The 2020 MLS Season has been anything but ordinary.
So far, the Portland Timbers have dealt with a suspended regular-season, living inside of a bubble for a month, playing games with no fans in Providence Park, protesting a game for racial justice, watch arguably their best player tear his ACL, lose the ability to practice outside due to hazardous air quality and now they need to make the down-and-back trip to San Jose twice in four days due to COVID-19 protocols.
“I’ve said it many times, it’s incredible the group that we have. I’m so proud of the guys. They’ve faced so many different things. This week has been very tough. Not being able to have good and clean air to be able to have normal training," said Timbers head coach Giovanni Savarese following Portland's 1-1 draw Wednesday against San Jose.
"Maybe we could have had the chance to be able to do a little bit better movements. Sometimes we found those movements. Sometimes we have to push to find them. It’s always difficult. When you don’t have the chance to be able to practice these things just to have everybody be very sharp, but overall, the guys had a great game. They worked very hard. They did everything that I asked them to do and we created chances. We scored a beautiful goal...Hopefully soon we’re going to be able to train back again outdoors and be able to prepare even better than we did for today.”
The Timbers were unable to practice outdoors due to Portland's hazardous air quality this week, instead performing training indoors on a much smaller turf field. Due to the limited space, Savarese mentioned Tuesday some drills weren't able to be completed.
But the lack of practice time wasn't the end of the Timbers hurdles against San Jose. Wednesday's draw was the first of two matches in Northern California against the Earthquakes in four days, but due to coronavirus protocol the Timbers could not stay in San Jose between games.
“We have to leave tonight and we have to follow the protocols," said Savarese on Wednesday. "We have to travel back again on the weekend the day of the game and then we’ll leave right after the match. We’re staying very strict with the protocols and it’s taxing. It’s difficult. Now we have to go back right away and in two days, we have to recover the team and be ready to play the same team traveling again to San Jose. So, it’s not easy, especially against a team that favors the physical part of the game. The running, the 1v1. That’s why I was very proud of my players today because they fought very hard."
Due to the condensed regular-season schedule, Savarese has been tinkering with his starting lineup and rotation frequently to keep his players as fresh as he can be. On Wednesday, Diego Valeri was rested completely while other notable players such as Jeremy Ebobisse came off the bench.
“It’s very important because we have to count on everybody in order to endure all these games we’re going to have to play. Everybody has to show up and play their part in order to have good performances," explained Savarese. "I think it was very optimistic today, very positive. We saw when [Cristhian] Paredes came in, he came with a lot of good energy, played very well. Tomás [Conechny], the same. [Marvin] Loría came in, did his job. [Jeremy Ebobisse], we had [Felipe] Mora on the field. We saw [Marco] Farfan that had a difficult task to be able to go many times 1v1 against a very good player. I thought he handled [Cristian] Espinoza on the wing. Overall very proud of the group and now we have to make sure that we recoup the guys and ready to be able to play again this weekend.”
Next, Portland will travel again to San Jose to take on the Earthquakes on Saturday, September 19 at 7:30 p.m. PT.