Timbers open CCL Tuesday
The Portland Timbers play their first competitive match of 2021 at 3 p.m. Tuesday, April 6, (TV on FS1) when they begin the 2021 Concacaf Champions League against Club Deportivo Marathon in San Pedro Sula, Honduras.
The match is the first of two legs in the round-of-16 in the tournament. The CCL brings together teams that qualified during 2020 for the competition among teams from North America, Central America and the Caribbean.
The second leg will be at 5 p.m. Tuesday, April 13, at Providence Park. Fans will be allowed at 25% capacity.
The team that scores the most goals over the two legs advances to the quarterfinals. The first tie-breaker is away goals, which gives the Timbers incentive to push for a goal or two on Tuesday.
This is the third time the Timbers have qualified for the CCL. They did not advance beyond the initial stage of the competition in their first two tournaments.
Portland qualified for this tournament by winning the 2020 MLS is Back tournament.
CD Marathon has struggled in its domestic competition in 2021 and sits at the bottom of its division, though it did win its most recent match. But tournaments such as the CCL can give struggling teams new focus and the Timbers are expecting a challenging match.
"We expect a very difficult match in difficult conditions here, with the heat … and it's been raining quite a bit as well so the field is going to be wet," Timbers coach Giovanni Savarese said during an April 5 media session.
Early-round matchups are historically challenging for MLS teams coming out of preseason training and playing against clubs in the meat of their schedule.
The first match for any MLS team "is always a complicated one," Savarese said.
Portland's Diego Valeri agreed, saying that finding a competitive gear is the biggest of the many challenges when playing in Central America.
"The biggest challenge is to play with the rhythm that it needs to be played (at). We have played preseason games, but it's not the same as an official game," Valeri said. "(Marathon) are in rhythm. That's the biggest challenge, how you can manage the rhythm of the game and sustain it during 90 minutes and take advantage as quick as you can in the game to dominate the phases."
In Marathon, Savarese sees an opponent that will play a direct attacking style. The Timbers will be as pragmatic as necessary to get a positive result, he said.
Valeri noted that the format for this tournament is different from the four-team group phase that opened the previous Concacaf Champions League tournaments.
"In an elimination system, you have to be tough to break through, you have to defend well," Valeri said. "And then be efficient in the moments you are having chances (to score)."
Midfielder Diego Chara, who like Valeri played in Portland's previous CCL tournaments, said focus is critical.
"During the previous games we played in Concacaf (Champions League), we made a lot of mistakes. We didn't focus all the time, giving chance(s) to the other team. Now, given a chance to play in this tournament, we need to learn from those experiences," Chara said.
The Timbers will be without forward Jeremy Ebobisse (hamstring). Attacker Sebastian Blanco is training with the team in Honduras and Savarese was vague about when Blanco might return to competition, using the words "very soon" during a Monday press availability.
It would be surprising to see Blanco make his return in an unpredictable match in challenging weather conditions, but the fact that the Argentine Designated Player is with the team in Honduras is a positive sign.
MLS adds concussion substitution — Major League Soccer announced a rule change to allow for a team to make an extra substitution when a player suffers a concussion. The extra substitution will be in addition to the five allowed under current FIFA rules.
Savarese said he is "all for it," and called the rule another important example of MLS being innovative.
"If it's going to protect players and give the teams the ability to make a substitution, it's definitely going to be something positive," Savarese said. "Ultimately, the most important part is that we don't take advantage of this" and use it to protect players and not for coaches to manipulate lineups.
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