Thursday night AC St. Louis seeks its first points of the 2010 season as they take on the Portland Timbers in PGE Park. Portland kicked off its season last weekend with a 1-0 win over Rochester in front of more than 15,000 fans. The Portland Timbers have been in existence, off and on, since 1975, playing in the old NASL, the Western Soccer League, the American Professional Soccer League, the USL and in 2011, Portland will join MLS as an expansion team.
The Timbers are led by their former defender, Gavin Wilkinson, who sports a 37-22-29 record since taking over the reins in 2007. In 2009, the New Zealander was awarded the USL Coach of the Year for the teams first place finish with a 16-4-10 record, although they subsequently lost in the postseason to the Vancouver Whitecaps. Portland had a 5-1-1 record in the 2010 preseason, including a victory over their rivals, the Seattle Sounders of MLS.
The Timbers have quite a bit of depth and experience on their roster. Goalkeeper Steve Cronin, the 2009 USL-1 Goalkeeper of the Year, played 28 games for the LA Galaxy before signing with Portland before the 2009 season. He is backed by former Tampa Bay and New England keeper Adin Brown, who returned to the U.S. after several seasons in the Norwegian First Division with Aalesund. Youngster Matt Pyzdrowski also serves as a backup.
Defenders Quavas Kirk, Steve Keel, Mamoudu Danso and captain Ian Joy started for the Timbers last weekend. Kirk is the veteran who gave up his #23 jersey to David Beckham when Becks arrived in LA. Keel and Danso played 30 and 17 games respectively last season for Portland, and Ian Joy is a veteran of the German lower divisions.
Portland’s midfield is led by 2009 USL-1 All League member Ryan Pore, who scored the lone goal on a penalty kick against Rochester. Pore, however, was a threat throughout the match. Haitian James Marcelin, Swedish first division veteran Johan Claesson and Mexican Rodrigo Lopez were the other starters in the season opener, with Alex Nimo and Brian Farber coming in as substitutes. Young Doug DeMartin and Nigerian OJ Obatola manned Portland’s front line, and 56th minute sub George Josten fired three shots after coming in for Obatola. Veteran depth is provided by midfielders Tony McManus and Keith Savage, defenders Scot Thompson, Cameron Knowles and Steve Purdy and forwards Manjou Keita and J-League vet Takayuka Suzuki.
According to Tom Timmerman of the St.Louis Post-Dispatch, defender John Lesko, midfielders Brad Stisser, Chris Salvaggione and Mike Ambersley, and midfielder/forward James McCarthy are not makng the trip to the Pacific Northwest. Steve Ralston is limited his assistant coaching role. With two games in two days (AC St. Louis plays in Vancouver Saturday), Coach Claude Anelka will have to choose his lineups and substitutes wisely to ensure a fresh team for Saturday’s match. Thursdays’ lineup might include Jeff Cosgriff and Elvir Kafedzic up front, former Timber Luke Kreamalmeyer, Manuel Kante, Jack Traynor and either Ryan Moore or Christian Nzinga in midfield with the backline including Mark Bloom, Zach Bauer, Tim Velten and either last week’s goalscorer, Anthony O’Garro, Troy Cole or Dillon Barna completing the back. I assume that Alec Dufty will return in goal — although plagued by inconsistency, he has also made some fine saves in the first two games. It seems likely that newcomer Alex Titton will be limited to a substitute’s role up front, as the young Brazilian forward gains fitness and familiarity with his teammates.
This is an important trip for AC St. Louis in their quest to capture their first points of the young season. The Timbers Army will be on hand to greet them, and hopefully AC St. Louis can overcome the crowd (which should be less than in Portland’s opening game due to it being a weeknight encounter and the fact that the NBA Blazers have a playoff game Thursday night, too). AC St. Louis has shown that it has a young but competitive squad. Discounting the 30 plus minutes they played in the opener a man down, AC St. Louis has played a game and a half giving up two goals and scoring one.
Consistency and composure are key, along with an emphasis on the short, ground passing game that worked so well against St. Louis University. Online streaming of the game will be available for viewing from the team website GO AC !!!