New England defense needs to stay strong to fend off Cooper and the Timbers

A.J. Soares has taken to his role as a the starting center back well since being drafted sixth overall in this year's MLs SuperDraft. (Courtesy Revolutionsoccer.net/Jason Dalrymple)

By Kevin Koczwara

The Portland Timbers come into New England on a high note after recoding its first win as a Major League Soccer club on Tuesday night in Los Angeles; the Timbers beat Chivas USA 2-1 to break the ice, finally. Now, the New England Revolution will try to bring the northwest team back to reality while trying to keep up the good start to the 2011 season.

It may be Portland’s first season in MLS and the team hasn’t started the way it wanted, but that doesn’t mean the revolution will have a walk in the park tonight at Gillette. Rev’s manager Steve Nicol knows the Timbers play a full game and don’t give up, no matter the scoreline or the skill on the field.

“They [Portland] play for 90 minutes. They certainly don’t stand off and let you play around with the ball,” said Nicol Friday after practice.

One player the Revolution will have to watch out for tonight will be Portland’s forward Kenny Cooper.

The former FC Dallas forward scored 40 goals in 90 games over three years for the club before moving to Germany to play for second division side 1860 Munich. Things didn’t work out as expected in Europe and Cooper returned to the MLS with the Timbers. A solid 6’3” forward with pace and power, Cooper has already scored one goal for the Timbers and will probably score plenty of more for the expansion team. Nicol hopes that the Revs defense doesn’t fall asleep while he’s out there and let him get back on the score sheet, as Cooper is the best option and route for Portland to snag a goal against the Revolution.

“Kenny Cooper’s got a fantastic record in the league for putting the ball in the back of the net, so you know that’s going to happen sooner or later,” said Nicol. “Just hopefully won’t be on Saturday.”

Revs rookie center back A.J. Soares may be new to the league, but he knows just how good Cooper is. But Soares believes if the Revolution play its game and continue defending the way it has, things should work out.

“We have a system we play, and you can play that system against any players. Not to discount Kenny Cooper, he’s a top level player and you have to watch him, he can score a goal from nothing and we have to make sure to switch on him,” said Soares. “We’re aware of their players, but more importantly we know what we can do and we need to stick to that system.”

Soares and company have done a stellar job tot start the season by holding Landon Donovan, David Beckham and company to one goal int he season opener and then holding an invigorated D.C. United team at bay for much of the 90 minutes in the second season. The success has come because the Revolution have played as a unit for the first two games this year and seem to be playing on the same page, something that didn’t happen too often in 2010.

“I’m really liking how the team’s coming together. We got good comradery, good leadership, and it’s always really fun to play on a team like that,” said Soares.”The locker room’s really great and we’re working hard. It’s really fun playing on a team like this.”

Soares and Franco Coria were the favored center back pairing to start the first two games of the year for the Revolution, but after an injury to Coria in last weekend’s game with D.C. United, it looks like former Houston Dynamo defender Ryan Cochrane will get his first start of the season. Cochrane was picked up by the Revolution in the re-entry draft ealrier this year for his experience and because Nicol knew he needed to solidify and revamp the league’s worst defense just a season ago.

“I think we’ll probably see the value of picking him [Cochrane] up earlier this season. We picked him up to play him, but between then and the start of the season we also picked up Coria,” said Nicol. “ We always like to have competition for places and Coria played in front of him, but now he’s playing and the one thing you do know is he’ll do a good job.”

Coria and Soares are both young center backs still developing under the tutelage of Nicol and his staff, but the one thing the staff can’t teach is experience. Experience is something Cochrane brings to the field for the Revolution. Nicol hopes that experience will rub off on his younger players help them develop quicker over the course of the long MLS season.

“Experience is really about decision making and I’m sure he’ll do that, but he’ll also pass it on to the guys around him,” said Nicol.

That experience will come in handy when the Revolution try to hold off Portland today. The Timbers are a new team with high expectatiosn set by their Northwest Rivals a few years ago in Seattle. And now with the fast start of the league’s other expansion team the Vancouver Whitecaps, the Timbers will be pressing and pushing to keep pace. Cochrane and Soares will have to be on top of their game, again, if the Revs are to walk out of Foxborough tonight with three important points.

Kevin Koczwara can be reached at Kevin.Koczwara@thesoccerguysonline.com.

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