After the Portland Timbers played the New England Revolution to a 1-1 draw on Saturday night, they embarked on a journey into the unknown.
The Timbers boarded a flight early Sunday morning bound for Georgetown, Guyana. The journey is roughly 2,500 miles as the crow flies, but the team’s chartered plane had to make a stop in Puerto Rico for refueling before arriving in the small Caribbean nation on the northern coast of South America on Sunday evening, where they’ll take on Alpha United in their opening CONCACAF Champions League game (Tuesday, 8 pm ET, Fox Soccer Plus).
Aside from a trip to a country that isn’t exactly a featured destination in travel magazines, the Timbers and head coach Caleb Porter are also faced with the task of playing an Alpha United side – on a cricket field – of which not much is known a common scenario of many group-stage CCL matchups.
“One of the things I’ve learned is you have expect the unexpected and you never know what the conditions are going to be like with the field, referees, living arrangements, all those things,” Porter told MLSsoccer.com in a phone conversation Monday after the team’s first and only training session before Tuesday’s game.
“The other side to it is the opponent, as well. We’re trying to get as much information as we can, but it’s not an opponent that’s easy to scout because their league hasn’t started and it’s hard to get a lot of video.”
Porter said he’s been in similar international scenarios during his time coaching the US Under-18 and Under-23 national teams. He said managing what you eat and drink and how you deal with the oppressive heat and humidity and field conditions can be just as important as the game itself.
“It’s making sure you take care some of those details off the field and managing them the right way where physically you’re able to perform,” he said.
According to Porter, Monday’s training session on the Guyana National Stadium pitch, primarily used in cricket competitions, helped to “adjust and get used to it.” He also said they’ve been able to watch video from Alpha United's opening CCL game against Hondurans champion Olimpia, which they lost 1-0.
“It’s important to focus on ourselves, but at the same time, we want to prepare for some of things we’re going to do tactically and some of the things they’re going to do individually and collectively,” Porter said of Alpha.
He singled out the quality of the strike partnership of Gregory Richardson, a Guyanese international who spent time with the Colorado Rapids in 2009, and Kithson Bain, along with midfielder Aldair Paredes.
“Those three guys are a handful,” Porter said.
But Porter expects his group to be more than ready for all the challenges that should come their way.
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After the Revs game, Porter sent 10 players back to Portland to prepare for Sunday’s home matchup against the Seattle Sounders while bringing 18 on the trip to Guyana. Porter didn’t go into detail about who made the trip south, but an Instagram post from center back Pa Modou Kah following their training session gave a pretty good indication.
“We’ve been building all year for this type of situation,” Porter said. “We’ve used our depth more than we’ve ever used our depth. And the reason is, over the last year-and-a-half, almost two seasons, we’ve been slowly building our depth to the point where now we can rotate our squad and there won’t be much of a drop-off.”
There won’t be much time to savor their trip to such an exotic locale as they head back to the Rose City on Wednesday, but Porter said such trips can be good for bonding. From the charter flight, which he said “was great and made it a little more convenient and relaxing” to teammates hanging out at the team hotel in Georgetown, where Porter said “there’s not a lot to do,” there have been fun aspects of the trip.
“We’re obviously taking it very seriously, it’s business as usual,” Porter said. “But there’s a lot of downtime. … So I think the only way you can kill time is to enjoy hanging out with each other.”
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com.