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Portland, L.A. KISS enter playoff chase with new looks



HOHENSEEIt’s time for fun and games.

The first game in Year 2 of the Portland Thunder is at hand, with the potential for fun, new coach Mike Hohensee says.

The Thunder and Los Angeles KISS kick off their Arena Football League seasons at 7 p.m. Friday at Moda Center.

“I’m excited for our players,” Hohensee says. “I don’t know how much fun we’ve had, because we’ve worked so hard in training camp. We challenged the guys’ minds and bodies. I think the fun’s about to start, though.”

Here are some of the issues and subplots going into the first game:

n Whose makeover made them better?

Both Portland (5-13 in 2014) and L.A. (3-15 a year ago) have changed significantly on and off the field since last season. The Thunder changed coaches and a lot more; the KISS revamped just about everything except head coach Bob McMillen, who once played for and then coached with Hohensee with the AFL Chicago Rush.

Last week, one of L.A.’s co-owners from the rock band KISS, Paul Stanley, apologized “for the way things went” in 2014. Stanley, whose partners include fellow rocker Gene Simmons, vows to be more involved in the team’s day-to-day operations.

Hohensee says the Thunder — who started 0-5 in 2014 — “had a good camp, and I expect good execution” in the opener. Not perfection, of course. “We don’t get to play preseason games in the Arena Football League — if the NFL didn’t have preseason games, those guys would be sloppy, too, at the start of their season,” Hohensee says. “I’m just hoping that anything sloppy isn’t costly (Friday). It’s when you’re sloppy and it leads to giving up points that it hurts.”

• Whose QB is better?

The Thunder return only a handful of starters from 2014, but one of them is 36-year-old quarterback Kyle Rowley. The KISS counter with 6-4, 225-pound Adrian McPherson, 31, a former Florida State QB who has spent much of his pro career in the Canadian Football League. “He’s very talented, versatile, has a great arm, and can pull the ball down and run,” Hohensee says. “Definitely a guy we’re worried about.”

• Extra motivation?

The KISS’ new offensive coordinator is Matthew Sauk, who was fired by the Thunder after one season. L.A.’s roster includes defensive end Antron Dillon, who played for Portland last year.

• Who answers the question marks?

The Thunder have a largely unproven secondary and offensive line, and they lost their top three receivers of 2014 (Jeffrey Solomon, Eric Rogers and Douglas McNeil III combined to catch 60 of the team’s 94 touchdown passes).

Returning receivers Jamar Howard and Duane Brooks are joined by V’Keon Lacey, Martel Moore and Perez Ashford. “We don’t have a go-to guy, yet,” Hohensee says. “Everyone is still developing. But I think we have more than one potential go-to guy.” For now, “hopefully we just throw to the guy who’s open,” he says.

The Thunder secondary, which returns standout Bryce Peila and Okechukwu Okoroha, has added Matt Pierce, Osagie Odiase and Andre’ Martin. “They had very good days in camp and a couple days where they struggled,” Hohensee says of the secondary. “That’s Arena Football, though.”

• Who makes the playoffs?

The AFL postseason isn’t until mid-August, but already this is a key question.

The Thunder made it last season, edging out the KISS for the fourth and final spot in the national conference despite dropping two out of three to L.A. in the regular season.

The same scenario could unfold this year. The conference has two divisions — Portland, Spokane and San Jose in the Pacific, and the KISS, Arizona and expansion Las Vegas in the West. The division winners and the two other teams with the best records will advance to the playoffs. Arizona, San Jose and Spokane dominated the conference in 2014. Unless that changes, it’ll be Portland, L.A. and Las Vegas fighting for the remaining playoff berth.

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