What has changed with your approach coming into this season?
In 2022, it was the only year in which we didn't achieve our minimum, which is making playoffs. We did have a very good run in the second part of the season. But not good enough. In the last game, we didn't compete in order to make sure that we could qualify for the playoffs.
I think that the players learned a lot, individually and as a group. For this season, we are coming with this different mentality, with an idea that there are some things that we have to do better. And from the first day, I can tell you that the players came in a great mental stage, with unity, and [were] ready to be able to play.
The way we played towards the last part of the season last year was we changed our system after the Kansas City with three in the back. That gave us dividends because we were able to go on a run of 10 matches without losing, with getting closer to a better position to be able to qualify [for the playoffs]. But now, we've been thinking about going back to things that we know that we can do that we can be successful, to the way we played in the past. And getting a couple of players in a better form. We are looking to make sure that Seba [Blanco] and [Felipe] Mora can come back and be stronger and better. Last year was difficult for them—it was a very tough year for both of them. And with the arrival of Evander, we're looking for one or two players more to add into the team. With some of the players, we need a better mentality, be ready to work, to make sure that we are stronger the way we've always been.
All these things, coming into this preseason in 2023, I see are much better. And once we find the player, or the two players, that we might be bringing in, I think will be a team that will compete as always.
How is Evander integrating with the team so far?
There was a lot of work being done in order to bring Evander—he was a club record [signing], in investing in a player that can bring quality to the team. We have seen him a lot. We worked very hard and we know what he's capable of. He's eager to start being part of the team and he's been a great addition. He's gotten very close to the players right away. Our locker room is very welcoming. And he's been very happy to be to be here with us.
The performance team has been working to on the field as soon as possible. Soon we'll get a chance to see him play with the [first team] players and I think he's in the mindset that he's excited to start.
You just got back from training camp in Arizona and you're headed to California soon. How do these trips away from Portland help the team prepare?
I'm a firm believer that it's always good to be able to have these moments in preseason, where you can go and be able to train in a location that has better weather. You have the possibility [there] to unite the group, to have conversations with players, to have two [training] sessions [a day] sometimes, and manage them in a better way. All around it's just good for the team.
We've been coming to Arizona the past few years, mostly Tucson. But now in Phoenix, we found a great situation thanks to Grand Canyon University—they were able to have help us get a great setup, a great field. We'll go to a California just for the final part of the preseason, where we're going to get to play some games as well.
I really believe that these [preseason] matches are very, very important for us to get the place where they need to be. Fitness is a very important component—we have to build up minutes, we have to build up the path for the players to make sure that they can arrive with the best condition for the game on the 25th of February. All these games will allow us to have the players accumulate more minutes, and get stronger, get fitter. That way they can be prepared for the first match of the season.
On the coaching side, what does Liam Ridgewell bring to your staff?
With Liam, the possibility to be able to bring in a player to become an assistant coach says a lot the direction of the club. I always am a firm believer that when players do well for the organization, they need to remain in the organization, and to have different goals. And Liam has done that. He's still growing, he's still developing. This is his first coaching experience. But he's been in different places, in good environments, and he brings a ton of passion to the coaching staff. I think that's a good thing. And at the end of the day, all the coaches that we have complement the entire group to be better.
Leagues Cup 2023 is coming this summer. How are you approaching that competition?
I know that it's been a priority for the league to want to integrate more and more these matches between MLS and LigaMX. We know that the setup of Leagues Cup has been different in the past. But now, having a tournament with all the teams participating, and getting into a group that has a team like San Jose [Earthquakes] and a strong team like Tigres is exciting. It's exciting to be able to compete outside the United States, especially with teams that have been successful like Tigres. It elevates our bar where we want to be in, trying to make sure that MLS continues to grow and demonstrates that it's a competitive league.
These matches will allow us, as an MLS [team] and as the Portland Timbers, to get gain more respect. And it's exciting to participate in and be part of this. We are looking forward to it. It's still a little time [away]... we have a lot of games to play before we get there. But knowing that it's going to be Tigres and San Jose... they're going to be two very competitive matches.