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In only their second year at the MLS level with a storied history in the annals of American professional soccer, the Portland Timbers' 2012 season was one that players may want to forget. The Timbers finished in eight place in the Western Conference standings, but hope that their 2013 campaign will be much different - especially with the arrival of one of the brightest minds in soccer, new head coach Caleb Porter, whose possession-based style could help turn the Timbers into playoff contenders for the first time since their move from the U.S. professional soccer second tier. With early-season matchups against solid clubs like Sporting KC, Seattle Sounders FC and the Houston Dynamo, the Timbers could make a statement early on in the MLS playoff race.

The Portland Timbers are one of the great success stories in American professional soccer, and began their life as an expansion club in the original North American Soccer League. The team saw great success at the professional level in the 1970s and '80s, but the squad bounced around between floundering sports leagues and faded out of the Portland sports landscape by 1990. However, in 2001, the Portland Timbers re-emerged as a new member of the United Soccer Leagues, a second-tier league that showcased the up-and-coming stars on the American soccer scene. In 2011, the Timbers moved up to the MLS and faced stiff competition from the get-go. However, with two years under their belt and many lessons learned along the way, the Timbers are poised to make the jump to MLS Cup contention.

By all accounts, the Timbers' scoring attack simply wasn't strong enough during 2013, so the front office went out and reloaded the midfielder positions with the acquisitions of Diego Valeri and Will Johnson, as well as very competent backups with Steven Evans and Ben Zemanski. The Timbers have the benefit of being two-deep at the position, which could help spark the team's scoring attack. The forward position seems to be the biggest question mark for the Timbers in 2013 with Darlington Nagbe and Ryan Johnson slated to start, both of whom have shown great potential but haven't put it all together on the field. Kalif Hassan will man the last starting spot, while players like Jose Valencia, Danny Mwanga and Sal Zizzo offer solid depth.

Defensively, the Timbers have dramatically improved the position with the pickups of defenders Ryan Miller and Michael Harrington, who great speed that can pair well with the team's group of young, physical central defenders. At goalkeeper, Donovan Ricketts offers a steadying presence for the franchise, but young players like Milos Kocic and Jake Gleeson could see more time in the net as the year wears on. With a series of solid front office moves, a new head coach and a dynamic new direction, the Timbers hope that their 2013 season will be a new way forward for the franchise that can honor the passion of fans who still call Portland, "Soccer City USA."

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11/22/2014 3:10:36 AM on TCWEB2