PORTLAND, Ore. — When new Portland Timbers coach Giovanni Savarese met local media for the first time Monday, questions eventually turned to the Timbers roster. Where did Savarese see strengths and weaknesses?
Owner Merritt Paulson leaned into his microphone first. "He's not going to give it all away," Paulson said, prompting laughter in the press conference room.
Indeed, Savarese has already been at work with Timbers general manager Gavin Wilkinson on making offseason moves, but he's not addressing specific players for now.
"This is a good group of players, which we can build on," said Savarese, who was named Portland's new head coach on Dec. 18. "There are some areas to improve, which we've spoken about, and it's about just making sure we work on those things to bring in the right kind of players – and to improve some of the players we already have."
"I think there are valuable guys who can be better and they need to be able to push themselves a little more, some of them."
Every offseason decision so far has been made with Savarese's knowledge and blessing, Paulson said, including the blockbuster trade of Darlington Nagbe to Atlanta United. While it was a tough decision for the club, Paulson said the record-breaking allocation haul gives the Timbers roster flexibility, which Savarese supported.
"I don't need to tell people how much he's meant to this team through the years," Paulson said of Nagbe. "At the same time, guys have to want to be here. There were some contract things going on – it was a contract we'd opened up and re-done two of the last three years – and he got to a good place for him."
"Gio actually talked to him before the trade was final," Paulson added. "I know Gio would've liked to coach him, but he understood the specifics of that situation. The flexibility we have because of that trade is unique."
"Gio's on the phone with the massage therapist at Saprissa – 'Tell me about this player off the field.' How he knows that guy, I have no idea," Paulson said with a laugh. "But he's at every rung, getting good information and doing a lot of scouting. There's an attacking player we're hopeful to announce this week that he's been very much in the loop on."
Paulson added there will be at least "some roster activity all the way through the end of preseason" that Savarese will be involved in.
But the Timbers have been clear they feel they have a strong core to their team, which finished atop the Western Conference last season. As Wilkinson said, the club's top coaching candidates needed clear ideas about how to improve the club, but "they also had to understand that the team is good enough right now and that with key additions and key changes, we can continue to get better and play the way we want to play."
That probably means adding depth to the roster as Savarese said players should "compete for positions" on the field.
What no one should expect, however, is for the Timbers to change their style drastically from the Caleb Porter era. Wilkinson emphasized that Savarese shared the Timbers vision for how the team should play, which is the proactive, attacking soccer that has been a hallmark under Wilkinson and Paulson.
"Those who have seen my teams play know that I'm a coach that likes to have the dominant team on the field, to be the team that has the ball and control the flow of the game," Savarese said. "It's offensive-minded and we take risks sometimes."
Defensively, Portland fans should expect the Timbers to play with a high press and try to win the ball back, he added.
"It's a team and a club that's coming into the season to be a winning club," Savarese said. "What I can promise is we will be as best as we can be for that first match. It's a process. Day by day, we'll improve."