Portland Timbers, Caleb Porter get creative as team deals with monster stretch of games

PORTLAND, Ore. – It's in the coaching 101 conventional wisdom handbook: Don't look ahead to future opponents, and be absolutely sure you don't talk about them.

Caleb Porter doesn’t necessarily see it that way, though.

In fact, you'd be crazy not to look ahead in his position, with the team having just come off a week with three games – a 2-2 draw on June 8 with Chicago, a 2-0 US Open Cup win over the Tampa Bay Rowdies and Saturday’s 1-0 victory over first-place FC Dallas – and facing another three-game stretch starting Wednesday.

The Timbers will travel to LA to face the Galaxy (10:30 pm ET, watch on MLS Live) to kick things off, before returning home for a Sunday game against the Colorado Rapids. The following Wednesday, they will hit the road again for a US Open Cup quarterfinal match against FC Dallas.

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“We need to look at the next three games, figure out the best approach to obviously one at a time and put ourselves in a position where we can get results in those games,” Porter said. “We can’t look past any game, we’ve got to look around the corner to the next game but obviously we have to get the job done in the next game.”

So how has Porter done it while managing to sneak to within two points of first-place Dallas in the Western Conference standings?

First, by utilizing the team’s depth.

Porter’s hand was forced somewhat by the absence of four players on international team duty, all of whom are in the starting rotation. Against Chicago and Dallas, Porter utilized the combination of reserve forwards Frédéric Piquionne and José Valencia in place of starter Ryan Johnson, who was away with Jamaica.

And he has utilized part-time staring midfielders Ben Zemanski and Kalif Alhassan in both those games, as well.

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In the USOC game, Porter had the luxury of fielding a team of mostly reserves and still earned a resounding result.

“We’ve rotated the squad enough where I think we’ve been fresh mentally and physically going into games, which is a big part of winning,” Porter said. “And obviously when you rotate your squad as well your chemistry is better.”

Still, the crush of games may start to add up and on Monday, Porter ran about as light a training session as you’ll see under the detail-orientated coach.

“You need days like today where we didn't do a ton of tactics,” Porter said. “We wanted to get the ball moving and we wanted to get their speed of play going again after the game to turn them around. But, at the same time, we need to be careful, mentally, of loading too much tactical stuff on them.”

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And Porter will have a fresh set of choices for the starting XI this week with most players having already returned from international duty.

Johnson saw about 20 minutes of action against Dallas and figures to be back in the starting lineup against the Galaxy. The only player yet to return is forward Rodney Wallace (Costa Rica), who figures to be fresh considering he’s received no action with the Ticos, though they do have one qualifying game remaining, against Panama on Tuesday.

“I thought everything played out great,” Porter said of last week’s games. “But it doesn’t get any easier, we have another three games to manage.”

Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com.