Wednesday, July 22 | 10:54 p.m.

BY PAUL DANZER
COLUMBIAN.com

It’s taken three unblemished months for the Portland Timbers to climb to the top of the United Soccer Leagues First Division standings.

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Today at PGE Park, they will attempt to make themselves at home atop the league standings. The Puerto Rico Islanders, who share the lead in points but have played three more matches than Portland, visit PGE Park.

The Timbers’ unbeaten streak is at a league-record 16 games. That includes a win and a tie in matches played May 22 and May 24 at Puerto Rico.

The streak survived a string of four consecutive matches away from Portland, and was preserved by a late-match goal from David Hayes which earned Portland a tie last Friday in a match at Miami.

Portland (9-1-7, 34 points) hasn’t lost since it dropped the season opener in Vancouver, B.C., on April 25. Puerto Rico is 9-4-1.

Led by Mandju Keita’s league-best seven goals, the Timbers lead the league in scoring. They also have one of the better defenses, a nice formula for success.

Tonight’s match is the first of two intriguing challenges this week for the Timbers. On Saturday, the English Premiership club Burnley F.C. comes to PGE Park for an exhibition match.

Burnley, located in Lancashire County in northwestern England, is a club that formed in 1882. For the first time in 33 years, the Clarets will play in England’s top league — the Barclays Premier League — in the 2009-10 season that kicks off in mid-August.

Burnley is on a preseason swing and on Tuesday beat the Ventura County Fusion of Ventura, Calif., 5-0.

Part of the reason for the Timbers to host a team from the top English league is, of course, to sell tickets. Some of the club’s largest crowds in recent years have been international exhibitions.

But for the players, it presents an opportunity to perhaps get noticed by a top professional club. Timbers’ defender Scot Thompson has twice been invited to train with clubs that have played exhibitions in Portland.

On Wednesday, the Timbers bolstered their roster by signing forward Kevin Forrest. A former Washington Husky, Forrest scored a goal as a guest player for the Timbers in their July 2 exhibition match with Bayern Munich II. Forrest, 24, was the 2006 Pac-10 player of the year and has been with the Colorado Rapids and Seattle Sounder FC over the last year.

In other regional news:

n The Timbers U23 side opens the Premier Developmental League playoffs with a 2 p.m. match today against the Seattle Wolves at PGE Park. Tickets are $5.

n Seattle Sounders F.C. in Open Cup finals — Seattle, which beat Portland on July 1 in the round of 16, advanced to the final of the U.S. Open Cup with a 2-1 win over Houston on Tuesday in Tukwila. Seattle plays at D.C. United in the Cup finals on Sept. 2.

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