BEAVERTON, Ore. — ”Every preseason has been different, in so many ways.”
Those were Portland Timbers head coach Giovanni Savarese’s words after beginning his fifth preseason with the team on Tuesday. During his first in 2018, the team made two trips to Tucson, Arizona, with a week’s reprieve in Oregon in the middle. In 2019, the team split time between Tucson and San Jose, Costa Rica, but visited only San Jose in 2020. Last year, a brief trip to Tucson broke up what was mostly in preseason in Portland.
During Savarese’s first two years, the team couldn’t have their customary preseason tournament at Providence Park. Stadium construction made that impossible. In 2020, the tournament was back but the regular season was halted by COVID-19 shortly after it started. The 2021 campaign didn’t start until April, completing the trend of each preseason having a distinct feel.
“This one, it's been a shorter offseason,” Savarese explained when asked how 2022’s preseason is different from his others. The Timbers played their last game of 2021 on December 11 and went through the year’s exit process in the days that followed. Just over a month later, preseason has opened in Beaverton.
“And I don't think that we have ever had more call-ups than we have had at this particular time, players going away with their national teams,” Savarese said. Some players haven’t arrived yet, at all.
New Zealand international Bill Tuiloma and Paraguay’s Cristhian Paredes were in Beaverton on Tuesday for the first day of training, but they’ll depart within days for national-team duty. Players like Colombia’s Yimmi Chara, Peru’s Andy Polo and Venezuela’s Pablo Bonilla were already away, while more Timbers could be called in for their countries' January international window.
Combined with absences because of injury, travel, and other scenarios, the Timbers don’t expect to have a full camp anytime soon.
"I don't think that we have ever invited so many academy and drafted players as we have this year,” Savarese said. "So, the feeling is very, very different. We feel like we will have the full team together probably by the middle of the first week or the second week of February.”
In terms of the offseason’s length, some players had as little as 36 days away from the Timbers’ training ground. For Savarese, the loss of vacation time came with a bonus. The feeling of last year’s surge to MLS Cup is still prominent within his group.
“There's a good feeling because I believe in what we showed last year,” he said, alluding to Portland’s second Western Conference title under his management. "Coming into this year having a very similar group – the base is still the same – makes you feel that we can start very strong as long as we put the right mentality, and we don’t have as many injuries as we had last year.”
In 2021, the team began the season with midfielder Sebastián Blanco and forward Jaroslaw Niezgoda recovering from major knee surgeries. The injury list grew, momentarily reaching double-digit players by mid-spring. This year the team is still missing midfielder Eryk Williamson, who is rehabbing from last year’s anterior cruciate ligament injury, in addition to other prominent parts
Savarese alluded to two missing pieces, specifically: Blanco, and his ongoing contract negotiations with the team; and Josecarlos Van Rankin, last year’s starting right back who returned to Mexico’s Chivas de Guadalajara after the end of his loan.
“Hopefully, a couple of situations like Seba’s get resolved, finalizing the right back situation and some other things that I think are going to make us stronger,” Savarese explained. “But I think what we have shown last year coming into this new year is that we're all hungry to start again and want to have a really good year.”
The Timbers will train in Beaverton through Friday before leaving for Tucson, Arizona, where they’ll spent the bulk of the following two weeks. They’ll play games against the Seattle Sounders and Sporting Kansas City before returning home to continue preparations for February 26’s season opener: a visit from last year’s Supporters’ Shield winners, the New England Revolution (4:30pm PT, FOX).