MLS teams had a very good start to the Scotiabank Concacaf Champions League tournament. A 3-2-0 (W-D-L) record across the board? Multiple goal victories and away goals abound? Regardless of whether or not it’s a trend or just a lucky first leg, the results are undoubtedly positive.
The Portland Timbers are not excluded from the positivity by any means. Their 2-2 draw against CD Marathon in the first leg of the CCL was very good all things considered. They went to Honduras and dominated for most of the game, and they came out in as good a position as anyone could ask for on their way home to Providence Park. As Timbers head coach Giovanni Savarese put it to media members on Monday, however, that result is only as good as the result Portland gets tonight.
“The result in Honduras is a good result if we do what we have to do here at home,” Savarese said. “And what I can tell you is that the guys are prepared.”
Being in a good position like this, it can be easy to feel, for lack of a better word, complacent. Portland would not be totally wrong to think they’re in the driver’s seat playing at home with fans in the stands cheering them on and two away goals in their back pocket. On paper, it looks like they have a good chance of coming out of the first round relatively unscathed.
But soccer isn’t played on paper, it’s played on the pitch. Last time these two teams shared a field, Portland played well enough to have earned a dominant victory, but instead played Marathon to a draw because of two goals allowed very quickly due to lapses in play after Portland scored their goals. Maybe it’s not as much about complacency as it is about putting the pedal to the floor at all times and not letting up at any moment.
“I think this is another game where we’re going to go out knowing we’re in a good spot, but at the end of the day I think we wanted and expected a little better down in Honduras,” Timbers midfielder Eryk Williamson said. “I think it’s just another game to build on. I think it’s another chance to go out and become a good unit together so that we get away with another win here or another good result to move on to the next round.”
Certain things should work more in Portland’s favor this time around. Obviously there’s a certain morale boost that comes with playing in front of fans, even if the number is capped at 25%, but there’s also a certain tactical advantage. They won’t be playing on a field where the ball looks like it’s moving through tar, something that Williamson admitted made things slightly more difficult down in Honduras. But even then, he knows that’s just a reality of having to paly in unfamiliar territory during a tournament like CCL.
“I know the conditions weren’t the best, but at the end of the day that’s what we expect from this tournament,” Williamson said. “Being able to not play on a field that suits the way we play, and I think we ultimately did good to get a result. I think being back in Portland, we will be able to do some of the things we’ve been working on doing, some of the things that we were doing last year, and getting back to that fluidity and movement on and off the ball.”
Watching the Timbers (theoretically) regain some fluidity with the ball will certainly be something to watch. In the end, it’s just exciting that the Timbers will get to play their first home game in front of fans in almost 400 days. If anything, that alone should be enough to encourage the Timbers to leave little room for doubt tonight in what will surely be another tough contest.
“I know the way the guys have practiced, the way the guys feel about this match, the understanding is that it’s going to be a tough game,” Savarese said. “The guys are ready to perform and play, and now even more that we know that we will have some fans in the stadium. Everyone is excited about that.”