Nearly three months to the day after a 2-0 win in Dallas left them a point shy of the playoffs, the Portland Timbers returned to training at Providence Park on Friday.
Looking to shake off a rocky 2014, the mood around the stadium was upbeat and positive. “[It’s] great to be back,” said head coach Caleb Porter. “Obviously I love what I do, and these guys love what they do so it’s good to be on the pitch again [to] build towards the start of the year.”
Along with the usual talk of fitness and tactical prep, the theme of the year so far is continuity, something the Timbers have had difficulty achieving throughout their previous four years in MLS.
“We are returning 22 players, so it makes it a lot easier,” Porter said. “[There’s] not as much tinkering and figuring out. This is the most continuity we’ve had, hopefully that’s an advantage. To start the year with a group that’s pretty settled I think is a real positive.”
Porter also stressed the need for depth, and how it was addressed in the offseason. “We feel like we’re better in a few spots,” he said. “We also kept a really strong, experienced core, so I think that’ll help us hit the ground running.” That continuity applies to the whole staff, not just the players. “This is the first year we’ve had our fitness coach back again, so we feel like that’s really going to be a big benefit to start the year,” said Porter. “I think continuity in staff is crucial as well.”
All four new signings trained with the first team, and looked to be fitting in seamlessly, including winger/forward Dairon Asprilla. The 22-year old Colombian comes to the Rose City from Alianza Petrolina of the Colombian First Division, and adds depth across Portland’s attack. “We like him because he can play anywhere along the front three and even if we go with two strikers, he fits that as well,” said Porter. “Most likely early in the year—because we need more depth in those positions—he’ll be looked at more as a winger.”
The Timbers train for five days in Portland before departing for the Kino Sports Complex in Tucson, Arizona for further training and preparatory matches. Their first preseason match is this Saturday (!) against Sporting Kansas City at 5pm PST.