Wildfires across Oregon and Washington have made the air quality around Portland unhealthy for almost a week, limiting the amount of physical activity that can take place outdoors. For the Portland Timbers, that’s meant temporarily but indefinitely forgoing practices at their Beaverton training center in favor of other options.
“As we know, 2020 comes in a way that we need to make sure that we are dealing with any situation, adapt to it, and find the solutions,” head coach Giovanni Savarese said on Tuesday, one day before his team’s game at the San Jose Earthquakes (6:30pm PT, FS1). “We can not find excuses in these moments, but definitely, it's a situation right now that it is unfortunate, that we can not practice outside.”
The Timbers began training indoors last week in preparation for their Sunday trip to Los Angeles FC. Counting those sessions, the Timbers have now trained four times in row away from their training center, with their last two practices taking place at Tualatin Indoor Soccer.
“We've been in [this] situation a little bit in Orlando, towards the end [of the MLS is Back Tournament],” Savarese mentioned, alluding to the indoor sessions forced by thunderstorms ahead of that tournament’s final. “Here, it's very different. When you have to go outside your facility where you have everything, especially a full-sized pitch in which you can train and do the things that you need to do, then it becomes a little bit more difficult.”
“I think the first difference is the surface,” midfielder Diego Chara said, “because we have to train on turf. We weren't able to play on our grass field, at the training facility. But I think that we're trying to prepare well for the next game. We know that it is really important to get three points.”
For Savarese, size of the field may be a bigger concern. In the days leading up to a game, when teams typically prepare for their opponents’ approach, drills on a full-sized field allow players to see where spaces are likely to open up. As second units emulate the tactics of the upcoming opposition, projected starters can see how, for both teams, patterns can attack some spaces while vacating others.
According to Savarese, even though the field at Tualatin Indoor is larger than what the team used at the end of last week, it can’t mimic what Portland will see tomorrow at Earthquakes Stadium.
“The spaces are still small,” he said, “so there are challenges sometimes to be able to have a training that can prepare the team [for] the spaces that you hope to find.”
This may be the Timbers’ life for the indefinite future. While few would predict the team will still need to train indoors two or three weeks from now, it’s unclear when Portland’s air quality will be back to normal. According to forecasts from the official United States Air Quality Index, Portland’s AQI will be in the “Very Unhealthy” range on Wednesday and Thursday – a slight improvement from the “Hazardous” conditions the city’s experienced since last last week. Beyond the next two days, though? The AQI forecast does not extend out that far.
“Everyone in the team feels the difference when we try to breathe,” Chara said. “It's a little bit hard, with the situation with the air quality. I think we fixed [training], how to prepare for the next game, [going to the] indoor soccer field …”
Wednesday’s will be the first of two straight games in San Jose, a quirk in the schedule partially caused when August 26’s match at the Earthquakes had to be rescheduled. As a result, the Timbers will play their next 180 minutes against a team that is struggling as much as any in Major League Soccer.
San Jose currently sit one point above last-place Vancouver Whitecaps FC in the Western Conference. The 26 goals they’ve allowed this season are a league high, with head coach Matías Almeyda’s team 0-3-2 since MLS’s regular season restarted.
“We have to … make sure that we can get some points against a team that hasn't been getting many points, has had difficult matches, but is still a very difficult team to play against.” Savarese said. “We expect a very competitive match.”
Under normal circumstances, the Timbers would also be expected to win on Wednesday. Undoubtedly, internally, those expectations still hold. Unfortunately, 2020 has been anything but normal, leaving realistic expectations ahead of Wednesday less certain. With a short turnaround from Sunday, the inability to train normally, and a return trip to San Jose on Saturday, what is a fair expectation for Wednesday’s performance?