Caleb Porter had a fresh “NO PITY” scarf draped around his neck when he stepped into his postgame press conference following the Portland Timbers’ 1-1 draw with Stockholm’s AIK. As is the 38-year-old’s custom, three preseason home matches into his tenure as a professional coach, Porter didn’t wait for questions.
“Well,” he said, the slightest of grins breaking across his face. “I think we’re ready.”
With a lineup close to one that'll kick it during March 3’s Major League Soccer season opener, the Timbers’ attack looked increasingly dangerous on Saturday night while doubling up its Swedish guests on shots (22-11) and shots on goal (12-5). The scoreboard showed a tie, but it was Portland’s quick passing, movement away from the ball and touches galore that won the day. That, and what seems to be the new-look Timbers’ new-found ability to stay cool after conceding a goal.
“We're just not panicking,” said midfielder Darlington Nagbe after AIK’s Henok Goitom sidestepped Portland keeper Donovan Ricketts’ aggressive challenge and converted from a thin angle in the 28th minute. “I like the way we're playing now. It's just more natural. You're doing what you know is right and what you feel is right.”
Nagbe and fellow midfielder Diego Valeri—a revelation thus far in a position of need for Portland—combined for nine shots, and the third-year player who shared a national title run with Porter at Akron assisted on Michael Harrington’s 75th minute equalizer.
“The attack's been great so far," Nagbe said. "Just tighten things up defensively a little bit, and we'll be good.”
Such tightening is sure to involve veteran newcomer and slated starter Mikael Silvestre (“We didn’t sign him to sit the bench,” Porter quipped), who’s awaiting visa clearance. With 2012 holdovers David Horst and Hanyer Mosquera injured, Porter threw rookie Dylan Tucker-Gangnes into the mix alongside second-year defender Andrew Jean-Baptiste a center back. Knowing the only thing at stake should AJ-B and DT-G experience growing pains in front of the announced J-WF crowd of 14,968 was an exhibition match, Porter saw opportunity for his young defenders to gain.
“I thought they grew up,” Porter said. “I've been seeing this team respond positively when their backs are against the wall. That leaves me with a great feeling moving forward. They're playing with a lot of swagger, a lot of confidence and a lot of mental toughness.”
Will Johnson, another veteran newcomer to a midfield already patrolled by the craftily stingy Diego Chara, said building fluidity on both sides of the ball will take time. There will be some games Portland gets it right, he said, and others where Timbers Army will leave disappointed. But the Canadian national teamer who wore the Captain’s armband on Saturday (and noted it’d be a “great honor” and “massive responsibility” should he wear be chosen to don it next week or beyond) said the team is in the right frame of mind as the the third-year franchise prepares to hit the reset button on its MLS experience.
“This group's got charisma, it's got character,” Johnson said. “It's a winning group. And when we finally get this thing sharp, it'll be fun.”
As Porter wraps up his press conference, bounding into the hallway and razzing a reporter about a headline choice, it’s clear he’s already having fun. I ask him how he likes his new scarf—given to him and other new players by Timbers Army as the team left the pitch. He can't help but gush a bit.
“I love them all, man, I love those guys,” Porter says, his voice dipping a bit. “Honestly, I want to win for them. I want to win for them so bad.”
Click past the jump for full video of Porter's postgame presser, along with the official recap and notes from the preseason finale.
Defender Michael Harrington delivered the late equalizer and goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts made four saves as the Portland Timbers closed the 2013 preseason with a 1-1 draw against Swedish first-division club AIK before 14,968 fans in the final match of the Portland Preseason Tournament on Saturday night at JELD-WEN Field.
The Timbers put AIK under pressure the entire match, taking 22 shots and forcing AIK goalkeeper Ivan Turina to make 11 saves. But it was AIK who struck first, staking a 1-0 lead in the 28th minute on a goal by forward Henok Goitom. Portland’s pressure eventually paid off 15 minutes from time when Harrington was able to deliver the equalizer to help the Timbers (3-2-2 preseason) cap preseason with a 1-1 draw. Goitom gave AIK the lead just before the half hour, with a well-placed shot from inside the box. He was on the receiving end of a through ball down the left side of the penalty area and was able to get around Ricketts near the end line. Goitom then slipped a shot from a tight angle just inside the far post and into the side netting for the goal. It was AIK’s first goal scored during the Portland Preseason Tournament.
The Timbers opened the second half with six consecutive shots on goal – all saved by Turina. In the 75th minute, Harrington was able to unlock the AIK defense to pull the Timbers level. He started the play with a pass to forward Darlington Nagbe deep in the box on the left side, and Nagbe returned a pass to Harrington cutting into the penalty area. Harrington then placed a sharply hit ball under Turina’s diving effort and inside the right post. His strike was the only goal conceded by AIK during its three matches in Portland. Timbers midfielder Diego Valeri took a team-high five shots, putting four of those on goal. In the 51st minute, he nearly struck for his second free-kick goal of the preseason, dropping a shot from 30 yards out on the left side at the base of the near post, but Turina was up for the task and made the save.
Ricketts recorded three of his four saves in the second half to keep AIK at bay. He tipped another shot by Goitom from inside the box over the crossbar in the 53rd minute and then made a diving save on a shot by midfielder Nabil Bahoui from close range five minutes later. The Timbers thought to have secured the game-winning goal in second-half stoppage time as midfielder Will Johnson tapped the ball into the back of the net following a sequence of chances inside the box, but the goal was waived off due to an offside call.
The Timbers open their third Major League Soccer campaign on Sunday, March 3, as they play host to the New York Red Bulls at JELD-WEN Field, presented by Alaska Airlines, at 4:30 p.m. (Pacific) on ESPN2.
—Portland finished the 2013 preseason with a 3-2-2 record and has an overall record of 9-2-11 as an MLS side in preseason matches since 2011.
—The Timbers are 1-0-1 all-time against AIK. The two sides met during the Portland Preseason Tournament in 2012, with the Timbers earning a 1-0 win in that first meeting.
—AIK goalkeeper Ivan Turnina made 11 saves against the Timbers, including eight in the second half.
—In seven preseason games in 2013, the Timbers scored 11 goals, matching the club’s MLS mark for total goals scored in a preseason. Portland also tallied 11 goals in seven preseason matches in 2012.
—Defender Michael Harrington became the ninth different goal-scorer for the Timbers this preseason with his goal against AIK.
—Midfielder/forward Darlington Nagbe recorded an assist in his second straight preseason match. He and midfielder Diego Valeri were the only Timbers players to record multiple assists during the 2013 preseason.
—Forward Jose Valencia entered Saturday’s match as a second-half sub and was the only Portland player to appear in all seven preseason matches in 2013.
—Midfielder Kalif Alhassan led all Timbers players with 351 minutes played over six preseason matches in 2013.
—Forward Ryan Johnson was the Timbers preseason scoring leader with three goals, scoring all three in a 3-3 draw against San Jose on Feb. 17.