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CONCACAF Champions League: Portland Timbers say group presents daunting travel challenges

Caleb Porter

Photo Credit: 
USA TODAY Sports

BEAVERTON, Ore. – Caleb Porter did just what a lot of soccer fans did when the draw for the 2014-15 CONCACAF Champions League was announced Wednesday: He jumped on Google.

And what the Portland Timbers head coach found out about the airport his team will fly into for their away tie against Honduran club champion CD Olimpia is a bit disconcerting.

Toncontín International Airport in Tegucigalpa was ranked the world’s second most dangerous airport on the History Channel show Most Extreme Airports – yes, there is such a show – thanks to an extremely precarious approach due to its proximity to a mountain range.

“I might be sending Sean [McCauley, assistant coach] to that game,” Porter said jokingly after Friday's training session at the team facility. “I don’t know if my wife will let me go.”

No, the Timbers were not done any favors when it comes to their CCL travel plans.

In addition to Olimpia, which Porter called a “very good team,” the Timbers were also drawn into Group 5 with Guyanese club Alpha United. That trip – nearly 6,900 miles – is the longest for any of the clubs in CCL.

“It’s exciting,” Porter said. “It’s not going to be easy. … When you’re a winning club like we want to be year in and year out to have that experience under our belts is going to be really, really critical moving forward.”

The travel schedule means the Timbers will have to be especially careful in the way they manage the competition balance between CCL, the upcoming US Open Cup and the latter months of the MLS calendar. They’re getting a taste of that this week with three games in an eight-day span, which included a trip to New York to play the Red Bulls and then to Los Angeles for a midweek game against Chivas USA before they play host to the Vancouver Whitecaps on Sunday at Providence Park (9 pm ET; MLS Free Stream of the Week, TSN2 in Canada).

Porter played eight different players Wednesday against Chivas from last Saturday’s game against the Red Bulls, and it paid off with a 2-1 win over New York and a 2-0 decision over Chivas USA.

“Our ability to change our group and get a result and build confidence from one to 20 has come at a good time,” Porter said.

The Timbers did get some scheduling relief in their other non-MLS competition when the Orlando City U-23s beat the Charleston Battery in the third round of the Open Cup, giving Portland hosting rights for the fourth-round game on June 17. Had the Battery won, the Timbers would have been traveling.

“The soccer gods evened things out,” Porter said. “That helps make up, maybe, for having to travel all the way to South America to play Guyana.”

The Timbers are also hoping to have Rodney Wallace back in time for the Open Cup game to add to the squad’s depth. The attacker, who scored seven goals last season, has been out since undergoing offseason surgery to repair a torn ACL, and Porter said they’re hoping to loan him out – perhaps to USL PRO partner Sacramento Republic – to get some action before he suits up for the Timbers.

“He’s ready, he’s healthy but he needs game minutes and needs game confidence and game form,” Porter said.

Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com.