Don Giovanni's overture: Timbers & Savarese tune up for Sounders
Team looking to improve defense after strong 2017 season
The Portland Timbers took the training field at Kino Sports Complex on Friday morning and started their day with a running exercise: they broke up into small groups and they ran a relay of sorts. It was just a warm-up exercise, but the desire to win got the best of the few of them.
“I love the competiveness, but don’t be cheaters,” the athletic trainer barked after several runners didn’t quite follow the rules that were set down.
Professional athletes take these exercises very seriously, even if it’s “just preseason.” For the Timbers, there’s an added incentive: they are taking on the Seattle Sounders this weekend.
Yes, just a preseason match. It will have no effect on the standings of either team, but it will still be another episode of the longest-standing rivalry in U.S. soccer. For more than 40 years, the two teams kept the rivalry even though the leagues that they played in would morph and sometimes die away. The rivalry is kept up even during spring training in Tucson, with the match between Portland and Seattle often being the biggest draw at Kino.
Newly hired coach Giovanni Savarese cracked wise about playing his team’s rival.
“Seattle, uh…Seattle who?,” he asked.
“Everyone understands the importance of a Portland Timbers – Seattle game. Those games are different…those are the games the fans have a little more pride in,” he said. “We know the responsibility we have in those matches.”
“Whoever doesn’t know the rivalry lives in a cave,” he continued. “It’s really well known, even outside of the United States. Everyone knows the Seattle against Portland Timbers is always a huge game. It’s a fun game because there’s something more to play for.”
Savarese played for three MLS teams in his career, most notably the MetroStars where he scored 44 goals, a club record that held until 2009. He also played for teams in England, Italy and his native Venezuela. He managed the second-division New York Cosmos for five years, wining 3 championships and coming in as runner up once. He did all that despite the team almost folding before the 2016 season.
Savarese comes to the Timbers in an unusual situation. Many times, a new coach will come to the team after the team sputters for a few years. Savarese’s predecessor, Caleb Porter, helped the team to an MLS Cup in 2014 and topped the Western Conference last season. He left the team, so the reports say, because of a dispute with team owner Merritt Paulson.
It wouldn’t seem that the team needs to change much, but he still sees some things that need to be tightened up.
“One of the things I thought would be important is to be stronger defensively,” he said. “We need to become more compact, more difficult to be broken…also to be able to open up, to keep the ball, but be disciplined to defend more compactly.”
Defense is the emphasis, but three of the new faces at training are there to boost the offense. One is Andy Polo, on loan from Mexican side Morelia. The Peruvian speedster won a Copa Libertadores under-20 trophy when he played for home country side Universitario’s youth squad in 2011. The team’s new “homegrown” signing has also joined the team at Kino, Foster Langsdorf. Langsdorf played on a Stanford team that won four straight PAC-12 titles and three national championships. He was a runner up for the MAC Hermann trophy (losing out to former FC Tucson player Jon Bakero). The team also introduced their new signing, Paraguayan midfielder Cristhian Paredes.
The Timbers and Sounders play at 5 p.m. at Kino North Stadium. Visit FCTucson.com for ticket information.
Ted Prezelski writes about all things soccer, fútbol and piłka nożna for TucsonSentinel.com and at the blog How Flair is Punished (mindingthe.net).