The first moment of reckoning for the Giovanni Savarese era came in a familiar place to the new Portland Timbers head coach, a venue he helped break ground on 10 years ago.
Unfortunately for the New York native, Red Bull Arena proved unwelcoming on Saturday night, with the Timbers’ 4-0 loss to Savarese’s former club, the New York Red Bulls, eliciting a brutally honest assessment from the Timbers’ boss:
“At the end of the day, as soon as they scored the second goal, we gave up.”
It’s as unequivocal of a verdict as you’ll hear from any coach after their team’s performance. Get blown out? Of course, nobody wants that, but if you do so while give maximum effort, you can hold on to at least one positive.
In Savarese’e view, that effort wasn’t there on Saturday.; at least, it wasn’t there for the full 90 minutes.
After going into halftime down one goal, Portland returned to the field primed for an equalizing goal, and while the fluidity and speed of movement in attack that Savarese sought all preseason wasn’t quite there, the team’s play was noticeably improved from the first half’s initial, disjointed 20 minutes.
But when, in the 77th minute, substitute Bradley Wright-Phillips doubled New York’s lead from close range, frustration began to surface. The game plan the team had been adhering to seemed to go out the window, with players apparently regressing into their individual survival modes.
When Red Bulls attacker Carlos Rivas added a late brace, the Timbers were condemned their four-goal loss, one which will define the early part of the season unless the team can start producing results.
“For me, it was an embarrassing match,” Savarese said, casting another harsh verdict on his squad. “[Before the second goal], we had the game in control. We could have won this match, if we wanted to.
“We allowed them to be able to get the better of it because they wanted it more. When a team steps on the field wanted it more, they deserve to win. For me, that was the key to the match.”
Even the praise Savarese offered his former club proved a reflection of the Timbers, whose mindset the coach questioned when asked why the Red Bulls posted such a lopsided result.
“It has to do with mentality,” he explained. “The Red Bulls players that came in, they had the better mentality. They knew how to fight for each other. They played for the team. At the end, that made the difference.”
That those players were largely head coach Jesse Marsch’s second group makes Saturday’s result look even worse. Having played a CONCACAF Champions League match Tuesday in Tijuana, Mexico, New York was compelled to heavily rotate their squad, particularly given a second leg against Club Tijuana is on the horizon for this week.
Those second-choice players, however, were clearly the superior side on Saturday, a reality that left Savarese appealing directly to the club’s support.
“This is when it becomes even better for the coach to make his decision, to make more work, because for the fans of the Portland Timbers this is not good enough,” Savarese admitted. “They deserve a lot more and we need to do a better job in order to make sure that we’re representing in the best possible way.”
With a bye week ahead, Portland will have plenty of time to reflect on their shocking result. Come March 24 in Dallas, though, the Timbers will no longer have the luxury of facing a rotated squad.