Like practically every other sports fan in America, Will Johnson got together with some buddies at a sports bar Sunday evening to watch the Super Bowl.
For the Portland Timbers' new midfielder, however, watching the big game with teammates in Tucson, Ariz. – where the team is for the preseason Desert Friendlies – was also part of something bigger: the bonding experience that has been taking place in Timbers camp over the past month.
“We have a few extra challenges in bringing a new group of guys together, a new head coach, so we’re just getting to know each other,” Johnson told MLSsoccer.com on Sunday. “I think it’s been pleasant so far, and I think everybody is enjoying it and we’re making steady progress.”
In addition to learning the tendencies of new head coach Caleb Porter, Johnson, who spent the past five seasons with Real Salt Lake, is one of five new players who figure to play key roles in the upcoming season. He said aside from the typical fitness routines of any preseason, there’s been a steep learning curve.
“There’s been a lot more teaching from a coaching standpoint,” Johnson said. “In my previous club, we had a lot of veteran guys who knew the system, so we didn’t have to work on that as much. So a lot of the specifics have been tactics and shape and learning the tendencies of my new teammates.”
The results on the field have been mixed.
The Timbers kicked off their preseason schedule with a 3-1 win Jan. 29 against Colorado, and followed it up with a 1-0 loss to Sporting Kansas City on Friday. Porter said he’s seen the group advance every day, noting that Sunday’s training session was particularly “sharp” as they worked on attacking shape and finishing.
“We need to gradually ramp them up, and today was a day where we wanted to push them a little bit, not only just physically with the demands we put on them but tactically and mentally,” Porter said. “We wanted to keep a high tempo to mirror the game. We need to be sharp, and there are a lot of details that we need to clean up.”
The education continues Tuesday when the team’s new faces will get a small taste of what it means to be part of the Cascadia rivalry when the Timbers face the Seattle Sounders on Tuesday (12:30 pm ET, watch LIVE on MLSsoccer.com).
“Every day we’re trying to get better, every game we’re trying to play well and win,” Porter said. “Even in preseason, we want to build that mentality. So Seattle, it’s another game that we want to play well. We want to see progress as a staff. We want see the players moving forward.”