Surging Impact, Timbers meet in Portland (Jul 19, 2018)
The beginning to Giovanni Savarese's tenure in Portland was rocky.
The Timbers stumbled through five straight road games to start 2018, beginning the season with an 0-3-2 record.
But Savarese, whose team hosts the Montreal Impact on Saturday at Providence Park in Portland, was undeterred.
His decision to bench captain Liam Ridgewell after a 4-0 loss to the New York Red Bulls in the second game of the season sent a message to the team.
"(It's important) to make sure they understand that there's competition and we expect everybody to perform in practice, everybody to perform in games and that there's another player that's right behind them that wants to step on the field and play," Savarese said, according to The Oregonian. "That competition, I think, creates a stronger mentality. There has to be competition, but there also has to be support. I try to reward those that do well."
Since then, the Timbers (8-3-6) are unbeaten in MLS play -- they did lose their U.S. Open Cup quarterfinal match to Los Angeles FC on Wednesday -- and sit in fourth place in the Western Conference. Portland has played the second fewest games (17) of any team in the league.
During their 12-game unbeaten streak, the Timbers haven't allowed more than two goals in a game.
"Even though we change formations, we don't change our foundation," Savarese said. "That's the most important part for us, to make sure the ideas are clear. ... I'm very pleased with the mentality and how everybody has adapted to every game to make sure they come in and perform.
"We're fortunate that we have a good and strong roster. We have good players that are competing and are understanding how to adapt to formations."
The Impact (9-12-0) are 5-1 in their past six games and have climbed above the playoff cutline into sixth place in the Eastern Conference.
Montreal, which on Wednesday took the first leg of its Canadian Championship match with Vancouver, beat San Jose 2-0 on Saturday for its fifth straight home win.
"We play with more confidence offensively when we play at home," Impact coach Remi Garde told the Montreal Gazette. "It gives us more chances and more opportunities. We also hold the ball collectively more easily at home than in away games."
But it's the away games that are the problem for the Impact.
Montreal's road record (2-9-0) is the second worst among current playoff teams. Only Real Salt Lake, fifth place in the Western Conference, is worse at 1-8-1.