Portland Timbers' Caleb Porter hoping absences create more "defined" roles vs. Columbus Crew

PORTLAND, Ore. – It’s pretty common for a coach to project optimism in the face of the absence of a regular starter or two due to injury or other circumstances.

It’s currently a common theme around MLS as player departures for World Cup camps is now underway in earnest.

The Portland Timbers won’t lose any players to international duty, but they are likely to face the absences due to injuries of key defensive players Diego Chara and Michael Harrington for Saturday’s home matchup against the Columbus Crew (10:30 pm ET; MLS Live). Rather than it being yet another blow in what has been a challenging start to the season, however, Timbers head coach Caleb Porter said it may actually help define who’s doing what on the field.

Porter said their replacements – moving Jack Jewsbury to Harrington’s left-back spot while bringing in Alvas Powell at right back and Ben Zemanski on at Chara’s holding midfielder role – are more defensive in nature.

“With the way that our lineup shakes out this week, I think we have a little bit more definition in what we’re doing, which could perhaps help us,” Porter said following Friday’s training session at Providence Park. “Because we know who’s going and who’s sitting, and sometimes that’s been a problem. So we might be in fact a little more defined and balanced because of that.”

Porter said Zemanski gives fellow central midfielder Will Johnson more freedom to get forward, while Powell offers a more offensive-minded option at outside back.

“That might mentally and tactically give us a little bit better understanding of what we’re doing at times. Not that it was bad before,” Porter said. “If you know you’ve got one guy sitting and one guy going in the holding mid and outside backs, it makes it more predictable, but it also makes it maybe a little better defensively because you know who’s sitting back and there’s not that coordination involved as much.”

If that’s what helps the Timbers put together a complete performance, Porter will certainly take it. He’s said all week that their totals of 13 goals scored and 16 allowed is not good enough in either department.

Also potentially to their benefit, the Timbers are going against a Crew side that will have three absences to their backline with the World Cup departures of US international Michael Parkhurst and Costa Ricans Giancarlo Gonzalez and Waylon Francis. The Crew have also gone three straight games without scoring a goal and are on a seven-game winless streak, a slide that has dropped them from atop the Eastern Conference standings to sixth place.

Is Porter worried the Crew’s challenges will galvanize them into a bounce-back performance?

“It’d worry me more if they had scored a lot of goals,” Porter said. “But I think they are a dangerous team, and I think they are better in the attack than they’re showing, probably similar to what teams say about us, as well. I think we’re a lot better attacking team than probably our production has shown.”

One player who could potentially provide an offensive spark for the Timbers is freshly signed Nigerian forward Fanendo Adi, obtained on a short-term loan from FC Copenhagen. The 6-foot-4 striker arrived in Portland Thursday afternoon and trained with the team Friday.

Porter said they’ll make a decision on whether he is included in the 18 later in the day.

“We’ll make a decision based on when we talk to him and see how he feels,” Porter said. “Obviously the game will dictate that as well.”

Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com.