Uncertainties surrounding everything these days have what seem like everlasting affects, especially when it comes to sport. Ask the Portland Timbers, who may be more eager than most to return to the pitch this week after what feels like a longer than usual offseason.
“We have been waiting for a long time to train with a full team. The feeling today is that the players didn’t see the day in which they could start training and playing together again. said head coach Gio Savarese “It’s been a long time, it feels a lot longer than it is.”
The Portland Timbers returned to preseason training on Wednesday, as a team scheduled to take part in Concacaf Champions League. The Timbers earned its spot in the competition by winning the MLS is Back Tournament last summer.
“The guys are very hungry, very in tune and very eager to come back and start working,” Savarese said. “Definitely from a year in which we did so many good things, winning the MLS is back Tournament 2020. Being able to play closer to the way I want to play, we improved so much. This year now we have to remember that we can improve more, and correct some of the things that we need to improve.”
The Timbers begin their 2021 campaign on April 6th against Honduran side CD Marathon in their CCL Round of 16 first leg in Honduras.
Status heading into CCL
The Timbers head into 2021 with high expectations, especially with most of the team returning and acquisitions made over the winter signing period joining the squad. The promise shown during the march to the MLS is Back Tournament title has the Timbers feeling confident about adding more trophies.
The collective theme being tossed around seems to be “hungry” especially when most of last season’s roster returns with the same goal in mind.
“We have a lot of guys this year who are hungry, guys who maybe didn’t play as much as they would have liked last year,” Timbers forward Jeremy Ebobisse said. “Maybe felt like their level of play wasn’t as high as it was in the past. That is the fire that we need from every guy, that’s going to push more established guys or guys who have played more minutes over the years. Hopefully it’s going to lead to more trophies and more success.”
Depth and competition is a good thing and much needed especially given the national team representation as well as injured contributors on the roster at the moment. An injection of some new blood in problematic areas could be just what Portland needs for more successful season.
New players arriving
The Timbers made key acquisitions to increase depth and address some problem areas from last season. including the elimination of their penchant for surrendering late goals. For all of the things Portland did right last season, giving up late goals was definitely their Achilles’ heel.
“We allowed too many goals last year in the final minutes. We have to make sure this year it doesn’t happen again.”
Among the changes to the defense are at left back, where the Timbers bid farewell to Jorge Villafana and Marco Farfan and brought in 23-year-old Argentine Claudio Bravo.
“Claudio Bravo is an excellent left back, I think the quality that he brings has been seen all over the world,” Savarese said. “There has been very important clubs in Europe who have looked at him, and we are very fortunate to bring him over here. Now we have to bring him up to speed, MLS and our style of play but he is here already and is training with us.”
The Timbers also acquired Mexican right back Josecarlos Van Rankin from Chivas on a season-long loan deal. It is a deal very similar to the one made to acquire Felipe Mora last season, which began as a loan before becoming a full transfer.
“Van Rankin, also with the experience that he has in Mexico and the games that he has played in Concacaf Champions,” Savarese said. “It was an important component as well, with his scouting video we saw, we found out he can fit right in with our style of play.”
Both Blanco’s and Niezgoda’s recoveries from injuries are being well documented by the Timbers, but a timetable on their actual returns remains unknown.
— Portland Timbers (@TimbersFC) February 17, 2021
“He (Blanco) is doing so well and pushing himself daily to make sure he can come back as soon as possible. But also we need to be careful and mindful that he hasn’t played in a long time.” Savarese said. “We have to be cautious in the way that we bring him back, but he is getting closer and closer. But having Seba and hopefully soon at some point, Niezgoda is going to be very important for us.”
Having Blanco or Niezgoda back in time for the start of the Champions League knockout rounds is unlikely, but with the MLS season fast approaching, the Timbers
Timeline going forward
After the first leg matchup in Honduras on April 6th at the Estadio Olímpico Metropolitano in San Pedro Sula. The Timbers are set return to host CD Marathon for the second leg at Providence Park on April 13th.
Should the Timbers advance to the quarterfinals, those legs would take place in late April and early May. Those matchups would pit the Timbers against either Mexican powerhouse Club América or another Honduran giant CD Olimpia.
“That is the main focus of us right now is to make sure we arrive on the 6th of April in the best possible way.” said coach Savarese “We have big goals that we have put in place for us this year. Especially in the Concacaf Champions, we have the desire to be the first (MLS) team to make it all the way and win the Concacaf Champions.”
Portland’s question for trophies begin with
As it mentioned, it all begins in that first leg on the road. Otherwise Gio Savarese and his squad will gear up for the MLS regular season, set to start just four days later on April 17th. Which the club also has championship ambitions for.
“I see a higher level of desire because we fell short last year.” Said Gio “Ultimately we are not satisfied. We wanted to go all the way to the MLS Cup Finals, but we didn’t.”