- Jan. 22, 2012
When Portland Timbers host Swedish giants Allmänna Idrottsklubben (AIK) on March 4, 2012, concluding their pre-season tournament, the hosts will see at least one familiar face. Goalkeeper Kenny Stamatopoulos is the one AIK player who has previously played against Portland.
AIK are no small club, having spent more time in the Swedish Allsvenskan (first division) than any other club and won the third most matches since their founding in 1896. The Gnaget played in the largest stadium in Sweden (Råsunda Fotbollstadion – 36,608), a ground that hosted the men’s (1958) and women’s (1995) World Cup finals and has been the home for Sweden’s national team. Swedbank Arena, a 50,000-seat modern stadium, hosting both Sweden and AIK, will replace Råsunda in late 2012.
As recently as 2010/11, AIK featured in the Champions League qualifying rounds and reached the group stage along with Arsenal, Barcelona and Fiorentina in 1999/2000. In finishing second in 2011, AIK qualified for the 2012/13 Europa League.
AIK’s current side features several internationals, including 23-year old center back Niklas Backman and 25-year old center back Per Karlsson, both members of Sweden’s national team, as well as U21 center back Alexander Miloševic. Helgi Daníelsson is a defensive midfielder for Iceland, Stamatopoulos has been in goal for Canada, Atakora Lalawelé is a midfielder for Togo and Kwame Karikari is a Ghanaian U20 forward.
Though AIK and Portland Timbers only developed their relationship in late 2011 at a scouting tournament in Sierra Leone, Stamatopoulos gives the two clubs a connective thread. At the close of the 2007 season, the Timbers hosted Toronto FC in a friendly on October 28. Toronto had just completed its first season in MLS while the Timbers were at the end of their very successful but ultimately unfulfilling 2007 season. 6614 came to PGE Park to see genuine MLS talent against the top regular season side in the second division.
In goal against the Timbers that day was Kenny Stamatopoulos. The Canadian international featured a dozen times in 2007 for the Reds and was chosen to start against Portland in the season-ending game. The Timbers were not awed by the top flight side as Bryan Jordan gave Portland an early lead. His goals in the 19th and 20th minutes put the Timbers ahead for good in the Timbers’ first match for five weeks.
Chris Pozniak pulled one back for the Canadian visitors in the 25th minute after a Maurice Edu shot was saved by Josh Wicks, but goals from Miguel Guante and Lawrence Olum sealed the 4-1 victory for Portland. The victory kept the Timbers undefeated in all competitions at home in 2007.
The four goals allowed against the USL Timbers will surely be in Stamatopoulos’ mind when he returns to what is now Jeld-Wen Field on March 4. Since his time on loan at TFC, Stamatopoulos has played for Lyn and Fredrikstad in Norway before joining AIK in 2010. Whether he will be in goal against the Timbers remains to be seen but his presence gives the pre-season tie a definite starting point for what is reported to be a close relationship in the future.