by: , SUZUKI

Next: A brief preseason concludes at 7 tonight at University of Portland with a match against the Pilot men. The Timbers will have had only one full game against a professional team, the exhibition against MLS San Jose, before next week's United Soccer Leagues First Division opener.

'People wonder why we're not playing more, but we've got to be careful of how many games we throw at these guys -they're not greyhounds,' Wilkinson says. 'The season is up to 30 games (from 28), and with exhibitions and so forth, we're looking at maybe 40 games in six months. They just can't go at that pace.'

• The regular season starts at home against Puerto Rico. Kickoff is 7 p.m. Thursday. Wilkinson cautions fans that it might be hard to re-create Portland's fast start (11-2-3) of last season and says the most important thing is being in top form at the end of the year.

'It was very important to get points at the start of last season,' he says, recalling how the team was looking for some momentum after tying for last place in 2006. 'And we had some fortuitous wins, which I don't know that we can count on getting again -the start we had last year was incredible.

'But we've got more depth this year, and we had a lot of draws last year that I hope to turn into wins. And the most important thing is that we go into the playoffs with momentum. To win the league (in regular season) is nearly irrelevant. I'm not saying we're not trying to do that, but the bigger picture has to be to make the finals.'

• The Timbers might play a postseason match in Japan as early as this year, Wilkinson says. The club also hopes to play a Japanese team in an exhibition game at PGE Park. The recent signing of Takayuki Suzuki, a former World Cup forward for Japan, could attract sponsors. 'I think it will happen,' Wilkinson says of the exhibitions. 'He's an icon.'

• Suzuki became available when talks with MLS Chivas USA broke down. 'Originally, we didn't pursue it,' Wilkinson says. 'But he wound up looking for an opportunity to play here, because the transfer window for him to return to (the Japanese pro league) was closed, so he couldn't have played there for four or five months.'

• Portland will carry 24 players, Wilkinson says, and is set with Ray Burse and Jordan James as goalies.

'We had options for bringing in other keepers, but it just wasn't a good fit, character- or performancewise,' Wilkinson says. Burse continues to travel between here and the MLS while on loan from FC Dallas. 'He's motivated, hungry. … He doesn't want to play at this level forever,' Wilkinson says.

• Wilkinson is counting on midfielder Arsene Oka for wing play, assuming he gets his visa clearance while in Ivory Coast. The coach says Oka should be back in the next two weeks, maybe sooner rather than later. 'He's very quick and can play wide right,' Wilkinson says. Oka, 5-8 and 155 pounds, was a reserve most of last season with MLS New England.

- Steve Brandon

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