If the Seattle Sounders showed Major League Soccer two years ago that an expansion team could truly compete in its first year of existence, then the Portland Timbers have clearly taken that lesson to heart.
The Timbers have shown this season, and most recently in a well-earned 1-1 draw at Seattle, that it isn't just a first-year team doomed to struggle. No, the Portland Timbers look every bit like a team poised to be a playoff contender all season.
After a rough start to the season, John Spencer's squad has shown an ability to score in bunches, and most recently, an ability to play some stingy defense as well. With veteran goalkeeper Troy Perkins settling in and the back four, led by powerful centerback Mamadou "Futty" Danso, the Timbers have started to defend like a team with post-season aspirations.
It is easy to forget that for all the flash the 2009 Seattle Sounders showed offensively, it was the Seattle defense that gave Sigi Schmid's side the foundation to have a successful first season. With Jhon Kennedy Hurtado playing at an all-star level at centerback, Kasey Keller providing organization and clutch saves, and Osvaldo Alonso providing strong support from midfield, Seattle had enough strength in the back to commit forces its attack.
For all the hatred between the teams, it is interesting how similar the make-up of the Timbers squad is to that first-year Seattle team. Jack Jewsbury and Danso have taken on the roles of Alonso and Hurtado, while Perkins has inherited the veteran goalkeeper role Keller played so well. The Timbers even have a dangerous winger like Steve Zakuani was for Seattle in the underrated Khalid Alhassan.
Truth be told, the current Timbers squad could be even better than the '09 Sounders, which reached the playoffs and won a U.S. Open Cup title. Portland's collection of forwards are better, and we haven't really seen the best of rookie Darlington Nagbe yet. Throw in newly-arrived Colombian playmaker Diego Chara, who is still adapting to his new home, and you have a Portland attack well-equipped to avoid the late-season offensive struggles of the '09 Sounders.
The better (and more pertinent) question now is how these Timbers stack up against the current Sounders, and Saturday's draw showed us that they stack up pretty favorably. Seattle is enduring a terrible run of injuries, but most of the injuries have been to the offense, while it is the defense that continues to lack consistency.
The resurgence of Alvaro Fernandez and the pleasant surprise that Mauro Rosales has been has helped offset the loss of Zakuani to a broken leg and Blaise N'Kufo's sudden departure before the season, but plenty of questions remain about a Sounders team that has yet to surpass the lofty standard it set in year one.
With recent wins against Real Salt Lake and Philadelphia, and now a road draw at Seattle, the Portland Timbers have the look of a team that won't just be content with exceeding the standards set by recent expansion teams. No, these Timbers look like a team that just might make a run at the highest standard ever set by an MLS expansion team, that of the 1998 Chicago Fire, the only MLS expansion team to ever win an MLS Cup title.
Davies injured, Gold Cup in doubt
It was supposed to be a golden opportunity, but Charlie Davies saw his chance to impress U.S. head coach Bob Bradley in person end early as a hamstring injury forced him to leave D.C. United's 1-1 tie versus Colorado in the first half. He is now set to miss a few weeks with the injury.
The setback could cost Davies his chance at a spot on the U.S. Gold Cup roster, something he had moved closer to after scoring a league-leading six goals to start the season. Now, with his injury, Davies may not make the cut on a roster expected to be released later this week.
With the Gold Cup set to begin in three weeks, Bradley could bring Davies in for a closer look, especially with fellow Gold Cup roster candidate Juan Agudelo earning limited minutes with the New York Red Bulls, and there being so few speed forward options in the national team pool.
MLS Player of the Week
Taking advantage of Marcos Mondaini's red card suspension, Braun returned to the Chivas USA starting forward line and tore the normally-stingy Red Bulls defense to shreds, becoming the first Chivas USA player to score a hat-trick in the process.
MLS Rookie of the Week
New England Revolution central defender A.J. Soares was solid yet again as he played 90 minutes in the team's second straight shutout. Soares has to be considered Houston striker Will Bruin's stiffest competition in the Rookie of the Year race, though it should be noted that Vancouver rookie Omar Salgado also impressed against New England.
MLS Team of the Week
FC Dallas had a busy week but made the most of it, posting a pair of home shutout victories to move into second place in the Western Conference. After enduring a winless start to the season and then dealing with the loss of reigning MLS MVP David Ferreira, Dallas has ridden a stingy defense and the standout goalkeeping of Kevin Hartman to regain the form that saw Dallas reach last year's MLS Cup.
Ives Galarcep is a senior writer for FoxSoccer.com covering Major League Soccer and the U.S. national team.