a key.

“On a team that’s not as healthy, you have to remind guys every day. With this team, every once in a while I have to pull my sword out. And usually just showing them the sword means they’ll be on edge the next day.”

One casual day aside, Portland’s preparation has been the smoothest of any preseason since Porter came on board in 2013. Every starting spot but one will be filled by a player who was there last year. And the players signed in the offseason have MLS experience, making things “seamless,” as Porter put it, heading into the regular-season opener March 6 against the Columbus Crew — an MLS Cup rematch.

“It’s been much different; there’s less transition,” Porter said. “Even with the new players we added, they’re MLS guys, so it’s not like I need to tell them what the league is about.

“They speak English. It’s an easy transition. They know our team already. Most of them have been through a preseason in Arizona themselves.

“It’s little things you have to get them up to speed with, their role and our system, those types of things, but it’s a lot easier to do that with MLS guys, and that was one of the main reasons we added those guys.

“Yeah, it’s been really smooth so far. I think the key is making sure it’s not too smooth.”

One addition who has made an immediate impression is forward Jack McInerney. Acquired in an offeseason trade with Columbus, he most likely will be a backup to striker Fanendo Adi.

McInerney scored two goals in Portland’s second preseason match, a 2-1 victory Feb. 6 over the Seattle Sounders. He also started in the Timbers’ 1-0 win over Real Salt Lake last Thursday and made his presence felt again, getting shown an early exit after tussling with an RSL player.

“It’s a bit of an adjustment,” McInerney told the Tribune from Arizona. “I’ve played in the Eastern Conference my whole career, so we’re not very aware of each other, me and my new teammates. But in practice we’ve been working on attacking and getting the ball wide, and the results are paying off in the game.”

McInerney will be expected to fill the shoes of Maximiliano Urruti, now with FC Dallas. Urruti scored four goals in 30 games last year and 12 in 30 appearances in 2014.

“I wouldn’t have signed here if I didn’t think I would have a bigger role than I’ve had in the past,” said McInerney, mostly a starter in his six MLS seasons with the Crew, Montreal Impact and Philadelphia Union. “There’s going to be plenty of opportunities for me to play.

“I still have a lot to learn; I’m not even close to my prime, and there’s some growing up to do on the field. But I’m excited to be a part of this team and have the opportunity to win another championship. There will be growing pains for me in the preseason and a little bit throughout the year, but I have the opportunity to play and win, and that’s what I’m excited about.”

Porter said Jermaine Taylor, a five-year Houston defender who was acquired by the Timbers in the re-entry draft after he was let go by the Dynamo, also has impressed in camp.

Taylor, 31, a former Jamaican international, has played at center back in place of Timbers captain Liam Ridgewell, who was on loan to English Championship side Brighton & Hove Albion. Ridgewell is expected to return this week ahead of the Simple Invitational, which kicks off Sunday at Providence Park.

“Jermaine Taylor has been an absolute home run; he’s seamlessly stepped right in,” Porter said. “Like I said, we had expected him to do that, but for him to be playing at the level he’s playing at immediately with our team is a real positive.

“And he brings an edge. He’s a real tenacious defender and ball winner and brings kind of that chip on his shoulder. He’s kind of a hard man, and that’s good. He’s been really, really sharp.”

Taylor has contributed to strong defensive efforts in the first three matches. The first-team back line group of Taylor alongside fellow center back Nat Borchers, new left back signee Zarek Valentine, and right back Alvas Powell in front of goalkeeper Adam Kwarasey has yet to allow a goal.

“We’ve been rock-solid defensively, and that’s the way we were last year, so we’ve picked up right where we left off there,” Porter said. “In the attack, we’re creating chances, but we need to get that side of things going a little bit.

“But that’s to be expected. The attack always takes a little longer to gel.”

With expected starting left back Chris Klute, another offseason signing, yet to feature in the preseason as he continues rehabbing an offseason meniscus procedure and the strong showing by Taylor, Porter said he’s considering using Ridgewell at left back, where he has played with Brighton and at several other stops in his career.

Upon Klute’s acquisition from Columbus, Porter said he could be “one of the best left backs in the league.” But Klute is still rehabbing.

“That’s a bit disappointing,” Porter said, “because we had expected to give him a look and build him into the team at left back.

“He hasn’t been able to get acclimated to our team yet. It’s nothing to be concerned about ... it’s just taking a couple more weeks than we thought it would.”

Heading into next week’s three-game, four-team tournament, Porter said the Timbers will go through a normal week of training.

As in the past three years, Porter will use his first-choice team in both the tourney opener against second-division side Minnesota United and in the third game (Feb. 27 versus the Chicago Fire), and go with reserves and youngsters in the second game (Feb. 24 versus the Vancouver Whitecaps).

Porter also will hope to avoid too many more “storming” days between now and then.

“I like where we’re at,” he said. “We’re where we’d hoped we’d be.”