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MLS Quick Look: Portland Timbers

2/3/2011

The Portland Timbers opened training at Oxnard College earlier this week and meet the Ventura County Fusion -- the reigning Premier Development League Southwest Division champion -- in a friendly Friday night at Ventura College.

The Timbers, preparing for their Major League Soccer debut, conclude their So Cal stay with a closed-door match Tuesday afternoon against the Galaxy at Home Depot Center.

Here's a quick look at the Timbers:

WHO ARE THEY?

One of two Pacific Northwest expansion teams that, like the Seattle Sounders before them (but more so), emerges from longstanding organizations -- and even lengthier histories. The original Timbers, of course, played in the old North American Soccer League; this club was formed in 2001 and has spent the past 10 years in whichever league constituted the second tier of American pro soccer.

THE MAN IN CHARGE

Scotsman John Spencer, a compactly built pit bull of a forward for 15 years in Britain, Hong Kong and MLS, takes on his first head-coaching job after serving as Dominic Kinnear's top assistant with the Houston Dynamo for 4½ seasons.

Spencer was a Rangers FC product who toiled for Chelsea and Everton (and others) in England and Scotland (and 14 times for Scotland's national team), then wrapped up his playing career with four fine seasons (and two MLS Best XI awards) with the Colorado Rapids.

THE STAR PLAYER

There isn't one, although there soon will be. Rookie forward/midfielder Darlington Nagbe, the No. 2 overall selection in last month's draft, could be something very special, although he's likely -- unlike former University of Akron teammate Steve Zakuani up in Seattle -- to seek to avoid the spotlight.

Caleb Porter, his college coach, told The Oregonian Nagbe is “a very humble, soft spoken and genuine kid with a big heart,” and Spencer said: “Every time you talk to him, you walk away thinking he’s someone you would be happy if your daughter brought him through door and said, ‘Hey dad, this is who I’m marrying.’ You go up to your room and think, ‘Thank God she brought home a good one.’ That’s probably the highest compliment I could pay the kid.”

Nagbe, an attacker whose greatest ability might be in connecting everything up top -- doing all the things that make everything click -- seems destined for stardom. His father was big-time midfielder Joe Nagbe, who played 96 times for Liberia's national team and suited up for 17 clubs in a 24-year career, including AS Monaco and PAOK Thessaloniki.

THE INTRIGUE

Colombian striker Jorge Perlaza joined the Timbers in Oxnard (and will play on Friday), but no clue when they'll be able to add him to their roster. Officially, he is “on trial,” but that's all about contract legalities back in Colombia.

It's all about the transfer fee, or whether there must be one, with Perlaza's former/current club Deportes Tolima. Turns out he signed two contracts with the club -- one that just expired, another that lasts three more years -- and is going to ask the Colombian federation to void the longer pact. Tolima is pursuing legal action, and Perlaza's International Transfer Certificate won't arrive until that's finished.

LOCAL TIES

Trevor James left Galaxy coach Bruce Arena's staff to join Spencer's. Former UC Irvine forward Spencer Thompson, taken with the second pick in last month's supplemental draft, joined up with the club in Oxnard. Former Galaxy winger Quavas Kirk, who played last season for the Timbers in the USSF D2 Pro League, is in camp as a non-roster invitee. So is midfielder Ian Sarachan, the son of Galaxy associate head coach Dave Sarachan.

WHO'S MISSING?

Neither of the two biggest acquisitions, Perlaza and Nagbe aside, have yet arrived. Forward Kenny Cooper (40 goals in 90 games in four seasons with FC Dallas) is taking care of personal business in Germany (after 18 months on 1860 Munich's books). English defender Kerrea Gilbert, signed on a free transfer from Arsenal, is waiting for his visa.

WORTH NOTING

Eight players from last season's Timbers' side (including MLS veterans Adin Brown, Kevin Goldthwaite and Ryan Pore) are on the roster, and seven more from that roster or their PDL champion U-23 team are on trial. … Three national-teamers are among the trialists: Estonian center back Alo Barengrub, rising Salvadoran midfielder/forward Andres Flores and Ugandan striker Brian Umony. … Portland is set at goalkeeper, with Troy Perkins (trade from D.C. United) and Brown, and used trades and the expansion draft to strengthen foundations in midfield (Adam Moffat from Columbus, Peter Lowry from Chicago, Jeremy Hall from New York) and on the backline (Rodney Wallace from D.C., Eric Brunner from Columbus, David Horst from Real Salt Lake).