PORTLAND, Ore. – If there were effects lingering from Saturday night’s 2-2 draw, it was hard to tell on Tuesday, when the Portland Timbers returned to full training at Providence Park. With their next game two days away, the team had settled back into its normal rhythm. Any lingering awe from their strange, weekend meeting with the Colorado Rapids – or disappointment at dropping points at home – had been overcome by the summer’s normal routine, that of dealing with a quick turnaround ahead of their next opponent.
“Of course, we would have wanted to have three points against Colorado, here. That would have been good for us,” head coach Giovanni Savarese told local media this week. “But I think the important part is to take (things) one game at a time, to be calm, to see game-by-game what we are doing instead of just looking ahead – looking where we are at, right now.”
Where the Timbers are at, right now, is a relatively healthy position, even after the setback of Saturday’s draw. The team always knew opening the season with 12 games on the road would leave them in a hole, but as of now, that hole is only four points deep – the distance between the team and the playoff line. There are only two more road games on their MLS schedule. Combine that with the (at least) two games they have in hand on every team in the West’s top seven, and the Timbers find themselves in a good spot.
The extent to which good spots matter 18 games into a 34-match season may not matter much, though. Clearly, being ahead of the pack like Los Angeles FC matters. Every team would love to be there, just as you’d hate to be dealing with the climb teams like FC Cincinnati and Vancouver Whitecaps FC, currently nine points below their playoff lines, will have over the rest of their seasons. For teams in between, though, a “good spot” is little more than a Monday morning screenshot.
The more important thing, now, is that the Timbers take advantage of the opportunities they’ll have. That means 14 of their last 16 at home. That means making the most of games like Thursday’s against Orlando City SC (7pm PT, TICKETS, ESPN).
Here is this week’s KeyBank Scouting Report – three areas of focus ahead of this week’s kickoff at Providence Park:
The first meeting since …
This seems so long ago, but the moment I jog your memory, you’re going to get mad: the image of, last year, Orlando’s Dom Dwyer running straight into then-Timbers defender Alvas Powell in an attempt to draw a late penalty. Orlando had already fought back from two goals down to make it 2-2 in the match’s final minutes when Dwyer decided to engage some of the game’s famed dark arts. He forced a collision, exaggerated fall and, to his credit, got a penalty call.
I’m sure every Timbers fan will be broken-hearted to know that Dwyer won’t be eligible for Thursday’s game. After elbowing Columbus Crew SC’s Josh Williams in the face last week while contesting a long ball, Dwyer is suspended for Thursday’s match in Portland. Having started only one game since May 12, the impact of his absence may be negligible. The greater impact may be in the stands, where the Timbers Army will miss a chance to heckle an obligatory target.
With the Timbers’ schedule so congested, few seem to be dwelling on last April, when the team was in a different, now distant moment. OCSC is a completely different team, now. New coach. New players. New style. The Timbers have undergone some meaningful changes, too. How much can players like Brian Fernandez, Steve Clark and Jorge Moreira invest in last April?
For fans, the vision of Orlando may bring back that frustration of the moment, which will give them a reason to emote. Portland may have had other things on its mind over the last 17 months, but given when happened last year in Central Florida, a long memory wouldn’t be the worst thing to have on Thursday at Providence Park.
A (check schedule, again) Thursday game?
Usually mid-week games are scheduled on Wednesdays, giving teams a natural, balanced rhythm from their weekend game. Whether you played on Saturday or Sunday, kicking off again in the middle of the week feels like a natural mid-point between games future and past.
Thursday just feels weird. Why? Why on Thursday, and not Wednesday? There’s probably a good reason which, as it concerns the Timbers, doesn’t matter much in terms of their reality, but It was still worth asking how that reality’s different. Do things change much, Savarese was asked, when you have that 24-hour difference between Wednesday and Thursday?
“Yes, in some way, because it’s one less day to recover, but no, because we still have to have rotations, and we understand that it is important for us in how we’re going to go about it,” the Timbers head coach explained, fully conscious of his next game’s impact on Sunday’s trip to Seattle.
“The only thing about these two games which is difficult is we play at home, and that’s a priority,” he said, “but then we play Seattle, which is an important match. It’s balancing these matches with the same level of importance and making sure that we’re as competitive as we can be with the two lineups that we’re going to have in the two matches.”
There are only two days of rest between Orlando and Seattle. Between reentry and preservation, there’s no time for any real training. The team will do tactical work, instilling the changes it needs to face Seattle. But in terms of normal preparation? It’s as if much of the work for the Sounders has to happen while the team’s ramping up for Orlando.
Depth could still be on display
Savarese acknowledged that rotations are still going to be necessary, and in saying that the coming games will have two lineups, he’s also conceding that things may be different against Orlando than they will be against Seattle. That’s not much of a surprise. The surprise will come in how the coach and his staff approaches the two contests. Strong in one, but not the other? Balanced in each? It’s difficult to predict, leaving us all primed to be caught off-guard whenever Thursday’s lineup’s announced.
“It’s important to have a deep roster, because that way we can rotate in these situations, when we have so many matches consecutively,” he said. “The guys have been doing a great job to make sure whoever steps on the field gets the job done. Hopefully, we can continue that way.”
Portland’s rotations started in earnest on May 15, when a trip to Houston fell mid-week after a Friday match in Vancouver. Beginning with that game at the Dynamo, Portland is 7-2-3 in all competitions, have outscored their opponents by 12 goals, but have used 26 different players. The only players currently on the active roster who haven’t gotten a game since Houston are goalkeepers: Aljaz Ivačić and Kendall McIntosh.
“We had depth last year, but I think the guys that are coming in as part of the depth of this year are in a better place,” Savarese conceded. The team’s record says as much. Navigating this summer has tested the farthest reaches of the Timbers’ squad. Those tests have been passed, thus far.