Team training in Tucson #2, 2.4.16
Photo by Brian Costello

Timbers in Tucson | Van One, music choices and backseat drivers: How a unique van culture helps build team chemistry in Arizona

TUCSON, Ariz. – Along with the training sessions, games, re-gen sessions, team meetings and more, one of the unique elements for the Portland Timbers in preseason in Tucson is ground transportation. More specifically: vans.

There are five vans in Tucson that players are assigned to get them to and from training sessions. On matchdays, the team all arrives in one main bus, but daily training sessions means a fleet of vans.

With the team’s training home in Arizona, the Kino Sports Complex, approximately 25 minutes away from the team hotel, a distinctive van culture arises within each group as players get an opportunity to get to know one another within a controlled setting. It’s also the primary mode of transportation that players use when they go out during their limited down time. With that much time together, it’s an opportunity to have some fun and bond.

There’s the famous Van One, democratic choices about music, crossword puzzles, food discussions, driving styles, backseat drivers and in the end, another subtle but key tool in building camaraderie amongst the group at a key time of the season. Here are some of their stories.

Adam Kwarasey:  “In my van it’s [Fanendo] Adi, Taylor [Peay], Jermaine [Taylor], Alvas [Powell] and [Michael] Seaton.

Adi and Taylor have been driving. It’s kind of funny because no one wants to drive in our van. I think it’s because all of us are pretty just chilled after training and don’t want to think too much.

It’s a lot of trash talk in our van but it’s mostly from Adi. (Laughs.) He’s complaining about everything. About if you drive slow, if you drive too fast, if you take the wrong turn and all those things like that. But it’s mostly with Taylor. [Adi] doesn’t bother anyone else.” (Smiles.)

Kwarasey:  “Jermaine is in our van and it’s a good way to get to know him. He’s definitely more open in the van than he is in the locker room, I’d say. It takes time to get comfortable and I think he’s 100% comfortable in the van. It’s a good way to get closer and to get to know each other better.”

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Diego Valeri:  “In my van is [trialist] Eric Avila, Diego Chara, Zarek [Valentin], Lucas [Melano], and Dairon [Asprilla]. I’m the driver. But, whoever can drive it but most of the time, I drive it.”

Zarek Valentin:  “We have a lot of the Hispanic culture within the team in our group and it’s been nice especially to work on my Spanish because I haven’t been able to do so in a few years, having been in Norway. I also just like getting to know people’s stories a lot more.”

Valeri:  “It’s really casual. It’s a really funny time. We enjoy it. We’re going out to eat dinner every night. There’s music, Hispanic music, and a good feeling.  Lucas, most of time and Zarek, Dairon [pick the music]. We go around. It’s random. It’s democratic, very democratic.” (Laughs.)

Valentin:  “[With the van,] you develop a lot of more personal relationships in more intimate settings. When you can really sit down with someone or a group of two or three guys at dinner, and ask them, [for example], where’d you come from in Argentina? [With Lucas,] it’s from Cordoba and you get to learn about Lucas’ culture. In Cordoba, in his area, apparently they’re known for their humor and it’s funny because most people wouldn’t necessarily know that, but when you get to know Lucas a little bit more, you get to know he’s an extremely funny guy.”

Valeri:  “Every afternoon, we rest. We have some meetings, sometimes a workout in the gym and then we usually go to eat dinner. Sometimes we try to get some Colombian restaurants or Argentinian if we can find some here. We don’t have too much time to spend but we try to find some fun and calm things because we have to rest so much for the games.”

Valentin:  “Those little things here and there really go a long way off the pitch and on the pitch as well. Once you get in front of a big group, it can sometimes be really difficult to connect with people on a personal level but when you kind of condense those groups, it really, as a new guy, allows me to get to know my teammates better and continue to develop positive relationships. You go to dinner and then when you go back to Portland, you can have them over for dinner and things like that. For me as a new guy, it’s everything.”

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Jack Jewsbury:  “Van One is Nat Borchers, Ned Grabavoy, Ben Zemanski, Chris Klute, Jack McInerney, and Jake Gleeson.”

Nat Borchers:  “Well, Van One is Van One because it’s Numero Uno. It’s the best. We’re the leaders of all the vans so we kind of just decide what time everybody leaves. We decide when everybody rev’s up the engines, that kind of thing.”

Jewsbury:  “I think that started a couple years ago. It’s more the older veteran group and we were Van One from the get-go and it’s consistently stayed, you know, ‘Who’s going to be in Van One? Van One is rolling out.’”

Jewsbury:  “I am not the driver. I like to do the crossword puzzle in the morning—the USA Today—so I let Jake. Initially, he was, other than Jack Mac and Chris Klute and Ned, this was his first time in Van One so that’s a big deal. There was a bit of a trial period and driving was a part of that. He drove for the first few days. He drove on the right side which was a plus because we worried about that [with him coming from New Zealand].” (Laughs.)

Jake Gleeson:  “I’ve been here six years and Van One is the top van. Everyone wants to be in Van One so to get the call up was a big moment. It’s been a few years of hard work and I’m finally at an age now where I think I can slide in there. I’m pretty happy about that.”

Gleeson:  “I think initially they were having a laugh in saying I had to drive around everywhere. I’m not the greatest driver.”

Borchers:  “He’s had some struggles, I’ll be honest. The driving skills need work because he’s used to driving in New Zealand where they drive on the other side of the road. He’s made some interesting choices in terms of left’s and right’s and lane changes, I would say.”

Gleeson:  “That’s half the battle for me. (Laughs.) I was a little bit nervous in being given the keys and the responsibility. We just share the load now. We pass it around. It’s not that bad.”

Borchers:  “Really, the thing that makes Van One special is the beats. It’s the music. We’ve got an eclectic mix of variety, of stations in there.”

Jewsbury:  “It’s kind of who’s in shotgun and they connect it to their iPhone and we go with whatever. I usually do not have control of the music, I’ll just say that.”

Gleeson:  “A lot of the time  you’re van group is who you go eat with and I think that’s a big part of it. I think that builds team chemistry. I think the van culture is very important. I’m very happy to be part of the Van One getting coffees and the food. With Van One, it’s only the top quality food. Ben Zemanski got us on lock down on the food. He’s been killing it so far. I’ve been pretty happy with that.”

Borchers:  “[Ben’s] got a really unique palette, I will say, and he does a lot of perusing on the internet to read reviews to figure out where we’re going to go.”

Jewsbury:  “And every once in a while, we’ll bring a new guy into Van One for dinner or something like that. It’s good. I think that’s what these trips, it’s tough being away from family for two weeks but the camaraderie amongst the guys on these trips, you do get a lot tighter and I think that’s a big part of preseason.”

Borchers:  “You’ve got to have fun. Soccer is a fun sport. We’ve been playing this game since we were kids and I think there’s a kid in all of us and for sure that’s part of it. Getting a few laughs, making fun of each other and having some good banter.”

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