Timbers have high expectations

PORTLAND — At a chilly morning practice for the Portland Timbers, most of the players are bundled up against the threat of rain, even snow.

Not captain Jack Jewsbury. He's out in the 30-degree temperatures in short sleeves and shorts.

Perhaps he's so focused that he's impervious to the cold, or maybe he works so hard that he's sweating soon despite it. More likely it's a little of both for the Timbers' 30-year-old midfielder, who has big expectations for Portland's second Major League Soccer season.

"As a group, I think we've said this — probably repeated it too much — that we want to make sure we're atop the conference. And not just kind of limping into the playoffs, but make sure we're one of the top teams consistently throughout the year," he said.

The Timbers made a splash as an MLS expansion franchise last season. An already established and rabid fan base helped amp up the excitement for Portland's second professional sports team. Season tickets were snatched up so fast that the team offered 2,000 more this season, and 17 sellouts paved the way for more seats at Jeld-Wen Field.

The one thing that was missing was the playoffs. Portland defied the expansion label and was competitive last season, finishing 11-14-9. But their 2-9-6 showing on the road ultimately hurt them, and they finished sixth in the conference.

The goal is to change that this year. The Timbers opened at home with a 3-1 victory over the Philadelphia Union, then played to a 1-all draw at FC Dallas. On Saturday, the team visits the New England Revolution.

"I think from Day 1 you could tell that guys came back more fit," Jewsbury said. "I think they realized the expectations that are on this team, and they realize that we need to make the playoffs to be successful."

The Timbers made moves in the offseason in an effort to attain their goal, including the acquisition of striker Kris Boyd, the Scottish Premier League's all-time leading scorer with 164 goals in 296 appearances with clubs Kilmarnock and Rangers. The team also added midfielder Franck Songo'o of Cameroon, who played last season for Spanish side Albacete.

Jewsbury spent eight years with Kansas City before coming to the Timbers in a trade before the inaugural season. Even though he was from Missouri, he saw opportunity in Portland and he was quickly named captain by coach John Spencer.

Known for both a steadying presence and a knack for set pieces, Jewsbury had a career-best seven goals and eight assists in Portland last season. He was named to the MLS All-Star team and was also voted as Portland's player of the year by his teammates.

And, thanks to the Timbers' wildly enthusiastic supporters, he became something of a local celebrity, affectionately known as Captain Jack.

"It's not in many MLS cities that players get recognized when they walk down the street, unless you're David Beckham," Jewsbury kidded. "It happens all the time here."

But Jewsbury is quick to deflect attention from himself. Even when he talks about his personal expectations for the season, it's about how it relates to the Timbers overall.

"Whatever role you have with the team there's going to be pressure," he said. "Yeah, there's pressure. I think that's a good thing to have. It's one of those things that keeps you going and keeps you trying to get better every day when you go out to training.

"So I'm excited about this group we have. It's a great group of guys, both on and off the field. Everyone gets along and wants to fight for one another. And I think that's important in moving forward."

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