After what wound up being a wild 3-2 loss to LAFC, Portland Timbers head coach Giovanni Savarese shared an insight into how the team was trying to adjust after finding themselves down three goals in the second half.
“I mean we were trying to find, you know, the best version of ourselves,” Savarese shared postgame.
Indeed, for about an hour on Saturday afternoon the Timbers were decidedly not the best version of themselves. Listless on set pieces on one end of the pitch and toothless in front of goal at the other, Portland had a first half to forget as they conceded their first two goals of the 2023 campaign.
Savarese gave credit to the defending champs for leaning on their battle-tested squad. “I thought the first half, I think their experience was the difference maker, they were able to find two goals in corners. I think they were clever,” he shared. “I think that [corner kicks] was the area that maybe they took advantage — I mean they have big players and they made a difference in those moments.”
Those big name players were pivotal in LAFC’s first two goals — both off of corner kick situations. First, it was Giorgio Chiellini tallying his first ever MLS goal by cleaning up a bouncing ball off of a corner that the Timbers could not fully clear. Next, it was Carlos Vela converting a penalty kick after Kwadwo Opoku was tripped up by Santiago Moreno in the box after a corner kick was — you guessed it — not fully cleared.
Not only were the Timbers fallible at the back on set pieces, they were toothless in front of goal in the first half. Portland only registered four shots in the opening frame, and only two of those were on target.
“We still didn’t have the cleverness, we still didn’t have the fluidity of play going forward that we wanted to,” Savarese shared postgame when identifying his team’s first half woes. “We could have been better in regard to taking advantage of a few moments that we found inside the box and be a little more clinical and clever to make sure that we take a little bit more on them.”
The opening frame was a far cry from the disciplined and energetic squad we saw on opening weekend (er, Monday). It wasn’t perfect, but it was a step closer to the best version of what the Timbers could be — at least at this extremely early point in the season.
In contrast, on Saturday they conceded a third goal seven minutes into the second half.
But right at around the hour mark, Savarese made several substitutions that seemed to help the Timbers find what he was looking for: the best version of themselves.
“I think when we made the substitutions and we changed the system, I think we took the game to [LAFC],” Savarese said.
That change in system was stark. Brining on an extra centerback and central midfielder, Portland shifted into a 3-5-2 look, pushing wingbacks Juan Mosquera and Claudio Bravo forward. Portland was then able to create overloads high and wide, thus creating space for their attackers to generate more.
Chief beneficiary from that was Portland’s star offseason signing Evander. After an uneven first game last Monday and a shaky opening hour on Saturday, Evander finally found space to work his magic — and it resulted in his first MLS and Timbers goal.
After the match, Evander was happy to score his first goal. “I hope it’s the first goal of many, I hope I can give more goals and assists to the team during the season,” he stated postgame.
Evander was also happy about the way the team played in the second half. He felt that the biggest difference was the energy that they team brought to the field. He described that the upswing started “When we started fighting for the game, for the ball. Just playing our game.”
When the Timbers were playing their game — getting closer to that best version of themselves — they darned near stole a point on the road. Evander’s goal sparked hope, and then Cristhian Paredes knocked home a corner kick scramble of Portland’s making to pull the Timbers within one.
It set up a wild final ten minutes where Portland smelled a result and pushed for a third goal. But alas, they ran out of time never found their equalizer.
Evander registered his disappointment postgame. “Unfortunately, it was a bit late, the energy we brought to the field,” he shared. “If we had brought it a bit earlier the game would have been different.”
Savarese agreed with that sentiment, “I think a few more minutes and we tie the game, for sure. It was our game at that point and we played extremely well.”
Where to go from here? It’s only two games in, and everyone on the Timbers is still pushing to find the best version of themselves.
That includes Evander, who is only 180 minutes into his Timbers tenure and is still finding his footing.
“I’m getting adapted. I’m slowly getting there, getting the connections with the players, with the team,” Evander said postgame of how he is adjusting to life in MLS. “I’m still learning how they play, how the team plays as well, but I think we are on the right way.”
Savarese agrees that the Brazilian is moving in the right direction, stating, “I think he’s still adapting to the speed of the MLS. I think the more that he’s going to play games, the better he’s going to get.”
That sentiment could perhaps be applied to the team as a whole: still adapting, and needing more games to connect and improve. That’s work that the Timbers are going to need to do if they want to find them best version of themselves in their next game, and push towards finding success on the season.
The coach believes they can do, and the star player believes it too. “We’re still getting the connections, still fixing some spots on the field,” Evander shared. “[But] I think for the next game we will be much much better.”