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TIMBERS: Portland built for speed, must compensate for lack of height

The Portland Timbers are built for speed.

With the brand of soccer that coach Caleb Porter likes to play — controlling the ball for long stretches, keeping it away from other sides, moving it methodically up the pitch and searching for opportunities to score — the majority of the Timbers are small, quick and agile.

Where that hurts Portland is on set pieces, as the Timbers' lack of height becomes a major disadvantage. That was showcased in the home opener

against the Philadelphia Union, which scored on a corner kick and drew 1-1 at Portland.

How do the Timbers get better at defending set pieces?

“You work on it," coach Caleb Porter says. "But it comes down to desire and hunger and mentality. It’s that simple. You’ve got to attack the ball.”

Porter was slightly comforted that the Timbers played very good defense during the run of play in their opener.

“People are going to talk about giving up set pieces, but you’ve got to look at the fact that we didn’t give up a goal from the run of play,” he says. “It’s nice to know where the goals are coming so hopefully we can correct it.”

• The Timbers struggled to score goals throughout the preseason, putting the ball in the back of the net just six times in seven matches.

Although the Timbers were able to get a 1-1 draw against the Union, their goal did not come until the

final breath of stoppage time. Porter says he is not worried, though.

“This team is capable of scoring goals,” he says. “There’s no doubt about it. We’re playing well between the boxes. In every game we’ve played (including

preseason), we’ve been the better team in terms of controlling the game. We haven’t been producing goals as well as we need to. But it’s not because of lack of chances or lack of control of the game.”

• One player who may help Portland start scoring goals more consistently is striker Steve Zakuani who made his debut last Saturday night.

Zakuani, a 6-0, 160-pound 26-year-old from the Republic of Congo, was brilliant in his second season with the Seattle Sounders in 2010, when he scored 10 goals and had six assists.

Since then, Zakuani has struggled with injuries, most recently a sports hernia that kept him from participating in the preseason.

Zakuani is healthy and has been cleared to play. Now it is just a matter of the striker getting into match fitness.

“I’m 100 percent,” Zakuani says. “It’s just game sharpness. I didn’t play a preseason game. (Saturday) was the first time I put on a Timbers jersey, and it was the last (five) minutes of the game.

"It’s not going to be perfect right away. But with more opportunities like that, I’ll be able to build myself back up. I’m playing catch-up, but I’m not that far off.”

Zakuani says he will do whatever the Timbers ask of him, but he is most comfortable as an attacker on the left side of the pitch.

“I’m always going to be available for what the team needs,” Zakuani says. “I want to be a team-first guy. The outside left is where I’ve played most of my career. And if that’s where I’m going to fit into this team, that’s great.”