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Winking at the past and glancing at the future. This could be the ideal philosophy for the Portland Timbers, a franchise who has been part of the American soccer since the years of the NASL and who joined just one year ago the MLS. The Oregon-based club is back from a quite good season, as they ended at the 6th place in the Western Conference. Not a bad effort from the 18th franchise of the championship. But the team coached by Scottish John Spencer, who ended in the United States his career as a player, is perfectly aware that it needs to improve, especially in his scoring ability.
In their first season, the Timbers had Kenny Cooper as a top scorer. The newly-signed Red Bulls did not impress as he provided only eight goals in 34 appearances. However, the pursuit of a prolific forward may belong just to the recent past, as potential cracking players have landed in Portland.
Looking at the names of the squad, the most remarkable one is 28-year-old Kris Boyd, highest goalscorer in the history of the Scottish Premier League. Statistics may speak for themselves in this case, as his personal contribution to the cause of the Rangers was 101 goals in just 143 matches.
Quite surprisingly, he has not succeeded in scoring as many goals as in Glasgow when he moved to British clubs Middlesbrough and Nottingham Forest. Even more disappointing was the experience in the Turkish side Eskişahirspor, left after a few months as the Scotman was not regularly paid by the club.
A gifted and experienced forward, with brief but significant appearances with the national team, Boyd seems to be the right man in the right place. If he manages to perform as he used to do at Ibrox Park, the Timbers will definitely square the circle in terms of goal proficiency.
Looking back at the defence, goalkeeper Troy Perkins has been given a good replacement in the like of Jake Gleeson, a young talent from New Zealand who already earned a cap with the senior national team.
The rearguard will surely benefit from the presence of Rodney Wallace, a versatile Costa Rican who can amaze also as a midfielder, and of new signing Hanyer Mosquera, who came from Colombian side La Equidad. Not to be forgotten is rookie Andrew Jean-Baptiste, a 20-year-old with Haitian ancestors, picked up from University of Connecticut.
The Timbers also have emerged as a franchise with players from real footballing family. Franck Songo’o is probably the most noticeable example: son of former goalkeeper Jacques, the 24-year-old midfielder arrived in Portland after playing in various countries and at different levels. Grown up in the Barcelona cantera alongside Lionel Messi, Cesc Fàbregas and Gerard Piqué, he served many British clubs – Portsmouth, Preston North End and Sheffield Wednesday to mention but a few – before returning to Spain and to play for Zaragoza, Real Sociedad and Albacete.
The second remarkable name is José Valencia, on loan from Santa Fe. He is a fast striker, exactly like his father Adolfo “El Trén”, a permanent member of the Colombia national team when they were probably the best side in South America at the turn of the 1990s. But he will not be able to show his potential, at least in this season, as he seriously injured himself in the offseason. He now risks to be away from soccer pitches up to 12 months, so it is reasonable to think that his first, real season in the MLS will be the one which will start next year.
If you are quite familiar with American soccer, the name of Sal Zizzo should not sound that unfamiliar. Born of Sicilian fathers, Zizzo came out as one of the most promising talents after the Under 20 World Cup in 2007. He formed an interesting national team together with Michael Bradley, Freddy Adu, Danny Szetela, Gabriel Ferrari and Jozy Altidore. He played for German side Hannover 96 and then returned to the US, where he joined Chivas USA. This is his first season with the Timbers.
Finally, Colombian striker Jorge Perlaza and Haitian midfielder James Marcelin could be possible outsiders.
A quite well-mashed up squad, with decent players in every side, the Timbers may be another good surprise of the new MLS. And reaching a better placement does not appear to be a hard mission.