Portland Timbers head coach Giovanni Savarese doesn’t always speak before the first questions of his pregame press conferences. When he does, his thoughts usually dive straight into the task ahead: the next opponent; his team’s preparation; what Portland has to do to get three points in the match that approaches.
On Friday, Savarese did the same thing. At least, in one sense he did. Beginning his afternoon press conference, he sat in front of a team laptop, joined a Zoom Webinar, and began talking about the task at hand. Only today, instead of tasks revolving around Saturday against Real Salt Lake, something was far more relevant. Soccer needed to take a back seat, even for the coach.
“Before we start speaking about soccer, it is important,” he began, eschewing any pretense that the session would be about sports. “We live in times right now that are more important and go beyond the conversation of soccer. It is a moment in which we must learn, understand, and support for change.”
That moment’s relevance within sports gained new context on Wednesday when the National Basketball Association’s Milwaukee Bucks decided not to play their playoff game against the Orlando Magic. Their opponent quickly joined them, as did most of the United States’ sports world. Events across professional basketball, baseball, tennis and soccer were forced to be postponed.
Eyes had been on the Bucks ahead of Wednesday’s scheduled tipoff. In the wake of August 23’s police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin, questions arose about how Milwaukee’s NBA team would respond to a man being shot seven times in the back by law enforcement. Across Wednesday’s strikes, sports displayed their support.
“Thankfully the NBA led the way ... and we were able to do the same,” Timbers right back Chris Duvall explained. “We’re humans. We are affected by these things that are happening in our country. We feel strongly about them. To be able to voice our opinion is just another way that we are setting an example for the young kids – to show that they can speak out for what they believe in. And also, to use our platform and our visibility to do something big.”
Savarese also expressed his belief in the moment, explaining communication with his players was a key part of how Portland plans to move forward.
“I believe that this is a great opportunity for all of us to be living in a better world,” Savarese said. “It’s very important for us that we make sure that we have the conversation internally. We have a lot of communication with all of our players, and we always move forward in the same direction.”
That direction was evident when, along with the night’s opposition (the San Jose Earthquakes), the Timbers elected to join the Bucks in not playing. The process behind that choice was in focus during the team’s first media session since returning home.
“For us, we decided it was the right thing to do; to not participate in the game,” Duvall said. “With the locker room that we have, that’s so together and so strong, there was no pushback. It was very quick.
“Everyone was on the same page,” according to Duvall, “and I think that’s just a testament to how together this group is; how in tune with each other they are. We care about each other and we care about what’s happening in each other’s lives. To be affected by this, it affects all of us.”
“This a matter that shouldn’t be taken only in a group,” Savarese said. “It is a matter that all of us should be a part of and support.”
Now, next steps are in focus. In other times, that would mean talking about Saturday and Real Salt Lake, with both Savarese and Duvall saying that game is scheduled to go on as planned, as of now (7:30pm PT, FOX 12 PLUS (KPDX)). But in this moment, next steps are about what happens beyond the soccer field. It’s about turning moments like Wednesday’s into something even more impactful.
“The most important thing is investment,” Duvall said. “Whether it’s time investment or financial investment, the main thing that we can do is invest in the people that need it. Everyone has their own hierarchy of what the priorities should be. My personal preference is that we invest in the kids … The most important thing is to make sure we’re investing in our youth.”
Wherever other preferences lie, Savarese appears committed to maintaining the team’s support.
“We all here are one,” Savarese said. “We are a family. We support each other.”