The Portland Timbers return to the pitch Tuesday in the MLS is Back Tournament final to face Orlando City.
The winner will claim Major League Soccer’s first berth into the Concacaf Champions League competition for 2021, as well as MLS’s first 2020 trophy and $300,000 in cash.
Timbers head coach Giovanni Savarese said that getting to the final match is a result of the players’ disciplined training amid an unusual season due to the coronavirus.
“This is a result of the great work of the players, and it doesn’t start from the beginning of this tournament, it starts from the time that we had during the quarantine,” Savarese said.
“The guys have worked very hard to make sure that we arrive the best possible way ... understanding that the best strength of this group is the group. [I’m] extremely proud and content to have the opportunity to play this final.”
The MLS is Back tournament has been underway since July 8 at a Disney-owned sports complex in Orlando, Florida. Players, coaches, referees and other personnel have been regularly tested and isolated from the general public in an effort to prevent them from contracting COVID-19. The league reports no new positive test results have been confirmed since the tournament opened.
Ahead of the final, Guinness World Records announced Monday that the tournament is recognized as the largest single location professional soccer tournament in the world, with approximately 750 players and nearly 500 staff participating. MLS was the first of North America’s major men’s professional sports leagues to return to play after restarting the 2020 season on July 8, despite the country’s surge in COVID-19 cases. Players and staff have been maintaining strict health protocols such as wearing masks and distancing within their team bubble during the month-long tournament.
Due to the long hiatus amid the pandemic, returning to tournament play felt a bit like a preseason game for some players. But Timbers midfielder Diego Valeri said the team has been ultra-focused on taking the cup home to Portland.
“After all this break [time], all that time just being home — we didn’t have the chance to train with the teams, so it was a long process. Now, being at this point, it’s a great feeling ... even when we trained individually, we all knew that this tournament was going to come, and we were focused on putting the Timbers in this position,” Valeri said.
“It’s a feeling of satisfaction, and we want to complete it by performing tomorrow and winning the trophy.”
Tuesday’s match is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. PDT. It will be telecast by ESPN.