Other Local Sports

Portland Timbers prep for 1st MLS season

PORTLAND -- The Portland Timbers have begun training for their inaugural Major League Soccer season with one catch: No soccer balls.

The Timbers are working on their fitness -- and that means a lot of running -- this week at Adidas.

Their home field, PGE Park, is still being renovated for the upcoming season.

The team won't break out the soccer balls all that much until next week when they train for a week in Southern California.

"I can't wait," said goalie Troy Perkins. "I haven't touched a soccer ball in about six weeks."

Among those at the workout Monday was Darlington Nagbe, a forward and midfielder who helped Akron win its first NCAA title. He was selected with the No. 2 overall pick in the MLS draft earlier this month.

Nagbe was asked about how his life has changed now that he's made the jump to professional soccer.

"My mom's not here," he joked. "That's big."

The team had individual testing on Sunday. After running drills and weight training this week at Adidas in North Portland, the Timbers will relocate to Ventura, Calif., to prepare for a preseason game against the Ventura County Fusion on Feb. 4.

The team's preseason includes a match at the San Jose Earthquakes on Feb. 6 and training in Casa Grande, Ariz., where they'll play several exhibition games.

The highlight of the preseason will be the Cascadia Classic, set for March 4-6 in Tukwila, Wash., where the Timbers will play both Pacific Northwest Rivals the Seattle Sounders and the Vancouver Whitecaps, also an MLS expansion club.

The Timbers open the MLS season on March 19 at the Colorado Rapids.

"I don't like the term 'expansion team,' " said Timbers coach John Spencer, "because history tells you expansion teams don't do well or don't do well for a couple of years."

Spencer obviously has bigger goals for these Timbers, who also will focus this week on getting to know each other.

The Timbers have signed 22 of the league's limit of 30 players for their roster. Six of those were with the Timbers last season, when they played in the USSF Division-2 Pro League.

One of them was Bright Dike, who had 10 goals in 23 games with the Timbers. He had a hat trick in a U.S. Open Cup match against the Kitsap Pumas.

"I don't think I've ever been this excited to play soccer," Dike said.

New players include midfielder Jeremy Hall, acquired last November in a trade with New York, and defender Rodney Wallace, who came via a trade with D.C. United.

Forward Kenny Cooper, who spent several seasons with FC Dallas before playing in Germany the past two years, was not expected to join the Timbers until February.

Cooper started his career with Manchester United but was sold in 2006 to Dallas, where he scored 40 goals over four seasons.

Kerrea Gilbert, a 23-year-old defender who has played for the last five seasons in the Arsenal system, is expected to arrive in Portland later this week.

And rumors continued to swirl over a major player signing, but nothing was official as of Monday.