BEAVERTON, Ore. – For the first time since November, the Portland Timbers can shift their focus to a competitive game. And after five weeks of training camp, the team’s first match can’t come soon enough.
“Five weeks, is it long enough?,” Portland defender Liam Ridgewell asked, rhetorically, on Tuesday, the Timbers having completed their first training since returning from Arizona. “We’ll wait and see on Sunday.
“We’re ready to go and feeling fresh, and the big thing is we’re looking forward to it. [Preseason is] long, hard, grueling. You’re away from home, away from family. It’s nice to be back home and training back here and looking forward to the start of the season, and we can make it a good one.”
Tuesday’s training was a relatively long one, by Timbers’ standards, with the team working through its short layoff with a few extra drills. It’s part of a shift in focus toward Sunday, when Portland starts a five-game road trip with its season-opener in Carson, California, against the LA Galaxy (7pm PT, FS1).
“Away from home for the first five games is going to be big,” Ridgewell admitted. “We’ve got to play as a team and stick together as a team, and hopefully we’ll come back to Providence Park with a couple of wins under our belt.”
That positivity comes on the heels of two successive preseason victories, though the second, on Saturday against Sporting Kansas City, required some second half inspiration to erase a two-goal deficit.
That showing, combined with the previous Saturday’s loss to FC Dallas, were arguably the Timbers’ least convincing outings of the preseason, form Ridgewell chalked up to training camp’s natural course.
“Yeah, Dallas gave us a bit of a run around,” Ridgewell admitted. “They were ready to go …
“But we figured a few things out. Working for each other, and getting to know each other is the hardest thing. New players into the team, into the squad, it’s getting to know their positives and their weaknesses. We did that in preseason, and look, it doesn’t matter in preseason games. It’s all about the league, and by the time Sunday comes around, we’ll be ready to go.”
Part of that readiness will be the health of the squad, which carries questions at three positions into Sunday’s opener. Starting left back Vytas did not train with the team on Tuesday after injuring his hamstring on Saturday against Sporting. Goalkeeper Jeff Attinella was also absent from training, though Jake Gleeson, also in contention for the No. 1’s gloves, completed the full session.
Then there is the status of Diego Chara. The Timbers’ midfield linchpin, still on his way back from last fall’s broken metatarsal, went through full training again on Tuesday. Though his status for Sunday’s game is unknown, his return has become highly anticipated within the squad.
“Chara is a massive player for us,” Ridgewell conceded, “and to have him back in the group is fantastic. He’s a big player for us, and the quicker we can get him back healthy and ready to go is the main thing for us.”
That focus is emblematic of a team that’s less concerned about Sunday’s opponent than its own progress. This weekend is game one of 34, and while head coach Giovanni Savarese and staff will undoubtedly prepare for a new-look Galaxy, the Timbers are on a journey of their own.
Ahead of their first game together, the new squad is still focused on what they can become.
“Couldn’t care less what other teams have done with their squads,” Ridgewell says. “We’ve added quite a few players, ourselves, a new manager, as well, and sort of a new system. We’re figuring a few things out ourselves in preseason, but the main thing is, like I say all the time, if we can perform to our best, we can compete with any team of the league.”
The first test of Ridgewell’s theory comes Sunday in Carson.