Timbers hyped for happy homecoming as long season-opening road swing ends

CHESTER, Pa. — Giovanni Savarese did his best to prepare his team for their record season-opening 12-game road swing.

But once it finally ended, with a 3-1 win at the Philadelphia Union on Saturday, the Portland Timbers head coach revealed how much of a challenge it actually was — and how proud he was that his team managed to close it with a 4-1-1 run after an 0-5-1 start.

“You know it’s difficult,” Savarese said. “But until you leave, you don’t understand exactly how difficult. And it’s been tough. For us to still be in a position on the table fighting to get in the playoffs with all the games away, it’s very good.”

Taking stock of the entire stretch, Savarese pointed to all of the miles logged as well as the players being away from their families so much more than usual as two of the most difficult aspects to manage while Providence Park underwent renovations.

In fact, Timbers goalkeeper Steve Clark said he was “thanking his wife right now” just after making a few sparkling saves to lead the Timbers to Saturday’s road win.

“It’s been hard on our families,” Clark said. “This is not something that is easy. It’s a real strain on our lives. It’s not an easy thing that we’ve been through.”

All of which makes next Saturday’s home opener vs. first-place LAFC — almost exactly three months after their first game of 2019 — even more exciting (10:30 pm ET | ESPN2 in US, TSN in Canada).

“I think Providence Park is a very difficult place to come to,” Clark said. “The energy is going to be buzzing next week.”

On top of the excitement of being home for the first time, Timbers fans — who on Saturday saw the stadium from the inside in the first of two soft openings — will also get their first live glimpse of Brian Fernandez, the star Designated Player signed earlier this month. Fernandez has only been with the Timbers for a quarter of their 12-game road stretch, but he’s able to empathize with what his teammates have been through and what it means to come home.

“I’m very excited to finally go back, after 12 games, to Portland,” he said, just after scoring a pair of goals in Philly. “I’ve been to the stadium quite a few times myself and I can already feel the energy and the vibe from the people that are going to be there on June 1.”

With Fernandez sizzling and meshing well with Portland’s other stars, and the rest of the team coming together after an early five-game losing streak, Savarese feels confident heading into a showdown with star-studded LAFC.

“It took us a little time to put everything together,” the Timbers coach said. “I’ve been very content with what they did in this stretch — especially at the end and especially today.”

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