BEAVERTON, Ore. – After spending the past two weeks in the deserts of Tucson, Ariz., the Portland Timbers returned north for one, eight-day span to allow players and staff to regroup, before returning for another two-week session in February.
That welcome eight-day Portland-based span began on Sunday.
“It’s like rest …,” Timbers head coach Giovanni Savarese said about the need to return home. “You have to have a good balance. [The players] need to see their kids. They need to see their wives, their fiancés, their girlfriends. They need to be back.
“If you go away for so long, I don’t think that it’s healthy. Coming back this week here, it was crucial. It was very important now to be able to go back and keep them working.”
In previous seasons, the Timbers have briefly assembled in Portland before heading to Tucson for the early part of preseason preparations and a slate of matches before returning home to host a preseason tournament of their own at Providence Park. This year, however, with stadium under construction due to an east side expansion project, the club set up a longer time for Arizona—nearly four weeks in total—bracketed around a week in Portland.
The Timbers returned home early Sunday morning and will be in Portland until next Monday, when they will return to Tucson for the final two weeks of preseason. This will be the last time the squads enjoys friends, family and their own beds until the end of February, when the team will return home ahead of the March 4 opener in Carson, Calif., against the Galaxy.
“It’s tough being away,” Liam Ridgewell confessed. “I’m used to it, obviously, but I know for the boys, it’s tough being away from family and kids. You miss them. It’s nice when you’re back home and familiarizing yourself with being back here, and being in your own bed—being in your own comfortable house.”
That comfort is part of the delicate balance the team is trying to keep this preseason. If lifestyle considerations were the only priority, the team might just do their preparation here, where the adidas Training Center in Beaverton offers two fields. But the main facility at that complex is also also under construction to expand, and with the T2 preseason underway—and Thorns preseason set to start on Feb. 19—the demand for those fields will quickly increase. Moreover, Tucson has become a hub for MLS teams to gather in preseason which makes it easier to schedule matches.
Beyond that, though, are the same needs the team faces every preseason, needs that are heightened this year by an offseason of change. Among the main reasons for the annual Arizona trip are focus and squad-building. With Savarese’s arrival accompanied by roster additions and changes with the Timbers’ squad, the need to promote cohesion may be greater than ever.
“It’s going to be helpful in the end, especially this year …,” midfielder David Guzmán explained. “[It’s] going to help get everybody acquainted with everybody in a different way: begin able to understand the coach’s ideas; what he wants us to do.”
The Timbers’ two spells in Arizona are a special test for Guzmán, whose family welcomed a baby daughter this offseason. Even then, though, the Costa Rican international sees how time away from his family of four fits into the bigger picture.
“We’re thankful we were able [welcome a new child] last year,” he said, “and this year, we have new motivation. They’re the reason I continue to work hard, and this year, one more reason to continue to work hard is the World Cup.”
The Timbers have a number of players, including new acquisitions in defender Julio Cascante (Costa Rica) and winger Andy Polo (Peru), who could join Guzman in Russia this summer—another challenge that underscores the need for squad-building. While the familiarity amid a first XI that’s largely unchanged is already in place, players like Cascante, Polo and midfielder Cristhian Paredes need time to settle into the squad.
“The majority is sort of like a new team,” Ridgewell said. “Obviously, there are a lot of new players that have come in. Gio’s come in and brought new staff, as well.
“There’s a lot of time spent together where you get to know each other … we’ll bond and get the team together and be ready for the start of the season.”
There is a fine line, though, between promoting cohesion and, with the players paired off into rooms in a Tucson resort, leaving the team stir crazy. The Timbers needed to be back home, if only for a week, and if their preparations go as planned, they’ll be ready to return to Arizona next week, set to complete the push into the regular season.
“Having this opportunity to be back with your family and spending time with them, kind of just settle for a few moments, brings you back down to earth,” said Guzmán. “It prepares you for the season, because with so much travel involved in it, it’s important to have [family] around.”