It's been plenty long—136 days—since the Portland Timbers and their Army last exchanged glances, and clearly, both sides are eager for a reunion.
"We're excited to get in the stadium and see the fans again," said Portland captain and returning All-Star midfielder Jack Jewsbury on Sunday, following the Timbers' final training session before today's preseason opener against San Jose. "You can tell there's a buzz amongst the locker room around the guys."
And the fans? Well, Jewsbury hasn't had to look very hard to see the feelings of withdrawal are mutual—to say the least.
"For me, it's nuts, for a preseason game (to have) that much much interest," Jewsbury said. "Even, you know, looking around social media—I mean, they're excited for preseason games."
So how are this year's Timbers feeling as the home stretch of their preseason winds down to March 12's regular season opener? Click past the jump for more with Cap'n Jack, including his thoughts on the club's hopes for its second season, fellow midfielder James Marcelin's emergence pushing him at practice and newly inked striker Kris Boyd's leadership expectations.
Blogtown: You talked about the buzz in the locker room. What's that buzz like this season? Is it a different feeling than last year?
Jewsbury: I think it's a bit different. Last year there was still some big question marks about how the team would respond, and what the expectations were, and I think now, everything's been set. We've put some big goals upon ourselves and we expect to reach them. These are kind of the building blocks here in preseason, because we're only two weeks away now.
Blogtown: Is there a different expectation this year, internally, now that most of this team has been together for a season?
Jewsbury: I think we have the same goals. I think last year, a lot of people didn't think we could make a push for the playoffs, or get in the playoffs, but amongst us, we had that belief. We realized we had a group of guys who were talented enough, and had that mentality to make that push. This year, maybe the expectations externally are a bit different for us because we did pretty well from other people's expectations, but we still fell short of what we wanted to get to. I don't think, for us, things changed, but for people on the outside maybe they do. We try not to worry about that too much. we can only control what we do on the field, and the camaraderie among the locker room. We have a great group of guys and I'm excited about it and ready to get this thing going.
Blogtown: You also seem have a lot of depth this year. How has that factored into the preseason, and what do you think it's done for this team?
Jewsbury: I think anytime within a team, from your first guy to your last guy, if you have competition pushing each other day in day out, because no one's jobs are safe and I think everybody knows that. The best 11 guys that week are going to get on the field and are going to play and push to get the minute. When guys are pushing one another, it's a great thing, and this team is very deep. It's not just like the first 11-12 guys, you've got a group of 28, 30 guys who are all pushing one another getting into the starting lineup.
Blogtown: Certainly, James Marcelin is one of those guys that's emerged to push you a little bit. What do you think about his progression and what do you see in his game that's different this year compared to last year?
Jewsbury: Yeah, I think with a lot of the young guys—not just James in particular—just seeing the speed of MLS and consistently being here day in and day out—whether it's training, or games or practice games—just coming to the field ready to go. Those guys have been great, they've grown a ton from when I came here last year to where they are now. And with the rookies the coaching staff have brought in, we've got a great group of guys, and excited to play with them. And like I said, it's always good to have competition.
Blogtown: Who are you most excited about seeing develop this year? You've got some new faces, obviously, with Franck Songo'o and Kris Boyd, but who's the guy you're looking forward to seeing progress by the end of the season?
Jewsbury: Obviously, Franck and Kris Boyd, those are guys who are new to the team and the league, so it's exciting to see what they're going to do. From a young player's perspective, Darlington Nagbe's a guy where everybody's excited to see what's next. He had some flashes of brilliance last year, and now it's a matter of, 'can he give us more?' For me, he's one of those guys who (smiles) has way more talent than I do, so it's exciting to see him back on the field. He's kind of had some knocks, but once he gets healthy, we look for big things from him.
Blogtown: Kris Boyd has been the biggest offseason acquisition for this club. Is there any expectation of him taking a leadership role with this team?
Jewsbury: Right now, he's getting comfortable with the group of guys. I don't know him personally enough to know, but there are some guys who are just quiet and don't want to take over some of those leadership qualities. But from what I've seen, he's very interested in getting to know everyone in the group. he seems to be a great guy and I'm excited about getting him on the field because I've seen what he can do.
Blogtown: Upwards of 15,000 fans are expected for a preseason game on Monday night.
Jewsbury: I know, it's crazy. (laughs). For me, it's nuts, for a preseason game (to have) that much interest. Even, you know, looking around social media (laughs), they're excited about preseason games. It's good for us. It gives us a good test run at things here at home, before the season starts. and like I said before, I think we're all proud to be a part of this club."
The Timbers host San Jose at 7:30 tonight and Chivas USA at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday before wrapping up their preseason tournament on Sunday, March 4 against Swedish first-division club AIK. Tickets are still on sale for the preseason tourney. Single-game regular season tickets go on sale at 5 p.m. Tuesday at Jeld-Wen Field.
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