Giovanni Savarese, Timbers training, 1.29.19
Photo by Craig Mitchelldyer

Accountability emerging as Timbers' primary focus

BEAVERTON, Ore. – It’s a theme that emerged in the wake of Sunday’s loss in Ohio. Portland Timbers head coach Giovanni Savarese saying, “I’m always going to take full responsibility.” Goalkeeper Jeff Attinella struck a similar note on the field, then, saying, “the first thing I can do is look in the mirror,” after his team’s 3-0 loss in FC Cincinnati’s MLS home debut. When it came to ideas to solve the Timbers’ early-season woes, personal responsibility was cast at the forefront.

Something has to come first. Portland is 0-2-1 after three games this season and is staring at nine more games on the road. Ten goals allowed through three matches not only sit as MLS’ worst mark but come with an added layer of doubt: There’s no evidence the defense is getting better over the team’s initial three rounds. If anything, things appear to be getting worse.

Communication is one theory that was pursued this week, with starting left back Jorge Villafaña hypothesizing, “I think it’s the communication and commitment, behind the ball.” Savarese was asked about defending in wide areas and said, “there’s a reason why those goals have come that way. It’s very clear.” But. if the reason is “very clear” but solutions aren’t being execute on the field? That may be yet another problem.

That problem may come back to what Savarese and Attinella talked about at Nippert Stadium. No matter the issue or solution, step one to progress is accepting responsibility, something that is both crucial yet elusive in a sporting environment. Responsibility sometimes comes with fault, a very dangerous idea when roster spots and minutes are at stake. Yet without acknowledging what’s lacking – be that through error or something more passive – it’s impossible to move forward.

“Maybe it’s just everybody trying to get on the same page, again,” Attinella said this week in Beaverton, Oregon, after having three days to reflect on the last result. “Or maybe it’s somebody like myself needing to step up and be the voice … Obviously, we’re going through some growing pains, but I think the last three games are a realization of things we need to change. We definitely have the players to do it. It’s just about each one of us taking it upon ourselves to step up and handle it.”

Attinella was asked specifically about the team’s confidence and gave an answer that contradicted’s theory on Tuesday, saying “I don’t think confidence is an issue.” “Listen, as a locker room, we believe that we’re going to win every single game,” he explained, but there is a difference between confidence in a potential result and confidence in your actions. Right now, while the team may believe it can win each game, the confidence in their on-field execution – the belief in individual decisions, as well as their risks and rewards – is not coming off in the team’s play.

“It’s about fixing these little things we’re going wrong in the back,” Attinella said, addressing that level of belief. “And then once we get one win, the confidence will be restored.”

That’s where Savarese seems to be sitting: at the intersection of confidence and belief. In terms of belief in his players, or the players’ belief in each other, there’s no evidence of anything wavering. Even when talking about the offseason departure of veteran defender Liam Ridgewell – an increasing topic of conversation – there was a unanimous opinion, with Attinella echoing Savarese’s sentiment in saying, “We’re not missing anybody. It’s just a situation where, as individuals, we all need to step up.”

Still, for Savarese, there was a clear distinction between belief and, in terms of on-field execution, confidence.

“How can I say that my confidence or the confidence of the group is where we want it to be if we don’t get the results that we want?” he asked. “It’s not there, but there’s the trust in each other that we have the quality to be able to do very well … We are looking at some things that can be better, but the trust on all of us in all what we do is 100 percent.”

Perhaps, at times like these, the vocabulary becomes clouded. Trust. Belief. Confidence. Different angles on the same issues can yield different words, and perhaps different conclusions. The one commonality to it all, though, is the first step toward solutions. Personal accountability is the dominant theme around the Portland Timbers, right now.

“I don’t think anyone that I know likes to come home [after you] lose,” Villafaña said, “or go on the road and lose. I think we’ve got to get that going. We’ve got to lift the spirits up and keep working.”