PORTLAND — They will not play a regular-season match for another 48 days, but the Portland Timbers got back to soccer work on Monday.
Head coach John Spencer welcomed 18 returning players, four newcomers, and seven trialists to Jeld-Wen Field for the beginning of training camp.
Spencer said he was glad to get back to work, and that the players share his enthusiasm.
“These guys are so energetic. They’re asking, ‘Are we playing today?’ ” Spencer said.
His answer was an emphatic no. His emphasis early in training camp will be to build a solid fitness base. Spencer said his main goal before the team heads to California on Feb. 5 for 12 days of training is to avoid injuries and get the players game ready.
Recalling a hamstring injury to midfielder Adam Moffat in the first days of training camp last winter, Spencer said one of his major goals for this January is to “make sure we don’t get any injuries in preseason and start the season nice and fresh and ready to go.”
The coach said he was pleased with results of fitness tests done during Monday’s first training session.
“We did a running test and some of the numbers were excellent,” Spencer said. “We’ve got a lot of good stuff to build on.”
The newcomers include two Colombians. Defender Hanyer Mosquera and forward Juan Aldofo Valencia were added. They join countrymen Jorge Perlaza and Diego Chara on the Timbers roster.
Speaking through an interpreter, Valencia on Monday said he was looking forward to helping the Timbers climb to the top of MLS. He said his skills will transfer well to a league he has heard is fast and physical.
“The skills that I have acquired throughout my career are going to help me,” Valencia said. “I’m going to be able to exploit the open spaces and be able to probably score a lot of goals.”
Valencia said he had heard about Portland’s fans and believes the Timbers are a team on the rise, both factors in his decision to join Portland.
“It is a team that is coming up and has a chance for growth,” Valencia said. “I really want to be a champion here. Everybody wants to be a champion here.”
There are currently seven players with the Timbers on a tryout basis, including midfielders Brendan King, Miguel Ibarra and Logan McDaniel, and defender Ryan Kawulok, who were recently drafted.
The Timbers’ first-round draft pick, defender Andrew Jean-Baptist, is the only draftee with a MLS contract.
Forwards on the roster are Bright Dike, Eddie Johnson, Jorge Perlaza, Valencia and Camas native Brent Richards. Portland recently traded last season’s leading scorer, Kenny Cooper, to the New York Red Bulls.
Midfielders under contract are Erik Alexander, Kalif Alhassan, Freddie Braun, Chara, captain Jack Jewsbury, James Marcelin, Darlington Nagbe and Sal Zizzo. Zizzo is still rehabilitating a knee that was surgically repaired at the end of last season.
Defenders on the roster are Eric Brunner, Mike Chabala, Futty Danso, David Horst, Jean-Baptiste, Mosquera, Lovel Palmer,Steve Purdy, Chris Taylor and Rodney Wallace. Horst is expected to be out for up to seven months recovering from hip surgery.
The returning goalkeepers are Troy Perkins and Jake Gleeson. Draft pick Doug Herrick, along with Joe Bendik, are the keepers with Portland on a trail basis.
“Last year, John was a little bit more lighthearted in the beginning, just getting guys on board and making sure no one was feeling tense,” Perkins said, describing the atmosphere at the start of training. “But now John’s come out all business.”
The veteran players share their coach’s urgency, the goalkeeper said. “We want to be here. We want to win,” Perkins said. “Letting down these fans and letting down ourselves last year, we don’t want that to happen again.”