PORTLAND, Ore. – When Portland Timbers head coach John Spencer fills out his lineup card for his team’s game on Saturday at Vancouver (4:30 pm ET, watch LIVE online, TSN2 in Canada), there’s a chance the decisions of who plays where will have been the most challenging of the season.
Spencer is facing the suspensions of captain Jack Jewsbury for yellow-card accumulation and Kalif Alhassan for his red card last Saturday in the Timbers' 2-0 loss to New York.
Facing a key tilt against their Cascadia rivals, Spencer didn’t tip his hand and reveal who he’ll call on to fill in for his midfielders.
“We’re losing two great players who have been great for the team all year,” he said. “But the good thing about the squad is it’s a deep squad and I certainly have a lot of confidence in everyone who is part of this squad.”
Eric Alexander, a newcomer to the team after coming over in an August trade with FC Dallas, got his first start with the Timbers against New York on the wing in place of Sal Zizzo for defensive purposes.
Spencer said there’s a “good chance” Alexander will play again against Vancouver. Other options at midfield include James Marcelin, who’s started nine games, or Peter Lowry, who hasn’t started since March but has played well recently in reserves games.
As if missing two key components in the midfield wasn’t enough of a headache for Spencer, the forward combination of veteran Kenny Cooper and rookie Darlington Nagbe – so potent in a 3-0 win Sept. 16 against New England and 1-1 tie Sept. 21 against San Jose – seemed to go stale against the Red Bulls.
Jorge Perlaza, who most frequently teams up with Cooper, is the squad’s second-leading goal scorer and has come off the bench in the past two games after missing the New England tilt. But if it were up to Cooper, he and Nagbe will share scoring duties at Vancouver.
The big striker said he still has confidence in his pairing with Nagbe, and had his shot off the goalpost gone in with Portland trailing 1-0 in the second half against New York, the narrative would have be a lot different.
“Before New York, we were on a great run,” Cooper said. “I think that the team showed quality all throughout the field with shutouts and getting some goals, so hopefully with these last four games we can get back to [our] winning ways and show that great quality we showed before the New York game.
“I have a ton of confidence in Darlington; I think he’s an incredible talent. He doesn’t just put the ball in the back in the net, he’s incredibly dangerous, and I think a lot of people would enjoy playing with him.”
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.