Portland Timbers

Gio Savarese on Portland Timbers goals for 2022 MLS season

Lizzy Becherano
Giovanni Savarese on the Portland Timbers' expectations going into the 2022 season
Giovanni Savarese on the Portland Timbers' expectations going into the 2022 season / Steve Dykes/GettyImages

The Portland Timbers hosted the 2021 MLS Cup with hopes of lifting the trophy in front of thousands of its own fans at Providence Park.

After 120+ minutes of play, NYCFC defeated the home side on penalties to win their first ever league championship. 

Going into the new campaign expectations are as high as ever and Savarese has vowed to do everything possible to ensure that the “Portland Timbers continue to stay competitive.”

In an exclusive interview with 90min, the head coach explains what it means to be undergoing a 'transitional year', while striving to be their best version on the pitch. 

The team made it to the MLS cup last season and ended with penalties going the other way. What are you hoping to achieve going into the 2022 MLS season?

"First of all, looking back at 2021, being able to play a final in Portland and unfortunately not being able to lift the trophy for all of us here at the Timbers left us with that desire to come back in 2022 and work very hard to try to come back into the final. 

"But we know that the path is very long. We know that there's a lot of work to be done and we as a group are working just very hard day to day to make sure that we can stay competitive with all the little things that we always have to deal with: injuries and different situations. 

"But with the culture within, and a group of coaches and players that definitely are willing to put the work back again to try to get there game by game, practice by practice, we will try to make 2022 another year in which we show that the Portland Timbers continue to stay competitive."

How does last season’s MLS Cup result impact the expectations going into 2022?

"Maybe on the outside, yes. But the reality is, regardless of winning or losing that final, we would have to come back with the same desire to be back there and win it.

"So this is the mentality that we have. These are the standards that we have put ourselves in the group and especially me as a coach, which I'm the one that has to set the biggest bar in order to be an example for everybody, for us to make sure that we stay competitive this year as well."

Any regrets from last season you hope to amend in 2022?

"No, I don't think regrets is the word that we will use, but more of a learning lesson. I think there's always a way to learn in the good moments, and during the bad moments is to identify what can make you better.

"And I think there's many learning lessons that you find within, you know, the games that you play, the people that you surround yourself with, decisions that you make. And I think when you are able to put yourself in that scenario and analyze all those aspects you wish and you hope to continue to grow."

What excites you most about this upcoming season?

"First of all, 2022. I mean, it's incredible. And the group is a group that I, as a coach, feel very, very lucky and privileged to have. For me it's about making sure that I come back with so much energy again to motivate everyone in order to continue to enjoy every moment that we have. 

"Because at the end of the day, yes, the wins are great and the results, but the process, the day to day, every minute that we spend together, the laughs, the jokes, the games, that is the fun part.

"And then when that leads to success it's great, and that is the expectation of 2022. We need to enjoy the process, and set high bars in ourselves, knowing that we need to stay in a middle ground because it's going to be high moments, lower moments. But it's how we navigate through as a group that is going to make the difference."

The Timbers have seen a busy transfer window, most notably the departure of Diego Valeri. How has this impacted your plans for the team?

"Yes, this is a transitional year and the reason why I say that is because when you lose such an important component of what has been a huge participant of the success of the team, when you don't have a Diego Valeri, then you are forced into a transitional year. 

"We do have so many players that have contributed so much for this organization, like Diego Chara, Seba Blanco, Ayala and I can continue to put names. But not having Diego Valeri means this is a different year, a new year.

"But those ones that I mentioned and others still maintain very much the culture of the club and within the locker room. And now it's time also for some players, younger players to have the opportunity and be part of the team like Santiago Moreno last year. Like Ayala coming in and all the players that were drafted and signed, they will definitely bring a new energy, a new oxygen to the squad."

Is there one specific rival you are eager to face?

"It's no secret. I think that our Seattle Sounders match ups, they're at the top. I think it is one of the best rivalries in Major League Soccer. It has always been. I think, maybe the best because of what it means to both cities, to the fanbase.

"And it's fun for us, whoever wins in that match to enjoy the moment. But also, I have to say that it comes with a lot of respect between coaches, between everyone that knows how competitive we want to be in those games. That's one that never disappoints. Those games are probably the games that as a coach, I have to top the list. 

"I don't have to motivate the players too much because everyone understands the importance of those matches. And now it is to make sure that those new players continue to have that desire to maintain their rivalry. Very competitive."

What does this club mean to you?

"I'm not just someone that shows up to coach a game and try to put tactics and manage a group. I'm someone that always is very much invested in the club and in everything that is surrounds.

"The fans, the club, the game, everything; because I live it with a passion and desire to make sure that we don't only think about ourselves, but we think about everyone that is participating in the organization and the success of a club. Fans are very important.

"The city of Portland is very important to the organization. Every spot within the organization, the equipment manager, the ticket sales, everyone plays an important role. And for me, I believe in who we are. And that's why for me, it's very important to give everything that I have for everyone that is here."