The Portland Timbers held a closed practice at Jeld-Wen Field today ahead of their game against Chivas USA tomorrow: their second in as many weeks. Practice was closed after the team went through their usual warm ups and some passing drills and not reopened until after eleven.
Eric Brunner once again practiced with the team, staying on the pitch through the end of training. At yesterday's practice, Brunner participated in the team warm ups, but stayed on the sidelines as the Timbers moved on to more strenuous drills. Brunner's return to practice after suffering a concussion two months ago has been a slow one, but his progress is encouraging, with Gavin Wilkinson saying that he would be cleared to play if he did not suffer from any concussion symptoms after training today although he would not be ready to play in tomorrow's game.
Jake Gleeson and Chris Taylor we're again the only players missing from practice. Gleeson, who is with the New Zealand Olympic team, was on the bench for the team's 1-0 loss to Belarus yesterday, while Taylor is out for the next several months after undergoing hip surgery of the same type that David Horst underwent over the off season.
Jose Adolfo Valencia was at practice today and, while he did not jog around the pitch, there was some good news with Wilkinson confirming after practice that the team anticipated Valencia taking part in training starting September 1st.
More practice notes plus quotes from Gavin Wilkinson and Diego Chara after the jump.
After practice was concluded, a number of players took turns taking penalty kicks, including Valencia who showed off some precision as he could not shoot with power. Kosuke Kimura, Hanyer Mosquera, and several others all took turns in goal. At one point, Valencia chipped in a shot that sent Mosco the wrong way. Moments later, Mosco tried the same thing on Kimura, only to have his effort saved.
Elsewhere, Darlington Nagbe and Freddie Braun took on Danny Mwanga and Bright Dike in a game of soccer-tennis over the advertising boards. Each had some nice touches, but my favorite moment came when it looked like Dike was going to spike the ball over the boards so Braun ducked to get out of his way, only to have the ball chipped onto his back then to the ground for the point.
Gavin Wilkinson and Kalif Alhassan also horsed around for a moment, juggling the ball together. Although Wilkinson was certainly game, his touch was a little rusty and he could not match Kalif. Wilkinson finally admitted defeat after they started actually keeping score.
On what the team can take away from facing off against Chivas USA only two weeks ago
They are the same team that we have played against and lost to twice, so we can't let them beat us three times. It is a matter of pride and this is a game you would go into at the start of the year saying, how many points should you be getting off Chivas? Right now, we would have all got it wrong, wouldn't we? I think we need to address that. I think that if we come out and play as well as we can we will win. I look at it that way.
I keep saying that we have got talent. The preparation for this game has been good all week and the players are focused and their spirit seems very high, so hopefully we can build off the Aston Villa game and play a good game against Chivas and get three points.
On the Chivas players who have given the Timbers the most trouble
I think [Ryan Smith] is out. He came off in their last game. I think he has actually torn his hamstring. He has caused us problems, he really has. I think if you go back to the first game there were two great deliveries into the box and maybe we weren't tight enough, we didn't do our jobs, and they punished us twice. One of them was damaging: it was just after half-time and it took all the air out of the team. I think it really did change the mentality and the approach to the second half. Ryan, in Chivas, punished us as well. I believe that he is out.
They do have a lot of dangerous players. I believe Agudelo is back in, you have got Juan Pablo Angel. They do have good players, they have dangerous pieces, it is just that we have got to get back to saying, this is our stadium, this is a place where we should constantly be getting three points.
It is just a game that we have got to go into to get three points and find a way to win.
On Brent Richards' progress this season
I think Brent in preseason was was dreadful. He was getting through his final exams. Brent as a person, you can't help but like Brent and appreciate him, but I think in the last two months especially he has really grown as a player. He has taken more responcibility in training. He is having more of an influence in training. He is a very effective player. He strikes the ball well with both feet.
I think if we are going to continue to talk about potential and talk about our young players they need to be given a chance. For Brent, this is his first start that we are looking at in MLS (Gavin goes on to clarify this statement). Hopefully he will take the challenge and do well. It is not a matter of I am trying to surprise people by the selection, it is because he has got a big upside and hopefully he'll do well.
On if Brent Richards is starting
That is to be decided. He'll be in the squad but this is the first time Brent is going to be in the squad with us actually viewing him to actually start. With Brent, he is an effective player and he deserves the opportunity. I think you always have to reward good habits. He is a player that has played extremely well and deserves the opportunity.
On if it is time to start giving the younger players more playing time
If they deserve it, definitely. I think you could see in the Aston Villa game, we had numerous young players that get the opportunity and they took it very well. You could say that that was an exhibition game and it was light hearted, but they wanted to win, they were playing against good players, and they still played in front of a home crowd that they expected them to win.
The young players, I thought, came on and did well. Should they continue to work hard and should they continue to make good developments in training, we will give them the opportunity.
On Brent Richards' future with the team
He is a homegrown player and it is in our best interests to maximize our homegrown players. He doesn't count against our salary cap for two years, so you look at it as a free player in many ways. I think you will start to see more home grown players come through our academy and through our PDL program which will be a positive for us as an organization, that we are developing youth in our territory.
With Brent, he has all the traits to be successful. I think he is a late developer. I think that college was very important for his development as a person and as a player and I think that he has developed very well in this professional environment and should continue to do so. It is not me coming in a liking Brent, giving him the opportunity. The coaching staff have been very impressed with him for many months.
On if he is spoiled for choice right when making his team selections with most of the team healthy
Yes, in a good way. I have to give full credit to John Ireland, our fitness coach, and then you have got Nic Wald and his crew, the athletic trainers. I think they do do a good job. There is no excuses as we have got a full compliment of players available for selection nearly and once we get Jose Valencia back training, which we expect him to start joining in in a couple of weeks in technical work and we expect him to be joining in with the squad September 1st, then we will have everyone back. It will be interesting to see him and to see how he progresses with this group.
On Eric Brunner's status
Eric had a full training session today. He is doing fantastic. It is great to have him back.
On if Eric Brunner has been cleared to play
The return to play protocol is that he is allowed a full training session and if there is no symptoms that reoccur after that then he is available for selection. The return to play protocol we have followed everything very closely. There is a lot of scrutiny around concussions and it is a sensitive topic and we understand why and agree with it. With Brunner, if he doesn't have any side-effects after today's training session then he would be available, but we need to get his fitness back as it has been a while since he trained. For all intents and purposes, mentally for me he is not available.
On how he approaches picking the team's formation
I think that right now it is a must win for each game, so it is not a matter of, let's instill a system that will get us through the next seven or eight weeks, it is a matter of what do we think will win us the game tomorrow?
Against LA, to give you an example, we played in a 4-2-3-1 and the two we played for a reason: because [Robbie Keane] and [Landon Donovan] and [David Beckham] like utilizing that space between the midfield and the attack. So the idea behind that was to nullify the opponent. Ultimately you could see by the result that it didn't work. They had some key performances and we had some key letdowns.
I think the system at the moment, with where we are at not being in a position to dominate the game and not being in a position to force ourselves on the opponent, we have got to make some more adjustments.
(via a translator)
On if the Timbers last game is still fresh in his mind
Not at all. This is a different game and we know that we need to win.
On what the team can take away from the last game against Chivas
I think the most important thing is to correct the mistakes like the one on which they took advantage and scored. We need to get a lot better in that area. On offense we created a lot of chances and we just need to basically finish and if we do that we will be able to get a better result on Saturday.
On how the team scoring twice against Aston Villa after being shut out on the road affected the team's confidence
It does help. It boosts our confidence because the game on Saturday wasn't the best and we are just very aware that we need to win this one.
On how he is holding up physically with the amount of running he does
This is my second year in MLS and it has just been a little bit more difficult because the results have not been there for us. It is frustraiting because we have a very good team.
But I feel great.
On what the team needs to do in order to make the best of the rest of the season
I think that the main this is the unity of the team. It is very important. We know that we all are frustrated because of the results but it is important to maintain that unity and show it out on the field, because we do have a really good team and we can play a lot better.