Two days removed from Sunday’s season-opening loss in Carson, California, the Portland Timbers had found some perspective, choosing to see the weekend’s 2-1 defeat to the LA Galaxy as the first step of many rather than a point of lingering frustration.
That’s not to say the disappointment wasn’t evident right after the match, though.
“One thing that was important to see was right after the match, you felt that everyone in the dining room area felt the defeat,” head coach Giovanni Savarese said at his weekly press conference. “They felt it with pride. They were not happy about it, and that’s a very good sign.”
The frustration was born out of a 30-minute period in the middle of Sunday’s match that saw the Timbers unable to connect or provide much resistance through midfield. The defense was left exposed, and by halftime, the Timbers were down two goals.
“We just kept losing that ball in certain positions,” captain Liam Ridgewell said, when asked what changed in the middle of Sunday’s first half. “It gave them the momentum to attack us and get at us. It’s something we’ve got to work on, and it’s something we’ve been working on for a long time, now. We’ll make sure we try to perfect that going into the matches going forward.”
The full context for those misgivings includes the team’s second-half performance, one that initially got off to a slow start before Portland neared a result by full time. Sebastián Blanco’s 66th-minute score was the culmination of that near-comeback, one that was sparked by Savarese’s adjustments and halftime appeal.
“The first half wasn’t good enough. Gio let us know that at halftime,” Ridgewell said, “and obviously the second half was a lot better. We kept the ball a lot better, moved it a lot quicker, and we started to open LA up, which we should have (done) in the first half. It was obviously a good second half, a lot of positives to take out of that, and stuff we can take into the New York game.”
Although Savarese was realistic about where the team needed to improve – from speed of play to ball movement to individual performances – the silver linings were as much in focus two days removed from Carson. They’re part of what kept the team in positive mood when it returned to practice in Beaverton, Oregon.
“It is a very good attitude,” Timbers striker Fanendo Adi said, when asked about the team’s mood. “We had a short meeting this morning, and everybody knowing this is the first game of the season, and having a few new players, as well, it was a positive game … we came back, but it wasn’t enough to get us a tie or a victory. The mood today is very impressive.”
That New York game, Saturday against the Red Bulls (4pm PT, ROOT SPORTS), is quickly sneaking up on the Timbers, though. The team took full training on Tuesday after traveling on Monday, but the group will have only one more practice in Beaverton before leaving for New York. When they land, the team will have undergone three flights in five days and need more recovery to be prepared for Saturday night’s kickoff.
Such is the reality of this opening, five-match stretch on the road for Portland, whose Providence Park home is undergoing construction during the first part of the season.
“Unfortunately, this is a very difficult week,” Savarese said, when asked about preparing for the Red Bulls. “We don’t have that may days to work on the specific [tactics], because we’ve leaving already Thursday to New York. We have to work with what we’ve got, but we’re very clear in the message that we want to give.”
That message had already gotten across to Adi, who explained the team needs, “more understanding, more chemistry to keep building.”
In other words, things are going to take time. In the interim, the steps themselves, whether they result in failure or success, are important.
“The most important thing is to get the first game out of the way,” Adi said. “Now we’ve got the first game, the tired legs out of the way. Now it’s about recovery today and tomorrow, and preparing for a tough game on the road.
“New York is a good team. We go there focused on what we have to go to come out victorious. I think we have the [opportunity of] going there and doing well and hopefully picking up the victory.”