Giovanni Savarese - standing - National Anthem
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Savarese pleased with progress, but knows form won't matter vs. Seattle

PORTLAND, Ore. – “It’s important that we struggle now,” Portland Timbers coach Giovanni Savarese said following a 4-0 loss to the New York Red Bulls in early March.

Since those early hard times, it's become somewhat of a fair question to wonder whether Savarese's men will ever struggle again.

Portland enter this Saturday's derby against the Seattle Sounders (4:30 pm ET | FOX - Full TV & streaming info) on a nine-game unbeaten run in the league, a stretch that is actually 11 if you also include two successful U.S. Open Cup matches.

“I think we are now are different from where we were at that time,” Savarese told reporters this week. What he sees now “is a team working together in every area of the field. And the mentality is very strong."

Following a recent surge that included an impressive 1-1 draw at Atlanta United last Sunday, the Timbers are still only in fifth place in the Western Conference standings heading into their second derby this season against Seattle.

Savarese hasn't put much thought into whether his side's recent form should bring more respect than their current place in the table would suggest. As far he's concerned, the only match that matters is the next one on the schedule.

“Those are only numbers,” Savarese has said about the streak. “We can be only as good as we can be on that game. [We take it] one game at a time.”

Since Savarese took the reigns following Caleb Porter's departure from Portland last year, he's emphasized mental toughness. And he's noticed more of it in recent weeks, both in training and in matches.

"[The players] battle one another in practice to get onto the field,” Savarese says.

With the players buying in, it’s no surprise where the team's focus lies.

“I know we play Seattle this weekend,” he says. “[The team] has to be ready and eager to give everything this match. It’s a final for us, this match. [Just] as every single game is. We have to focus on what is in front of us.”