PORTLAND, Ore. – Portland Timbers players and coaching staff arrived today for their first day of preseason ahead of the team's trip to in Tucson, Ariz. where they will face off this Friday in their first preseason match against Eastern Conference foe New York Red Bulls (5:30pm PT, Webstream at Timbers.com).
As both head coach Caleb Porter and players spoke to the media, it became clear that the team had closed the book on 2016 and replaced it with a sense of optimism about the new 2017 MLS campaign.
“When you fall short like we did [in 2016], the initial aftermath is tough,” reflected Porter. “But the positive that comes from that is you dig a little deeper, reflect a little more...what I can say is that we've gotten a lot better this offseason in analyzing and reflecting on how we can be better. I've gotten better as a coach. The staff will be better. The club will be better.”
Gavin Wilkinson, general manager and president of soccer for the Timbers, along with Porter and the coaching staff discussed ways throughout the offseason that the team could improve both immediately and in the long term. That meant adding components to an already strong starting XI and filling out a roster that would have greater depth.
One of the biggest signings that Porter and Wilkinson made was the addition of midfielder David Guzmán. According to Porter, the addition of the 26-year-old Costa Rican international will not only provide a strength in the midfield but also ensure that critical contributors like Darlington Nagbe and Diego Chara can have greater impacts as well.
“For me, it was easy to realize right off the bat that we need a true number six that sits and controls the space in front of the back four defensively...a guy who can get the ball off the back line and start attacks and dictate the rhythm and tempo,” said Porter of the signing.
“[The addition of Guzmán] allows Darlington to be at his best [on the wing] and allows Chara to be at his best [as a box-to-box midfielder] and also allows another ball-winner behind [Diego] Valeri, which allows him to be at his best.”
Along with Guzmán’s arrival this offseason, the Timbers also signed free agent Chance Myers and brought in a number of young players from their USL team, T2, in Marco Farfan, Victor Arboleda, Rennico Clarke and Kendall McIntosh. All of them will need to integrate with the rest of their new teammates and several of the team's leaders said that they're ready and willing to help the new guys – both young and old – with that process, starting with the team’s trip to Tucson.
“We do a lot as players [to help with team bonding] and I try to do a lot throughout the season,” said captain and defender Liam Ridgewell. “The more time we spend with each other on this preseason trip is a good thing and hopefully it will show up on the pitch.”
“[I will] try to teach them about our style and about what is the biggest goal for us and that is try to get the championship again,” said longtime Timbers midfielder Diego Chara.
“I'm just trying to be close to the new players and trying to help them to adapt as quickly as they can,” midfielder Diego Valeri said. “I want to have a good personal relationship with everyone.”
The players, too, know how important these upcoming preseason tournaments will be in developing a strong rapport and rhythm heading into their season opening match at Providence Park against expansion side Minnesota United FC on March 3 (FS1, 6:30pm PT).
“If we have a better start to the season and get some points there it will help at the end of the season,” said Valeri.
But regardless of the challenges of integrating all the new faces in 2017, Porter insisted that his was a resilient team and one that he believed could contend for a championship again this year.
“When you get to the top of the mountain – which we did [in 2015] – you realize the air's pretty thin up there and it's hard to breathe and it's hard to stay there,” Porter said, using an analogy he first heard from U.S. Women's National Team head coach Jill Ellis.
“So we have to reset that and we have to look to climb the mountain again, and part of resetting it is resetting processes, but not throwing out the ones that work to help us win a championship.”