BEAVERTON, Ore. – There were plenty of questions surrounding Jack Jewsbury heading into 2013.
The veteran midfielder – the Portland Timbers’ captain the past two seasons and club’s only MLS All-Star selection from their inaugural year – had missed most of the preseason with a hamstring tear. The injury and return to fitness prevented him from playing in Portland’s first two games.
Meanwhile, newly-acquired midfielder Will Johnson was named the team’s on-field captain while Jewsbury was tabbed “club captain,” a distinction new head coach Caleb Porter said is often reserved for esteemed veterans. It was easy to see Jewsbury’s role on the pitch being significantly diminished in his 10th MLS season.
That was, at least, before Saturday’s 1-1 draw with the Seattle Sounders. Jewsbury got his first start of the season and played a crucial role as a defensive midfielder.
“I honestly think it’s the ideal role for him at this point in his career where he can kind of act as a pivot where he can sit in front of the center backs,” Porter told MLSsoccer.com from the team’s training facility as they face an off weekend before traveling to Colorado for a March 30 game against the Rapids.
Jewsbury said getting injured early in the preseason just as Porter began the club’s transformation was a worst-case scenario. Of course, Jewsbury, a consummate professional, said and did all the right things, supporting Johnson as the new captain and the club as they took on a new identity. But he said getting back on the pitch in the club’s first big Cascadia rivalry match was rewarding.
“Missing that first month with the torn hamstring was pretty hard for me because you want to be a part of the group from the get go,” Jewsbury told MLSsoccer.com. “And I had a little setback there. I felt good. Obviously, the group, I thought we performed quite well once we got settled into the match.”
Jewsbury’s addition allowed Porter to tweak his formation from a version of the 4-3-3 that he employed in their first two games – resulting in five goals allowed – to more of a 4-4-2 with Jewsbury at the base of a midfield diamond. Porter, however, shies away from strict formation descriptions, but the result was a season-low seven shots allowed.
“I don’t really get caught up in the numbers game,” Porter said. “More than anything our players know how we’re attacking and how we’re defending. I think that tweak with Jack in there allowed us to play through Jack more, it allowed us to protect our center backs.”
In his first two years with the Timbers, Jewsbury was often in a more attacking role. But he said he’s comfortable shoring up the defense.
“We’ve worked on different formations, different personnel in there, and that’s a position in that holding midfield spot right in front of the center backs that I feel comfortable with,” he said. “It was one that we kind of thought would help put out some fires defensively.”
And for those who think it was a one-game matchup adjustment against a high-powered Seattle offense before Porter returns to a more guns blazing formation, they might be surprised.
“It’s a pretty good middle,” Porter said. “If you look at our shape and our rotation out of our shape, there’s a lot of fluidity.
"So it’s kind of hard to box the system, which I think in some ways it makes it difficult for the opponent because we look differently in the attack than when we defend," Porter added, "and there’s some rotations and interchanging that will have to keep opponents on their toes in having to deal with it.”
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com.