TUCSON, Arizona — Portland Timbers goalkeeper coach Guillermo Valencia placed a barrier a few steps in front of the goal line at training Tuesday morning and proceeded to lob ball after ball off the wall.
Each of the club’s goalkeepers took a turn in the net, diving left and right in an attempt to stop the balls, which would hit the barrier and shoot unpredictably in every direction.
“He’s definitely introducing a lot of new things and I’m doing a lot of drills that I’ve never done before,” Timbers goalkeeper Jeff Attinella said. “It’s really creative stuff. We’re learning a lot and he’s keeping it really fun.”
The Timbers named Valencia as the club’s new goalkeeper coach in January, less than a month after the organization hired Giovanni Savarese as their new head coach.
Valencia, who everyone calls “Memo,” came to the United States in 2003 after a long professional career as a goalkeeper in Colombia. He met Savarese in 2004 when they both competed for the Long Island Rough Riders and the two kept in touch over the years. Valencia went on to spend five seasons as the New York Cosmos goalkeeper coach while Savarese was at the helm.
And when Savarese left the Cosmos to become the Timbers head coach last December, he made it a priority to bring Valencia with him.
“I think it was a great opportunity for me to be in this organization and in MLS,” Valencia said. “It’s been great since we came to Portland. Everyone has been very helpful and open and made us feel at home.”
Both Attinella and goalkeeper Jake Gleeson said that Valencia has brought a new perspective to practice sessions so far this year and both feel as if they are being pushed in new ways as they strive to take their games to the next level.
With Savarese at the helm, the club will look to play out of the back even more this season and Valencia said it will be critical for the goalkeepers to be comfortable with the ball at their feet. He has also introduced a handful of new drills in an attempt to mimic in-game situations and force the goalkeepers to react quickly and make smart decisions.
Adin Brown, who was the club’s goalkeeper coach last season,also remains with the club and will be working with both the T2 and first team goalkeepers this year. Gleeson said that it has been beneficial to have two coaches offering input during training.
“I think every time you get a new coach and you get a new goalie coach, you’re going to work on different things,” Gleeson said. “It’s a different insight into the position and you learn and you develop and you grow. Having both those guys have their eyes on you and give you feedback is huge.”
The change in coaching comes at timewhen competition for the starting goalkeeper role is fierce.
Gleeson entered last season as the starting goalkeeper after a standout campaign in 2016.But his 2017 season was marred by inconsistency and a handful of critical errors.The 27-year-old posted 52 saves, a goals against average of1.43 and a save percentage of 62.7 in 21 starts before losing the starting position to Attinella in August.
“Last year was definitely an up and down year,” Gleeson said. “It wasn’t the year I had hoped for. I think on and off the field, it was just one of those years, it was a growing year. I’m going to use it as that. There were good times and bad times and the only way to get better is to learn from those bad times and grow from it.”
Attinella started in Portland’s final nine games of the 2017 regular season, recording 29 saves, a goals against average of 0.78 and four clean sheets in those appearances.
But Attinella also struggled through inconsistency during what was the longest stretch of starts in his MLS career.
“Good, not great,” said Attinella of his 2017 campaign. “I feel like I have a lot to learn from my experience last year. I spent my offseason thinking about what I can do to improve. Hopefully, this year and moving forward, it’s something I can build on.”
While Attinella entered preseason as the presumed starter and got the nod in Portland’s first two preseason games of the year against San Jose Wednesday and Seattle Saturday, Gleeson and goalkeeper Kendall McIntosh saw minutes in those games as well and Valencia said there remains an “open competition” for the starting goalkeeper spot this season.
Andthe goalkeepers have entered preseason motivated to compete for that role.
Valencia has had the goalkeepers arrive to training 15-20 minutes earlier than the rest of the team during preseason so far and he has been impressed with the competition in training and the willingness of the players to adapt and grow.
“I see great guys, humble guys, guys that want to work,” Valencia said. “They’ve been open minded about the training sessions and the way that we work. I think it has been a great start for all of us.”