KO 8.22.23
What you need to know

Portland Timbers part ways with head coach Savarese

The Portland Timbers have parted ways with head coach Giovanni Savarese. Portland, in danger of a second straight Audi MLS Cup Playoffs miss after hosting MLS Cup in 2021, sit 12th in the Western Conference table (6W-10L-8D record, 26 points). They are five points off the postseason pace with 10 games to go, concluding with Decision Day on October 21.

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What's next for Portland?

The Portland Timbers have parted ways with Gio Savarese. Now what?

Keep in mind all the normal caveats here that I’m writing from a national perspective on a localized event, but I have a few thoughts. First, I’m just going to rehash a common Daily Kickoff talking point for managers: Research strongly suggests they don’t affect a team’s success or lack thereof. A team’s roster quality is far, far, far, far more important. Personally, I tend to trust the research. But I do believe there is a point where a manager “loses the locker room” and it becomes prudent to go ahead and move on to someone who can help refresh the culture (and the talent) around the team.

Obviously, I’m not on the ground in Portland doing in-depth reporting day-to-day. I don’t know the exact feelings of the Timbers players. But, first, I mean, did you see the effort they put into Sunday’s Houston match? Second, there have been several public instances where players showed outward frustration with the team. Eryk Williamson made his thoughts apparent on social media last season after being benched for a critical Decision Day game that eventually resulted in the Timbers missing the playoffs. At the start of this season, goalkeeper Aljaz Ivacic claimed to The Oregonian’s Ryan Clarke that “everything” we were going to hear about Ivacic not making the starting lineup against LA “was a lie.” Then, just last month, Clarke reported Santiago Moreno was “furious” with Savarese and requesting a transfer. Moreno eventually denied wanting to transfer (despite text messages suggesting otherwise) and apologized for skipping a training session. This is just the stuff that I know about all the way from the other side of the country.

Even still, the response to yesterday’s news from Portland fans has been bittersweet. The general sense is Savarese is a good guy, but the time had come to move on. Savarese helped guide the team to two surprise runs to MLS Cup in 2018 and 2021, but Portland missed the playoffs by a point last season and seem set to miss the playoffs again this season. When you encourage your team to play with a game model that I’ve half-jokingly, half-seriously described for years now with the stat “1.1 xG to 0.8 xG,” it’s going to be tough to keep people invested. Across all sports, winning boring will always be tolerated. Losing boring can only last so long.

Like with any manager-based move though, this isn’t going to fix everything. In the short term, it likely won’t fix anything. This roster, as constructed right now, doesn’t seem to have the juice to make a genuine playoff push. In the end, it feels like losing Williamson and David Ayala to ACL tears earlier this year was too big a blow to handle. Additionally, their club-record signing, Evander, has been decent but hasn’t turned into Diego Valeri yet. Sebastián Blanco has barely seen the field. And 37-year-old Diego Chara has played more minutes than anyone, which isn’t necessarily a problem, but it is kind of amazing and also maybe not ideal.

Basically, it seems like yesterday’s news is a sign we’re officially set to head into a new era for the Timbers. A new manager, (potentially) a new game model, and likely new players to accompany both of those changes. It might be time to hit the reset button. If they do, it’s going to be fascinating to see what direction this team trends. And how patient one of the league’s most passionate fanbases is ready to be.

Other Things

Atlanta United's Giakoumakis named Player of the Matchday: Atlanta United forward Giorgos Giakoumakis has been voted MLS Player of the Matchday presented by Continental Tire. Giakoumakis scored both of Atlanta’s goals in their 2-0 victory at Seattle Sounders FC on Sunday evening. With his brace, the 28-year-old Greek striker is now tied for second in the Golden Boot presented by Audi race with 12 goals this season.

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Good luck out there. Keep good company.