PORTLAND — The Portland Timbers are already benefiting from their new coach and new possession-oriented style.
The team is riding a franchise-best seven-match unbeaten streak, pulling the surprising Timbers even with the Los Angeles Galaxy for second place in Major League Soccer's Western Conference.
Portland is 3-1-5 to start this season for 14 points, the team's latest point coming Thursday night in a scoreless draw with the New England Revolution.
The Timbers have 14 goals, second only to conference leader FC Dallas and the New York Red Bulls, who both have 15.
"We're attacking well, and if you're attacking well you're going to win games," said forward Darlington Nagbe.
It's a dramatic turnaround for a team that was in disarray last season, finishing 8-10-16 for eighth place in the conference and 17th in the league.
The Timbers had fired fiery coach John Spencer midseason and replaced him in the interim with general manager Gavin Wilkinson. The team hired new coach Caleb Porter last August, but he didn't immediately join the Timbers so that he could finish out his seventh season as the coach at the University of Akron.
Porter led the Zips to an 18-1-3 record, the Mid-America Conference championship and into the third round of the NCAA tournament. It was the sixth straight season Akron had made it to the postseason; the team won the national championship in 2010.
When he was introduced in a January news conference, Porter asserted that the Timbers were moving on.
"We're not going to dwell on the past. We're going to focus on what we are going to do moving forward to be successful. By no means am I going to talk to the players so much about what they've not done or what they've done wrong, we're going to talk about what we're going to do right moving forward," he said.
The Timbers brought in a few key additions, including Argentine midfielder Diego Valeri and French defender Mikael Silvestre.
And there were other changes: The Timbers were going to emphasize possession and passing. The style has since been dubbed "Porterball." The coach himself calls it "dominant soccer."
In a 1-0 victory over San Jose at home last month, the Timbers set a season high with 64.3 percent of the possession. Against the Revolution, the Timbers maintained 67.5 percent of the possession.
The draw with New England was costly. Silvestre injured his left knee during the match and will be out for six to nine months. In response, the team signed defender Pa Modou Kah for the rest of this season.
But probably the best example of the change in Portland came following the match against New England, when the Timbers expressed disappointment in coming away with a lone point. There were points last season when the team would have been happy with that result.
"We're not satisfied with a point, but it's also not the end of the world," Porter said. "We've played nine games now and we've only been beaten one time, so that's a real positive."
Well, actually, the Timbers have two losses this season.
They dropped a big game earlier this week when they played 8-year-old Atticus Lane-Dupre and his team, the Green Machine. The "friendly" was the wish of Atticus, who has battled cancer.
Atticus scored four goals, including the game winner, in a Wednesday match that was attended by 3,000 cheering and chanting fans. The Timbers treated the Green Machine to their own locker room, complete with personalized jerseys.