It seems like more than nine days since the Portland Timbers played a game, but when they take the field tomorrow night in Carson, California, against the LA Galaxy, that’s how long the team will have had off (7:30pm PT, ROOT SPORTS). Translated into our COVID-19 world, that’s roughly (and unscientifically) 41.2 “normal” days, but for the Timbers, that translation might feel even more stark. Since Major League Soccer’s regular season restarted in August, multi-game weeks have stretched the definition of normal.
“We've had a normal week to prepare for this game, but later – I didn't check the schedule,” Timbers forward Jaroslaw Niezgoda paused, “I think that we play every three days.”
For the most part, he’s right. The Timbers had played five games in 15 days after their 1-0 victory at Providence Park over Vancouver Whitecaps FC. That’s the last time they took the field competitively. Now, thanks to the cancellation and rescheduling of October 3’s visit from the Colorado Rapids, the Timbers will play the final nine games of their regular season in 32 days, with only one stretch – between games on October 22 and October 28 – affording Portland another “normal” week’s buildup.
“But we are prepared for this,” Niezgoda said. “We have enough players to play. We showed this earlier, and we'll do this.”
Part of that “show” was Portland’s form during that five-game, 15-day stretch. Collecting a 3-1-1 record during that time, the Timbers briefly climbed into a tie on points at the top of the Western Conference. Thanks in part to the Colorado game’s postponement, Portland is now three points behind rival Seattle Sounders FC, but there’s time to make up the gap. Whether they do so might come down to rekindling late September’s momentum.
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“[The break] gave us the chance to be able to recoup,” head coach Giovanni Savarese said, “to get guys into a good spot, recover and plan, but also, we lost a little bit of the momentum that we had. We need to make sure that we keep concentration; that we keep a high level; and the intensity that we showed in the previous few matches that we played before the past weekend.”
The dichotomy Savarese outlines – between maintaining momentum and getting more rest – makes an absurd question feel absurdly relevant: Is there such a thing as too much rest?
“I think there's never a [time] you can say there's too much time to rest,” Savarese said, before going through his analysis. “You always can utilize the rest period. What happens sometimes when the rest time is longer, you tend to sometimes relax a little bit, and you're not in that Saturday, Wednesday, Saturday, Wednesday [mode] that adrenaline continuously keeps you in. But on the other token, your players are very fresh.
“So as long as the mentality of the group is able to have a consistency, and is able to bring the level up to the intensity that we need to show for every game, having extra days to recover is a very good thing - as long as the team is able to understand that.”
It’s an outlook that casts the Timbers’ next game as less of a test of rhythm, momentum and rest than a test of mindset. And in that vein, Niezgoda may have the right approach. For him, Portland is ready for any normal.
“To be honest, I don't prepare mentally,” he said, when asked about the schedule’s demands. “We are prepared mentally. We are ready to play every few days ... It's not a problem for us.”