BEAVERTON, Ore. – When the Portland Timbers kickoff against FC Dallas Saturday at Providence Park (7:30pm PT, TICKETS, FOX 12 PLUS), it will have been 16 days since their last match, a frustrating 4-1 loss on the road to Austin FC. Having dealt with numerous injuries, international absences and more, Portland seemed to hit a bit of a wall in that match and this extended break of no games certainly comes at an opportune time for the Timbers.
"Definitely, last game was very difficult," Timbers head coach Giovanni Savarese said after practice yesterday at the Timbers Training Center in Beaverton. "Not a good performance by us. Not a type of game that we want to see.
"But we’ve had some time now to come back, to train, to get guys back and now we have a fuller group available and we’re going to feel very different this week coming against Dallas."
Among those players freshly returned from international duty are striker Felipe Mora – who was away with Chile at the Copa América – and midfielder Yimmi Chara – who helped Colombia to a third place finish at the same tournament. Between that and some players beginning to come back from injuries means Savarese and his staff will have some more options with which to utilize.
"We’re starting to look a little more normal," said Savarese. "[The staff and I] were just talking, we'll finally have 20 players on [matchday]. It’s been a little bit of a while since we’ve seen that."
For the players, too, the two weeks have proved invaluable as they've taken the time to re-energize before a very busy stretch of games. Goalkeeper Steve Clark, who himself suffered earlier injuries limiting him to four games this season, knows this span between games has proved critical.
"I think that after Austin, it was a good time to recalibrate and push forward," he said. "We’ve had two weeks to really hone in on what we’re trying to do as a team and the coaches have put forward a plan and we’re following that."
Midfielder Diego Chará agreed, believing that the key to the past two weeks for Portland has been about "being together."
"We know in the last couple of games, we made a lot of mistakes," he said. "But I think in these two weeks, we’ve tried to prepare to fix for some moments from the [past] games and then try to be better in the next game."
And while Portland struggled of late, the team's overall depth – even with the injuries and absences – has allowed the squad to stay in the mix in the Western Conference. The team currently sits in ninth place on 13 points but are only two points away from a playoff spot with plenty of season still left to play. Savarese feels that depth has been important in keeping his team competitive throughout 2021.
"I will go back first to say that without the depth of our team, we would not survive what we went through, he said. "So what allows us to survive is that we have that depth and we still are able to continue to compete."
Though the Portland injury report still lists four players as out – three of whom suffered season-ending injuries – and midfielder Eryk Williamson is away with the U.S. national team for the Gold Cup, Portland knows that the overall addition of other players returning to play be it from injury or international duty gives the team different options for Saturday against Dallas.
"Now that we have a fuller group, then everybody wants to contribute," said Savarese. "There’s more players that can come and help so competition becomes better, the intensity of practice becomes better. There’s definitely a better [way] to handle an accumulation of matches. Things become a little bit better to prepare for games and with the group that we have available to be able to play.
"We’re in a much better situation right now than we were before."