BEAVERTON, Ore. – Giovanni Savarese has offered a consistent front to the media all season, giving his weekly press availabilities an air of metronomic consistency. It’s a steadiness that forces viewers and readers to look beyond his words, challenging us to find hits in the context of his answers.
For example, when Savarese talked to the press on Tuesday at the adidas Timbers Training Center ahead of his team’s impending Audi 2018 MLS Cup Playoffs visit to Seattle for Thursday's leg two of the Western Conference Semifinals (7:30pm PT, FS1 | Match presented by Carl's Jr.), he described the team’s feeling as “pretty good,” saying Sunday’s 2-1 win in leg one of Portland’s matchup against rival Seattle Sounders FC represented, “a good result, and now we’re going to place that is going be difficult, against a good team, again.”
Savarese has a wealth of media experience from his analyst role with ESPN Deportes before he took the job in Portland. His wisdom within his press responsibilities can be seen as much in how he says things as within his actual words. That he’s striking the same notes now, ahead of a potentially season-defining game against the Sounders, as he would before a regular season game may have as much information value as his actual words. Implicitly, Savarese is saying the same approaches that got the Timbers to this point of their season can carry them beyond Seattle.
“We got the result we wanted at home, which is a win,” he explained, when asked if Sunday’s scoreline within the context of a 180-minute, two-leg playoff makes the victory different than a normal win. “Now, we’re going there as if it’s a fresh new game, and we have to perform. When we get there, the mentality is to try to give our best and try to get a good result.”
Result is different than performance. The Timbers have consistently given good performances against Seattle this season, but on one occasion – the team’s Aug. 26, 1-0 home loss to their rivals – the result didn’t follow. Within the regular season, the quality of a performance may have been just as important, in terms of the team’s trajectory, as a result. Now, the result is all that counts.
“We want to win,” he explained, before providing some emphasis. “We want to win. We don’t want to go there just to save a scoreline because we have a lead, right now.
“No, we want to go there and perform, and play, and try to get a win, and try to give them a good game. We know it’s going to be another difficult match, but we’re ready to perform.”
Some things have changed more than Savarese’s tone ahead of the second leg. The team is “making sure that we have more hands” involved in the players’ recovery process, Savarese said, as the squad manages the series’ four-day turnaround. The team is anticipating “a lot of fans, a lot of people, a good environment” as the venue shifts from Providence Park to Seattle, with the staff “analyzing every situation possible” as it concerns fitness concerns for midfielder David Guzmán and striker Samuel Armenteros.
The biggest difference between Sunday and Thursday, though, is the head start Portland gets, thanks to the weekend result. Instead of beginning the match on even footing at CenturyLink Field, the rivals will start a goal apart, with the Sounders needing at least a goal if they’re going to extend their (and end Portland’s) season.
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“It’s true that they have to be able to chase, to be able to get a goal, but it’s 90 minutes plus,” Savarese said. “I’m sure they are going to be patient, knowing that they can find a goal at any minute. But also, we feel pretty confident in bringing our game there and wanting to get a good result …
“We feel pretty good about the win. They feel pretty good about the goal that they scored away from home. It’s going to be an entirely new match.”
A new match in which Seattle will have to find new solutions. Though the Sounders did defeat Portland once this season, the Timbers outshot Seattle 22-6 on that occasion, leaving the Timbers with four 2018 meetings where they performed as they would have wanted.
On Thursday, Seattle head coach Brain Schmetzer may have to come up with a solution – a way to change that pattern – particularly given the likely absences of central defender Chad Marshall and midfielder Cristian Roldan. In turn, it will be Savarese’s job to predict his next move.
“It’s about making sure that the two coaches are ready for whatever they feel the scenarios are going to be on the field,” Savarese said. “Brian has done a great job this season, especially in the second half, to make sure that his team arrives in a good position.”
Regardless, two days out from the teams’ fifth meeting of the season, Savarese was confident the processes his team has put in place will leave Portland prepared for Seattle.
“I’m very content and proud of the effort of our guys, and I think that it is going to be a great (game). Another high intensity Cascadia rivalry match, and even more important now, because only one [team] is going to go through.”