After five days of training in at JELD-WEN Field, the Portland Timbers left today for Tucson, Ariz. to continue their 2014 preseason. Along with a change of scenery and weather, the team is already chomping at the bit to play some competitive matches.
“It’s always good to be able to play the games,” said Timbers midfielder Ben Zemanski (above) following Tuesday’s training session in the Rose City. “It’ll be good to get some games in down there and start the season off that way. It will be a good test for sure.”
And after close to a week of battling each other in drills in Portland, goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts welcomes the ability to play different opponents.
“We’ll get to play against other people than just the people on your team. It’ll be good for the team,” he said.
It’s the second consecutive season the Timbers have used Tucson as a preseason home with USL Premier Development League side FC Tucson serving as hosts at the Kino Sports Complex. The Timbers will play in four games in Arizona with the Feb. 1 game vs. Sporting Kansas City (5pm PT, webtream at Timbers.com) and Feb. 8 match vs. Seattle Sounders (5pm PT, webstream at Timbers.com) both part of FC Tucson’s Desert Friendly series (TICKETS). Portland has also scheduled two more preseason matches against the Houston Dynamo on Feb. 5 (4pm PT, webstream at Timbers.com) and NASL’s newly formed Indy Eleven on Feb. 12 (5pm PT, no webstream available).
While the Timbers will use this time to further expand their training and fitness, the time away in the desert also presents a key opportunity to focus on improving upon a breakout 2013 campaign. Though the Timbers had the best record in the Western Conference last year, they were knocked out in the Western Conference Championship of the 2014 MLS Cup Playoffs. The desire to push further is one that Ricketts believes can start with laying a strong foundation early in preseason and working on the details.
“We fell short last year,” he said. “We hope to see how it works, how our hunger improves and try to get better quickly.”
Moreover, the time away from Portland presents a chance to strengthen the team chemistry and identity.
“Whenever you can get away from your homes and the city a little bit as a team, it’s always really good for bonding,” said Zemanski. “It’ll be a really good experience.”
With new faces such as Gastón Fernández, Norberto Paparatto, Steve Zakuani and Jorge Villafaña all acclimating to the team, the integration of the roster is already quickly speeding along. The fact that a sizeable core of Timbers players carried over from 2013 helps too.
“It’s coming together well because we have a lot of guys that were here last year,” said Zemanski. “We know what to expect from ourselves and each other. The new guys are picking it up very quickly.”
That close-knit awareness with each other also extends to a greater familiarity of Porter’s system which should help have the team all on the same page quickly.
“We already know how he wants to play,” said Zemanski. “We’ve been here last year so it’s a smooth transition so far. It’s getting those pieces together and getting that going again.”