One of the best MLS matchups this weekend features two teams that have been balancing league play with Concacaf Champions League. The Portland Timbers, after a bit of a rocky start, have climbed to sixth in the Western Conference, while the Philadelphia Union are third in the East. Timbers head coach Giovanni Savarese, on a Thursday media call, discussed his upcoming opponent in respectful terms ahead of Sunday's matchup at Subaru Park (7 pm ET | FS1, FOX Deportes).
"They've been very steady in the way they play with their diamond, which they have given them a lot of success," he remarked, noting that Union head coach Jim Curtin has been key to the team's stability this season — even with homegrown standout Brenden Aaronson moving from Philadelphia to Red Bull Salzburg.
"The ideas are very clear from Jim to the group. You can see that they understand exactly the movements that he's looking for from his group, and that has allowed them to be successful. The minor tweaks that they had made this year, because now they don't have Aaronson, that changes a few details in the way they play. But overall, he's got the same team that we know. That's why I'm saying this is going to be a challenging match, it's going to be a good game ... they have some players that can change the game in moments, and they're very disciplined in what they do."
Both teams are coming off wins, with the Union handling D.C. United 1-0 in the nation's capital last Sunday, getting a Kacper Przybylko goal right before halftime to make the difference. Portland hosted the Galaxy, riding a Felipe Mora brace and a Diego Valeri penalty take to a convincing 3-0 win. They're also both having recent runs of success; the Galaxy win was the second straight for the Timbers, while the Union have been unbeaten throughout the month of May.
So far this season, Portland's only faced Western Conference competition; Sunday's trip will be the only interconference match the team plays all season, and it's the farthest road jaunt they'll make in 2021. Though crossing the Mississippi won't be a normal occurrence for the Timbers, Savarese feels the trip itself is a sign that things are beginning to get a bit more normal around the league.
"We're starting to feel a little bit more normality, the way has been in the past in a normal season," Savarese reflected. "The chance now to be able to travel all the way to the east to Philadelphia, in the way we're doing it, too, because we'll be able to leave two days prior, which is something that we haven't been able to do. It makes you feel that some normality is coming back, and it allows to be able to prepare better for this match, instead of having to travel the same morning, and coming back at night. That's very difficult for the players."
He also commented on the fan presence he'll expect on the road, noting that it'll be an "interesting" atmosphere with about 75% capacity in Subaru Park.
"I'm sure there will be some Timbers fans there too," he added hopefully.