BEAVERTON, Ore. – If the Seattle Sounders’ cup runneth over, it’s quite the opposite on the other side of Cascadia’s biggest rivalry.
Thanks to a number of injuries and a yellow-card accumulation suspension to midfielder Diego Chara, the Portland Timbers will have to cobble together a lineup for one of their biggest games of the season in Sunday’s matchup against the Sounders, Clint Dempsey and nearly 70,000 fans at CenturyLink Field.
“That’s a lot of guys, a lot of guys out,” Timbers head coach Caleb Porter said. “Again, we have to manage that. And that’s certainly going to be a factor in this game, our ability to manage that, our ability to deal with it, our ability to overcome it. It’s not going to be easy. We’re playing one of the most talented teams in the league, 70,000 fans; it’s not going to be easy. It’s going to be a difficult game, but I believe our guys are up for it.”
Despite the team’s unprecedented success, injuries have been part and parcel of the Timbers' season. They lost two forwards and two center backs for the season early in the year. And on Sunday they’ll likely be without captain and midfielder Will Johnson, who has missed the last two games with a shoulder injury. His usual backup, Ben Zemanski, missed training Friday and was called “day-to-day” by Porter due to an unreleased injury.
Furthermore, backup forward Frederic Piquionne is listed as questionable with an ankle injury, and center back Mamadou “Futty” Danso (foot) is out.
So what to do in the midfield with Chara definitely out and Johnson and Zemanski most likely out?
“I haven’t talked about injuries all season long because that’s just not my style to make excuses,” Porter said. “I could make excuses going into every game because we’ve had injuries almost every single game. In the end, nobody cares if you have injuries; they want you to figure it out.”
Attacking midfielder Diego Valeri said he’s confident with whoever is on the field.
“The problem is for Caleb because he has to think of the team,” Valeri said. “But we are very confident in this team and in every player.”
Valeri, who leads the team with 11 assists, said not much changes in their strategy: hold possession, press high.
"It’s our identity,” he said. “I think in Seattle it’s very important, but most important is we will be smart and think in moments of the game.”
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And while Porter contemplates his starting XI, his counterpart in Seattle, Sigi Schmid, has an almost full complement of players to choose from and is expected to field the imposing front line trio of the newly acquired Dempsey, Eddie Johnson and Obafemi Martins.
“The one thing about this team all season long is, when they have to overcome adversity, when their backs are against the wall, when they’re dealing with difficult circumstances, when you need more, they get more,” Porter said. “We’ve seen that time and time again. … They rise to the challenge.”
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com.