Jorge Villafana, Lucas Melano - Portland Timbers - split image
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No Villafaña, Melano vs. Seattle as Timbers stay patient with returnees

PORTLAND, Ore. – The Portland Timbers had an eventful summer transfer window, bringing back two members of the team’s 2015 MLS Cup-winning side in forward Lucas Melano and left back Jorge Villafaña.

Now, two weeks after the transfer window closed, the pair are still working toward their first appearances with the 2018 iteration of the team.

Despite the Timbers’ current three-game losing streak and Sunday’s Heineken Rivalry Week match against the red-hot Seattle Sounders, Timbers coach Giovanni Savarese is taking a measured approach to the side’s newly-returned players.

“It is just about getting them fit to the point that they can give everything that they can give while also working with them to adapt to some of the changes that we have made on the team,” Savarese told the press on Tuesday, confirming that neither player would be available for Sunday’s Cascadia Cup duel (9:30 pm ET | FS1 — Full TV and streaming info).

Villafaña, who played 52 games for the Timbers from 2014 to 2015, is recovering from a shoulder injury and is still several days away from match fitness.

Melano, who scored four goals and provided eight assists in 44 games while playing primarily on the wing during his first stint with the Timbers from 2015 to 2016, has made two appearances with the Timbers’ USL affiliate, T2, including playing 45 minutes on Wednesday.

While Timbers fans are waiting with bated breath for both to see their first MLS minutes of the year, the pair are still in a unique and advantageous situation as they reintegrate with their old club.

“It is great because they have been here before,” said Savarese. “They understand the locker room. They understand the league. They love this club and they are very content to be back again in the city they call home. So, the integration and the adaptation is a lot easier because they have been here already.”

As the Timbers work Villafaña and Melano back into the team, the pair are also readjusting to life in Portland after spending time in Mexico and Argentina, respectively.

“It helps [having Melano returning at the same time] because we do everything together right now,” Villafaña told the press on Wednesday after training. “We are staying at the same hotel. We go out to eat. Right now when I do not have a house, I go out with him and do everything. That helps a lot to have someone while my family is not here yet. They will be here at the end of the month. It is fun to have someone around that you can go out and hang out with.”

For Villafaña, who transferred from the Timbers to Liga MX side Santos Laguna for a reported transfer fee of around $1 million after their MLS Cup win and subsequently became a U.S. men's national team regular, the return to Portland and his positive reception from the fans comes with some weighty expectations.

“I am happy at the reaction [of the fans],” said Villafaña, “but with that comes a lot of responsibility. You have to show why they are so happy that you are here.”

Melano, meanwhile, left during the Timbers’ more difficult 2016 season and returns to Portland as a player whose talent went largely unrealized in his first stint with the team. How Melano will be used – and how well he will produce – remains to be seen, but Savarese has stated his intention to use the speedy 25-year-old as a forward, rather than as a winger.

“I think that what he is showing is very positive,” said Savarese, “not only in the game but also in practice. After the time that he had been away, there is something really positive when every staff member that deals with a player brings you something positive to say; in the fact that he is working hard, in the fact that they like what they see in his attitude and how he went about the game.”

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