Developing depth serves Timbers well
The hullabaloo around Major League Soccer last week was about notable acquisitions as the summer transfer window closed.
The loudest moves came from the Los Angeles clubs. Front-running LAFC added 19-year-old Uruguyan midfielder Brian Rodriguez while the Galaxy secured forward Cristian Pavon, who was a key player for Argentina in the 2018 World Cup. Others, including Seattle, added roster depth.
Portland was quiet.
No surprise, really. President of Soccer Gavin Wilkinson was trying to add a player, primarily looking to next season and beyond. That it didn't come off should not harm the Timbers in 2019. Portland's roster is solid, its chemistry strong — and coach Giovanni Savarese has proven capable of pushing the right buttons.
After Saturday's 3-1 win over the Vancouver Whitecaps — a match impacted by youngsters Marvin Loria, Renzo Zambrano and Tomas Conechny — Savarese said he is "very content with everybody."
Loria, 22, has scored in both of his starts at Providence Park. The goals aside, Loria is doing defensive work that allows his coach to trust him.
Loria came to Portland last year as a T2 signing and was one of three T2 players promoted this season. His success is no surprise to his teammates.
"Marvin has been a revelation," Zarek Valentin said after the win over Vancouver. "We saw it last year. He came in and he was playing with T2 and immediately all the guys on the first team said it's a matter of time before he's with us."
The talent is evident, but it's Loria's professional approach that has impressed Valentin.
"He's put in the hard work. He's kept his head down. He's done everything right," Valentin said. "I'm so happy that he's being rewarded for that."
Not that Loria has arrived.
"I don't want him to settle. I'm not going to allow him to be OK scoring two goals in two (home) starts," Valentin said. "I know he won't be, but I'm not going to let him, either. We have to keep pushing that envelope."
Loria wasn't the only youngster to play a significant part in Saturday's win. With the Timbers playing their third match in seven days, Zambrano got the start alongside Diego Chara, giving Cristhian Paredes a break. Savarese praised Loria, Zambrano and Tomas Conechny, who delivered his first MLS assist to set up Jeremy Ebobisse for the goal that closed the door on Vancouver.
Diego Valeri said the development of Loria and Zambrano has been great to see.
"They feel very confident. We try to make them play in that (confident) way," Valeri said. "When you are a young guy you need experience, you need games [and] minutes, and they are in a role where they are helping the team really well."
Player development doesn't create the buzz of player acquisitions, but it is a vital ingredient for weathering the challenges of MLS.
"It's great to see these young guys stepping up and doing better, developing and competing. When we call them to come in and play, they do a great job," Savarese said.
That development is part of the reason there is no immediate need to acquire an impact player. On Saturday, trusting young players allowed Savarese to be cautious with Brian Fernandez.
The big acquisition in the spring, Fernandez is expected to be available on Wednesday when the Chicago Fire make a call at Providence Park for the second of 10 consecutive home games and the fourth of five games in a 13-day stretch.
It's another stretch that demands depth. Chara and Sebastian Blanco aside, Savarese was able to give most of his field players time off even as Portland played three times over seven days last week.
Valentin said creating a deep roster takes more than finding skilled players. Winning chemistry is vital.
"As much as we have a good batch of players, it's also good people," he said. "Everyone is a really good dude and their families are great."
Players who didn't see much of their families for five months at the start of this season will now spend the final eight weeks of the regular season enjoying the comforts of home.
Not that the Timbers can become comfortable about playing 10 of their remaining 11 matches at Providence Park. The games continue to come fast, with Wednesday's match followed by a rematch of last season's MLS Cup final with a visit from Atlanta United at 7 p.m. Sunday.
Five days after that come the Sounders, a match that will decide which supporters group will hold the Cascadia Cup. Thanks to Saturday's win over Vancouver, the regional trophy will be Portland's with a win or a draw in the Aug. 23 match against Seattle.
n The Thorns are back atop the National Women's Soccer League standings after a win over North Carolina. That perch is precarious in the intensely competitive NWSL, where four points separated the top four teams after Sunday.
Much more secure is Portland's place as the top city for women's pro soccer. Sunday's rematch of the last two NWSL championship games drew an announced sellout of 25,218 to the expanded Providence Park. It's the largest crowd to see a NWSL match and the second largest crowd for a stand-alone women's pro soccer match in America behind the 34,148 at RFK Stadium for the WUSA debut match in April of 2001.
With four weekend home games, including Saturday night's against the Washington Spirit, and another visit from the Courage on a Wednesday in September, it's a safe bet the Thorns will continue to eclipse 20,000 fans the rest of this season.
• College teams are about to join the Thorns and Timbers on the calendar. On Wednesday, the Portland Pilot women play an exhibition match at Merlo Field. On Sunday, the Pilot men take on Oregon State in their first exhibition game. Portland is ranked No. 20 and OSU is No. 22 in the United Soccer Coaches Association's preseason men's soccer poll.
• In the United Soccer Coaches Division II preseason poll, the Concordia women are ranked No. 22. Their Great Northwest Athletic Conference rival, Western Washington, is ranked No. 11.
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