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Timbers continue to grow in Tucson

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The Timbers are using their time in Arizona to keep building on what made them successful last season.

MLS: Phoenix Rising vs Portland Timbers Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

We might not get to see it, but the preseason is in full swing for the Portland Timbers. They’ve already played two 45-minute matches in Tucson, Arizona, against the Colorado Rapids and Phoenix Rising FC, and they’re set to play Phoenix again tomorrow at 3 p.m. PT. And even though the games aren’t livestreamed for fans to see, it still helps Rose City feel like we’re getting closer and closer to soccer being back.

So far, it has been a positive experience for the Timbers down in Tucson. Sure, they split their first two games, but wins and losses are never really the goal at this stage. For head coach Giovanni Savarese, he sees the trip to Tucson as a three-fold mission: get the Timbers fit for competition, start fixing the things that need to be fixed, and keep evolving their style of play.

Let’s touch on that last thing real quick. Portland found success in a counter-attacking style that developed out of necessity with Sebastian Blanco out for most of the season. Being one of the best goal-scoring teams in MLS without one of the best players in the league is no small feat, and Portland did just that. But even then, Savarese sees areas where they can get even better.

“We still want to make sure that we can keep the ball more,” Savarese said. “That we can find better spaces; that some of the movements are understood, even to a higher level. And we were able to reach that point last year, shown in the amount of goals that were scored.”

Timbers midfielder Diego Valeri echoed the importance of controlling the ball more, but also noted that it goes beyond that. Valeri hit on how the Timbers need to be better at managing moments of the game. The better they can manage moments, the less often Timbers fans will theoretically see moments like the FC Dallas playoff game that sent Portland home early. While Valeri noted that’s one of those things that soccer has, there are things they can work on to get better.

“In the base, being compact all the time,” is one thing Valeri pointed to as integral to Portland’s success. “Try [to not] become stretched, being compact with the ball and without the ball pressing, so we are trying to improve that.”

The sooner they can do that, the better, because soon they’ll have an audience watching them live for the first time in more than a year. The Timbers and Thorns both announced that fans will be allowed in Providence at up to 25% capacity starting with the Thorns’ home opener on April 9, and that means one more thing to play for this spring.

“It’s great news,” Valeri said. “We really, really want 100% full stadium as soon as possible ... but still, it’s nice to have part of the stadium with our supporters, having them supporting us on the day of the game. We know that it’s not ideal, but it’s the evolution of the situation. Maybe during this year we’re going to have, hopefully, a full stadium.”

Before they get to their first home game on April 13, they have work to do in Arizona. They have two more matches down south: one against Phoenix Rising tomorrow and another against Sporting Kansas City on March 24. We’re only weeks away now from their first CCL match against CD Marathon on April 6. But even though it’s a bit away, the Timbers have missed hearing the roar of the Timbers Army.

“It’s something that we missed entirely last year,” Savarese said. “We want to see them and I’m sure that right now it’s been so long for our fans to be in the stadium that the energy is going to be even higher, so I can’t wait to see them.”