MEXICO CITY — Sports press conferences are a special kind of random. With the open-mic nature of their questions and responses, there’s little flow, and as a result, few themes merge. There’s no premise, no direction, no editing. To the extent there’s any consistency, it can change with the next question, and usually does. Sports press conferences are crayons poured out of a box.
The Portland Timbers’ Tuesday press sessions were no different, though there was a twist. Ahead of Wednesday night’s match in Mexico City — the second part of the team’s two-game Concacaf Champions League quarterfinal against Mexican titans Club América — the internet connection at the team’s hotel balked. The video portions of the session had to be aborted, leaving disembodied answers to attach themselves to scattershot questions.
Within Tuesday’s chaos, one commonality managed to emerge. As both Timbers head coach Giovanni Savarese and veteran midfielder Diego Chara engaged the media, the importance of understanding came through in their outlook: understanding the stakes, understanding the challenge, but also understanding the lessons from last week’s first leg at Providence Park.
“We know the difficulties of this match,” Savarese said in his session’s opening remarks. América has been one of the strongest teams in Mexico during Liga MX’s current tournament, sitting comfortably behind league-leading Cruz Azul and 10 points ahead of the rest of the field.
“We feel strong coming here, but we understand as well as the difficulties that we can find and the challenges we will have,” Savarese explained. “But the group is in a good mental state and ready to perform in this difficult match against a good team.”
Part of that mental state might come from the Timbers’ showing last week, a 1-1 draw in Portland. Over 90 minutes of both teams’ limited open-play chances, both sides converted once from the penalty spot. Each have reasons for confidence, but in attack, both need some new ideas.
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“In the first half we played against them in Portland, we were a little bit uncomfortable with the ball,” Chara said. “We lost the ball too many times and gave them the opportunity to control the game. But I think in the second half, we did a better job keeping the ball, trying to find a different way to create opportunities, and I think we need to do that here, tomorrow. Because we know that we need to get a great result to go to the next round.”
Chara did not use the word understanding, but he named the lessons Portland needs to learn. Savarese was more explicit.
“We have to understand that 90 minutes just passed, and we need to understand what happened in those 90 minutes, the score that game had, and what we need to achieve here in Mexico in order to qualify,” he explained. “Because ultimately, the most important thing for us here is to go through and qualify.”
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“I think we are clear, that we need to get a good result to go to the semifinal …,” Chara said. “We know this is a big game for us, for the team, and I think we are ready for that. We know that, right now, they have a little advantage with the 1-1 result in Portland, and we know that we need to get a good result, which is win or try to go to the [penalty kicks].”
Perhaps there isn’t much to understand. The Timbers have a challenge, playing against América in Estadio Azteca with a CCL semifinal spot on the line, but with that challenge comes opportunity. Ultimately, they need to improve on their showing a week ago, but based on how they performed then, that improvement is within their reach. Understanding what, exactly, the team needs to improve may be the key tomorrow.