Timbers need to put heat on opponents

Coach feels his team lacked energy in loss in Dallas

By Paul Danzer, Columbian community sports reporter

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BEAVERTON, Ore. — Under ideal circumstances, John Spencer wants his Portland Timbers dictating tempo by pressuring opponents all over the pitch and forcing opponents to defend the width of the field.

With temperatures in the 90s at kickoff, conditions in Dallas last Saturday were not ideal — especially for a Timbers team that plays in the comfort of the Pacific Northwest. Conserving energy was part of the formula at Dallas. Instead, the Timbers lacked energy in a 4-0 loss.

“We probably got a little bit mind-crushed by the weather,” Spencer said on Tuesday, after a spirited practice.

To handle the Dallas heat, Spencer wanted his team to sit back more instead of trying to press play in the attacking third of the field.

“Low pressure doesn’t mean low effort,” Spencer said. “Just because you don’t press as high up the field and you press a little bit deeper, doesn’t mean that you don’t press at all. I think that was a little bit of the problem for us.”

After Tuesday’s practice, Spencer said that spots in the starting 11 are up for grabs for Saturday’s visit to Jeld-Wen Field by Sporting Kansas City. At the same time, the coach noted that in the two matches preceding the trip to Dallas, the Timbers played some of their best soccer of the season.

The missing energy in Dallas, the coach said, might have indicated a lack of confidence within a young squad that has yet to get a win away from home.

“Sometimes lack of confidence can look like lack of effort,” Spencer said. “I don’t think we had confidence in our bodies to compete that night.”

Such a one-sided defeat was a new experience for rookie Darlington Nagbe.

“First time for everything,” Nagbe said. “We’re just going to learn from it.”

In a rookie season interrupted by a couple of injuries, Nagbe is learning that it takes effort to impact a match from a wing position. He saw few touches in Dallas, which he admitted can be frustrating.

“But I feel like it’s up to me to make sure I get more involved in the game,” he said.

The key, according to Nagbe, is staying active off the ball, making opponents work to defend him.

“I’ve just got to get mentally tougher, and try to find the ball as much as I can,” Nagbe said.

As a whole, the Timbers were a stagnant group for long stretches at Dallas. For Spencer, inexperience is no excuse for wilting.

“Everybody has got to stand up and be counted,” the coach said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re 18. If you think you’re good enough to be in the team, then you should be a leader.”

Notes

• On Tuesday, the Timbers announced that Prairie Soccer Club of Brush Prairie is one of six metro area youth soccer clubs selected for the team’s 2011 adopt-a-club program. Jeremy Hall will mentor Prairie Soccer Club players and teams. Among the benefits for PSC will be a private clinic with Timbers defender Mamadou “Futty” Danso, fitness tips from Timbers strength and conditioning coach Karim Derqaoui, and a private coaching session with Timbers community ambassador Scot Thompson.

• Saturday’s 8 p.m. match against Kansas City is the first of three home games over nine days for the Timbers. They host Mexico’s Club America for a July 7 exhibition, then welcome the Sounders on July 10. Six of July’s eight Timbers matches are at home — including three international exhibitions.

• The round of 16 in the U.S. Open Cup tournament was played on Tuesday, and Kansas City advanced to the quarterfinals with a 3-0 win over the Chicago Fire’s Premier Development League team.