By Michael King
The goal for the Portland Timbers in 2011 is to solidify themselves as a legitimate Major League Soccer team. Though not a true expansion team, Portland enjoyed success as a member of the USL. However, the Timbers have a long way to go to make their impact in MLS.
The team kept some of its USL players, but built its core squad from a combination of the MLS Expansion Draft, Superdraft, and various trades. The resultant team is light on defense and heavy on quick, offensive-minded players. The Timbers play a unique style of attacking soccer that involves limited attention to defending their own goal. Portland is less concerned with maintaining its defensive form than with getting forward and keeping the ball in the offensive third.
However, in order to play that type of soccer successfully, a team needs a versatile midfield, equally capable of leading the offense and stifling counter-attacks. For the Timbers, that midfield core lies around Jack Jewsbury.
The acquisition of Jewsbury, who was obtained over the winter, may reveal to be one of the better additions in the league. Considering the Timbers surrendered only cash considerations to his former club, Sporting Kansas City, the trade looks even better. Not only did the midfielder score against New England Saturday night, he also tallied in Portland’s win over Chivas USA in the U.S. Open Cup last month.
His continued strong play will be critical as the Timbers settle into playing at the MLS level. Entering the season, the Timbers predicted that this could be a career year for the midfielder, awarding Jewsbury the captaincy almost as soon as he arrived in Portland.
Though three years removed from his best season in the MLS, coach John Spencer reasoned that the midfielder’s quality – in addition to his eight years of top-flight experience – would be an asset during the transition from USL to MLS.
“Jack is a good leader and an experienced professional with nine years in MLS,” Spencer said in a press release after making the captaincy decision. “It was not an easy decision, as we have a lot of good candidates on the team, but Jack stood out and came to the top of the list.”
The coach also acknowledged that Jewsbury was one of the team’s initial targets in creating its MLS team. With a team built around youth, the coach understood the team required experience and on-the-field leadership to have a successful first season.
“We chased him for a good two months,” Spencer added. “If we could have done a deal to get him pre-Expansion Draft, we’d have done it in a heartbeat. To me, he’s just a natural-born leader with a lot of experience in MLS and just a player I’ve admired for a number of years from afar.”
Beyond his coveted skill of scoring goals from beyond the penalty area, Jewsbury’s true value lies in his ability to play anywhere in the midfield. In 2008, Jewsbury maintained the central-holding role while also managing seven assists for Kansas City.
Jewsbury struggled to keep a spot in the starting 11 last season due to inconsistent play. Both team and player agreed that a fresh start in a new city would be best for Jewsbury’s career. The midfielder never really found a home at Sporting, bouncing around the midfield and spending the 2007 season as a right back.
“It was difficult for me to basically take a step backward,” Jewsbury said in a press release after the trade. “But at the same time, it kind of makes you hungrier to break back into that starting 11, whether it was in Kansas City or somewhere else. I’m a guy that’s going to push to be in that line-up week in and week out.”
During his time in Kansas City, the midfielder made 195 regular season-appearances, scoring 15 goals with 21 assists.
The 29 year-old Missouri native continues the strong tradition of soccer players from greater Saint Louis area. He stared at Saint Louis University as one of the most accomplished goal-scoring midfielders in program history.
Michael King is a contributing writer for The Soccer Guys. He can be reached at email@example.com.