Giovanni Savarese - Portland Timbers - looking up - tight shot
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Portland Timbers head coach Giovanni Savarese discusses how team is staying sharp during MLS suspension

PORTLAND, Ore. — On Friday morning, after a week of no MLS soccer being played, Portland Timbers head coach Giovanni Savarese logged onto a Zoom conference call with the media, a ritual many people have had to become used to over the past week.

“Good morning, guys. I miss you all,” Savarese said with a chuckle.

On Thursday, Major League Soccer announced that it was extending its suspension of all matches, with a target of May 10 as the return date. The extension falls in line with the recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to cancel mass gatherings of 50 or more people for eight weeks.

With the suspension of season comes the challenge for teams of navigating training and communication in a time of self-isolation. Despite these hurdles, Savarese and the rest of the Timbers organization have been working to figure out how best to communicate as a team during unprecedented circumstances.

“This is a difficult time because we plan and every time we have something planned, something changes,” Savarese said. “So we are trying to make sure that the players don’t lose the work we did during the preseason.”

Constant communication between himself and his team has been key during the suspension for Savarese. One priority has been working with the strength and conditioning coaches to make sure the players have a consistent training regimen, with the players reporting back daily on what they’ve done.

Beyond just communicating instructions and workouts, Savarese also said they’re working on getting players equipment such as stationary bikes so that they can work out from home. While he admits it has been difficult to figure how to keep his team in shape while following MLS and CDC guidelines, they are trying to find creative ways to do so.

“We try to be as creative as we can,” Savarese said. “We’ve seen also players trying to make the best out of it, getting lots to be able to do some exercises and everybody’s been very much involved in following everything that we have given them so far.”

The Timbers have also taken the opportunity to continue grinding through film, with Savarese and the staff sending clips and videos to players for players to analyze. And with the top priority being health, both physical and mental, Savarese and staff have continued to communicate every day with players about how they feel and if they need anything.

Savarese noted that no players have shown symptoms of COVID-19 so far and stressed the importance of prioritizing those who show symptoms and need tests.

“We also are very diligent to ensure that we need players to know that if there’s something where they might show some symptoms because we want to make sure that we don’t over-stress the situation,” Savarese said. “We know that there’s many people that need the testing and that’s why we’re making sure that we communicate first and that we’re very thorough with each player.”

The spread of COVID-19 is an issue bigger than just its effect on MLS. Savarese even briefly mentioned how the virus has affected his friends and family in Italy, one of the countries most heavily affected by the pandemic. While he believes there will be a need for reflection after such a difficult time, Savarese said that he hopes soccer can bring fans together soon. But for now, he encourages everyone to continue following the CDC guidelines.

“This difficult moment has shown how much we miss our work, how much we miss watching sports, how much we had the fortune to be able to to be at games, for me to do this job and being able to be with so many players,” Savarese said. “So I definitely can’t wait for that moment to come and to have everybody in the stadiums watching games.”