The Portland Timbers are preparing to meet Real Salt Lake in the second leg of the MLS Western Conference Championship this Sunday. They find themselves down 4-2 on aggregate, with 90 minutes and a two-goal deficit standing between them and a first-time appearance in the MLS Cup championship game. After a regular season spanning 8 months and a fairly consistent game schedule, players have grown accustomed to performing on a weekly basis. However, ahead of the most important matchup of the season, both teams must cope with the lengthy break in between the two-leg MLS semifinal. With a 14-day break in between the two legs, both teams face the danger of letting their training intensity drop before heading into the biggest game of the season thus far.
Timbers coach Caleb Porter gave his players the weekend off to “recharge the batteries,” and when it came time to train, put the first team and reserves through a realistic match to simulate and address Real Salt Lake’s tendencies. He believes that the much-needed time away from the field, along with consistently high intensity in training will prepare his players heading into Sunday’s second leg in Portland.
In the steady rhythm of a typical regular season and playoff schedule, it can be easier to maintain a high level of intensity and focus each week because players are able to establish and enjoy a consistent routine. A game is played, followed by a day or two of recovery, and a few days of tactical preparation for the next game. But what happens when this routine is disrupted? When you are faced with a longer break in between games, it may be challenging to stay focused and prepared. Players should strive to develop a healthy balance of recovery and training. Give yourself some time to recharge, but also use training time wisely and put forth enough effort to ensure that your intensity remains as high as it was during the regular season. Using a process-focused approach (rather than an outcome-focused approach) in training may help you maintain focus and high intensity during times when it is more difficult to do so. To do this, set short-term process goals for each training session. These small milestones or objectives can help you stay engaged and focused, so that you are ready to perform at your highest level when the whistle blows.