Timbers pack it in for season

Portland players begin offseason after final practice session

By Paul Danzer, Columbian community sports reporter

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PORTLAND — Bright Dike will be looking for his old explosiveness.

Mike Chabala will work to be in the best shape of his career.

As the Portland Timbers started their offseason break on Monday with the completion of their final workout of 2011, there was plenty of talk about unfinished business.

“To be honest, I don’t think I’m going to be taking too much time off,” said Dike (pronounced Dee-Kay), the forward who lost much of his rookie season to a ruptured Achilles tendon.

The Timbers season ended on Oct. 22, the team coming up a bit short of making the playoffs as an expansion team. The squad has continued training several days a week at Jeld-Wen Field for the last three weeks. Beginning Tuesday, the Timbers players are off duty until 2012’s training camp begins in late January.

That doesn’t mean they can spend the next 10 weeks chilling.

Coach John Spencer said he reminded his players be in shape for the start of training camp — something any professional athlete should understand.

“We’re going to try to raise the standards and raise their game. Nobody’s going to look at you as being an expansion team,” Spencer said.

Part of being ready is being refreshed, Spencer said.

“I’m up for the guys having a good rest, and a good time with their family and friends, because we do make a lot of sacrifices in any professional sport,” Spencer said. “It’s an important time of year to enjoy yourself.”

Entering his seventh offseason, Chabala said his assignment for himself over the next two months is to get into the best shape of his life. The 27-year-old left back said he will step away from training until early December, then begin building his aerobic fitness and leg strength. Among his plans is running a half-marathon in Las Vegas.

As he gets older, Chabala said, being fit is even more critical. He said young players entering the league are getting faster and bolder. As a left back asked to run the length of the field, he can’t afford to lose a step.

“I pride myself on coming in and being the fittest guy in camp. If you can do that, then you just worry about the soccer side of it,” Chabala said. “I’ve got to make sure that athletically I can keep up (with younger players), and then let my football do the rest. I’m confident in my ability.”

Team captain Jack Jewsbury said he is confident the younger players on this roster understand the importance of returning for training camp in shape to hit the ground running. Players who need to work themselves back into shape at the start of training will have trouble, he said.

“I’m not too worried about this group,” Jewsbury said. “I think everybody realizes what it’s going to take next year to propel us to the next level.”

Dike will prepare to propel himself to the forefront of MLS goal-scorers. He ruptured his Achilles in the team’s first February scrimmage, and said he was never fully fit in 2011. Now that the season is over, he will put an emphasis on rebuilding the explosiveness and quickness that allow him to beat defenders.

“I look forward to next year, and to people seeing some things out of me that they didn’t see this year,” Dike said.

There was plenty of good to be taken from the Timbers first season in MLS, most significantly the realization that this team has the pieces to push for better results.

“A year of experience will help,” Chabala said, noting that several key contributors this season were new to MLS. “We got ourselves right there, we just didn’t get over the edge. (Next season) from the first game to the last game of the season we have to take a step forward.”

Of course, the roster is sure to look a bit different by January.

General manager Gavin Wilkinson is on his second foreign scouting trip since the season ended, and Spencer said he hopes to next week make a scouting trip to Europe.

The front office, Chabala noted, “will make sure there are new guys who will push the guys who are here, and hopefully that competition takes this team to new heights.”

Notes

• Spencer said rookie Darlington Nagbe, who missed the final two games with a minor knee injury, is expected to be at full strength for the start of training camp. Sal Zizzo, who underwent knee surgery after an injury in the final home match, will need more time to fully recover.

• Jewsbury had surgery on his elbow after the season. He said he experienced numbness in several fingers stemming from a collision during the Aug. 24 match against Chivas USA and is hoping the surgery corrects the nerve problem.