Tired Timbers face league opposition tonight

Portland hosts Whitecaps three nights after PK loss

By Paul Danzer, Columbian Soccer, hockey and Community Sports Reporter

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PORTLAND — Ryan Pore admits to losing sleep over his penalty kick attempt during the tie-breaker that the Seattle Sounders FC won on Wednesday over his Portland Timbers at PGE Park.

The mental drain from the emotional loss to their rivals in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup might not be as challenging for the Timbers as the physical test of battling the Vancouver Whitecaps tonight.

“Physically, it’s definitely going to be a challenge for us. Playing 120 minutes on Wednesday night wasn’t easy on the bodies,” Pore said following Friday’s practice. “But, I think mentally everyone’s ready to get back at it. We’ve got another rival with Vancouver. It’s a league game, so it’s important.”

The Timbers hoped to make a statement with a deep run into the Open Cup. So Wednesday’s was a stinging loss to Seattle — the second year in a row the Sounders FC have eliminated the Timbers in the fourth round of the national tournament. But today’s 7 p.m. home battle against the Whitecaps is the 10th match in 28 days for the Timbers. So not having to travel to Los Angeles next Wednesday, as the Timbers would have done with a win over the Sounders, isn’t all bad news.

“You can look at (missing a trip to Los Angeles) as a blessing in disguise, but it’s not what we wanted,” Timbers coach and general manager Gavin Wilkinson said.

The coach was not complaining about his team’s performance against the Sounders. The teams played to a 1-1 draw through two hours of soccer, and Portland created its share of unfinished chances after a hesitant start.

“We went through some rough patches in the game,” Wilkinson said. “But our work ethic, our commitment, and the overall game from us was tremendous. I have no complaints from any single player on our team.

“We didn’t sit back and look to counter (attack),” the coach said. “We created chances. We had a lot of good opportunities that in hindsight we probably should have put away.”

Getting a win over the Whitecaps — who like the Timbers will jump to Major League Soccer in 2011 — would help the Timbers outlook, and their spot in the United States Soccer Federation Division 2 Pro League. Portland is a modest 5-5-4 in league matches, but could jump to second in the USL Conference with a win today. Vancouver is 5-2-6 and tops the NASL Conference.

For the 2010 Timbers, winning a league title is the prize that remains. Wilkinson said he is looking to upgrade his roster with an eye both on the remainder of this season and on the jump to MLS. With that in mind, several players have been training with the club on a trial basis.

“I would like to have a little bit more speed in our squad, still,” Wilkinson said.

Pore leads the Timbers with 10 goals, and rookie Bright Dike (Dee-kay) has scored five times in the past three matches. But besides those two and the injured Brian Farber, the Timbers don’t have forwards who can pressure defenses by running at them.

“We don’t have a flyer. We don’t have somebody who’s able to get behind (the defense) and cause problems, somebody who goes at people and loses them,” Wilkinson said. “We’re looking at that, and we’re also looking at adding a little bit more experience in the attacking third.”

Of immediate concern is fielding a squad with the energy to beat Vancouver today.

“At the moment, the players are physically and mentally drained,” Wilkinson said. “So we’re going to have to go with some new players and give them the opportunity.”

Richards leads U23s — Forward Brent Richards of Camas scored a team-high four goals to pace the Portland Timbers U-23s to 9-0 win over the Spokane Spiders on Friday at Tigard High School. Richards scored three of his four goals in the first half. The Timbers U-23s have won 11 consecutive games.