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Portland hits the practice pitch for the first time in 2021 with 41 days to prep for CCL opener.

Jeremy EbobisseThe first day of any season carries with it natural hope.

That was the case Wednesday, Feb. 24, in Beaverton as the Portland Timbers hit the training field as a group for the first time in 2021.

The Timbers have 41 days to prepare their first counting match — an April 6 visit to CD Marathon in Honduras to open Concacaf Champions League competition. The 2021 MLS schedule, expected to begin in early April, has not been announced.

"We had a nice talk this morning about the (club's) goals. I see the guys (are) very hungry, very in-tune, very eager to come back and start working," Timbers coach Giovanni Savarese said.

The day included reflection, too, on missed opportunities in 2020.

Savarese pointed to the club's trouble closing out matches with the lead as the Achilles heel that prevented Portland from doing more special things in 2020.

Forward Jeremy Ebobisse described 2020 — in many ways a breakout year individually for him — as showing the club both incredible highs, such as winning the MLS is Back Tournament, and tough lows such as failing to see out their playoff match against FC Dallas despite leading late.

"The way that we lost (to FC Dallas on penalty kicks) was just so emblematic of our season, giving up goals late in games," Ebobisse said. "Now that we've seen the height of where we can go to, winning tournaments, being a team that's really feared, but also the lows, which is wasting all of our good work, we need to maintain the high level … and really try to sustain that for a long season."

Only time will tell if the Timbers improve at closing out games. As training camp opens, Portland's additions are outside backs Claudio Brava and Josecarlos Van Rankin. Both trained with the club for the first time on Wednesday.

Savarese said the Timbers would like to add one or two more players. He did not specify, but center back seems to be an area that could use added depth.

The middle of the defense, so far, remains unchanged. Larrys Mabiala and Dario Zuparic are returning starters, but Bill Tuiloma and second-year man Zac McGraw are the only other central defenders on the roster, with Julio Cascante being traded to expansion club Austin FC.

The recovery of Sebastian Blanco, who tore his ACL on Sept. 6 in Seattle, appears to be ahead of schedule. Savarese would not commit to a return date for the 32-year-old Argentine who was MVP of the MLS is Back Tournament last summer.

"Seba is an amazing person. His work ethic is incredible. He's doing so well, pushing himself daily to make sure that he can come back as soon as possible," Savarese said, adding that the club will be cautious with Blanco and not rush him back.

There is no announced timetable for the return of the other injured Designated Player, Jaroslaw Niezgoda, who also is rehabilitating a torn ACL. With Ebobisse (and midfielder Eryk Williamson) in the mix to possibly play for the United States in Olympic qualifying matches in March, returning forward Felipe More might be busy up front early in the season.

Here is the Timbers' current roster:

Goalkeepers — Jeff Attinella, Steve Clark, Aljaz Ivacic, Hunter Sulte

Defenders — Pablo Bonilla, Claudio Bravo, Larrys Mabiala, Zac McGraw, Bill Tuiloma, Josecarlos Van Rankin, Dario Zuparic

Midfielders — Dairon Asprilla, Sebastian Blanco, Blake Bodily, Diego Chara, Yimmi Chara, Tomas Conechny, Marvin Loria, Cristhian Paredes, Andy Polo, Diego Valeri, Eryk Williamson, Renzo Zambrano

Forwards — Jeremy Ebobisse, Felipe Mora, Jaroslaw Niezgoda


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