First of all, of course, is the Portland Timbers. This year will be their third in MLS and they will want to improve significantly from last season. They finished next to last in the Western Conference and the best fans in the league definitely want more. The biggest news in the offseason was the new coach they hired. Caleb Porter comes from the University of Akron, one of the top men's college soccer teams in the nation. As a college coach Porter produced many players who have gone on to play professionally, including Portland Timber Darlington Nagbe.
The Timbers have had two preseason games in Arizona, with their last this morning before they come home for more preseason training. Last Tuesday they beat Colorado 3-1 and they lost to Kansas City 1-0 Friday. It's only been two games but the style of play Porter is installing looks encouraging. The Timbers have also had good performances so far from some of their key new players such as Diego Valeri and Jose Valencia, who came to Portland last year but missed the entire season recovering from a knee injury. The game today, against Seattle, will start at 9:30 AM and will be streamed live at mlssoccer.com.
The Timbers also have an under-23 team, made up of college-age players, that plays during the summer in the United Soccer League's Premier Development League. The conference they are in includes other clubs from Washington and British Columbia. Some of these home games take place at Jeld-Wen Field and others are at high schools in the Portland area. I like watching the U-23 team because there are very talented young players who might someday play professionally. It's already happened: Steven Evans, who is from Portland, went to Central Catholic High School and the University of Portland, was one of the top players on the Timbers U-23s the last few years. He recently signed a professional contract with the Timbers. I'll be checking in on the U-23s when their season gets started in May.
Not only is there men's soccer in Portland, now there is a professional women's team. The Portland Thorns are a new team in a new league, the National Women's Soccer League (NWSL). Right now they are putting together their team and getting ready for the season to start in April. They began with Christine Sinclair and Alex Morgan, two forwards who are among the best women's players in the world. This team could be very good and definitely worth watching.
In the fall the MLS season comes to an end but the college soccer season begins and runs until early December. To me this means games at the best college stadium anywhere (and the best grass soccer field on the West Coast), Merlo Field. The Portland Pilots lead the nation in average attendance, which goes to show why Portland has earned the name "Soccer City, USA." The women's team has won national championships in 2002 and 2005 and both the men's and women's teams have earned numerous conference titles.
That's a summary of the soccer I watch during the year and will be talking about here. For those of you new to the game I will also try to teach you a little about it by going into the rules, history, teams, etc. Thursday I'll review the last preseason game and talk a little about the new players. See you then.