Timbers make some changes upon return

Portland back to training in Northwest

By Paul Danzer, Columbian community sports reporter

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The Portland Timbers returned to their home turf on Monday a different team than they were before they spent 12 days training in Tucson, Ariz.

Among the players not back in Portland was midfielder Eric Alexander. Alexander on Monday was traded to the New York Red Bulls for allocation money.

Also not back in Portland was Mikael Silvestre. Despite playing well in Tucson, the veteran defender remained in Arizona to try to catch on with another MLS team — though Timbers coach Caleb Porter indicated Portland has not completely ruled out signing Silvestre.

The trade of Alexander indicates that Porter is pleased with what he saw from other central midfielders in Tucson.

The offseason acquisitions of designated player Diego Valeri and of MLS veteran Will Johnson crowded the Timbers midfield and meant playing time might be difficult for Alexander to find with Portland this season.

Alexander, 24, played in 24 matches for the Timbers last season, starting 14 of them. He had a career-high six assists and received the club's Unsung Hero award.

He joined the Timbers in August of 2011 from FC Dallas. In three MLS seasons, Alexander has played 69 matches, recording two goals and nine assists.

In New York, Alexander joins defender Kosuke Kimura, who the Timbers traded to the Red Bulls in December. Before last season, Portland traded forward Kenny Cooper to New York. Cooper is now with F.C. Dallas.

Allocation money is funding in addition to a team's salary budget that is allocated to teams by the MLS Competition Committee. The money can be used to sign players or to buy down the amount of a player's salary that counts against the salary cap.

The league does not announce the amount of allocation money given to teams, or the amount of allocation money that is traded. Portland has traded away three players for allocation money in this offseason, and also sent allocation money away as part of several deals.

While Portland's midfield picture might be a bit clearer — even with Jack Jewsbury sidelined with a hamstring injury — there is plenty to be decided at the forward and defensive positions, battles that figure to be closely watched during the upcoming set of home preseason matches.

On Monday, forward Deon McCauley from Belize and defender Calum Angus from England joined the Timbers on a trial basis.

The injury to Bright Dike — who is expected to miss six months recovering from Monday's knee surgery — opens up more opportunities for playing time up front. Healthy forwards currently on the roster include Ryan Johnson, Danny Mwanga, and Jose Valencia. Darlington Nagbe and Sal Zizzo could also play up front.

Dike is the second Timbers forward to be felled by a knee injury. Brent Richards, the Camas native will miss several months after knee surgery last week.

They play their first preseason home match on Sunday, taking on San Jose at 5 p.m. They take on FC Dallas at Jeld-Wen Field on Feb. 20 and the Swedish side AIK on Feb. 23. The preseason tournament games are included in season-ticket packages. Tickets for the preseason tournament can now be purchased online or at the Jeld-Wen Field box office.

NWSL schedule — On Tuesday, the National Women's Soccer League is expected to announce the schedule for its first season. Play in the eight-team league is expected to begin in April.