BEAVERTON, Ore. — Under first-year coach Giovanni Savarese, the Portland Timbers are the first No. 5 seed in the Western Conference to reach MLS Cup.
Just how have Savarese and his staff orchestrated such a run? According to his players, it may all come down to meticulous preparation, and a clear communication of a gameplan before every match.
“I think he is very clear in what he wants of every one of us," Timbers captain Diego Valeri said on Saturday. "He gives you a lot of freedom and form that confidence and that feeling he gives you in the field you want to give the best you have."
That effort by Savarese and his staff has enabled the Timbers to be able to consistently change their objectives in each match, sometimes taking a radically different tactical approach from the week before. To be able to do this successfully, Portland have relied on their depth.
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“We've done it in a variety of different ways this year,” said defender Zarek Valentin. “We've played multiple different systems. We've done multiple different things. Sometimes it's worked. Sometimes it hasn't worked. But I think that everyone's gotten their chance at one point or another and we put ourselves in a position to win a final to get a trophy.”
The team’s depth gives Savarese much needed tactical flexibility. in 2018, 16 different Timbers have scored a goal, the most ever in club history and a number surpassed in MLS this season only by FC Dallas.
And it’s hard to argue with the results: Portland finished the regular season with 15 wins, which equaled last year’s team for the most MLS wins Portland has had in a single season, and ties Savarese for the third-most coaching wins by a first-year MLS boss.
Savarese joined the Timbers after wearing many different hats in the soccer world since retiring in 2004. Those different experiences helped him develop different viewpoints on the game and how to set up his team.
"The more experience that you have in soccer in different levels, the more you can learn. I've done a little bit of everything," said the former Venezuelan international. "From sporting director, coach, a commentator, scouting. All that helps you to have more experience to make sure you do you job as a coach which is the thing I love the most. With a little bit knowledge. Then you put everything into it and you continue to learn all the time."
Savarese freely admits that in-game adjustments to the gameplan are just as important. And perhaps due to a skill at halftime adjustments, the Timbers scored 35 of their 54 league goals after the break.
In the process, he has made believers of his players.
“He's got winning in his blood,” Valentin said of Savarese and his "incredible" support staff. “I'm happy that it's here in Portland.”