Fresh off their biggest win of the season, the Portland Timbers are set to do something that may seem a bit unconventional in their next game: sit a number of the players who got them a 2-1 road win Saturday against the New York Red Bulls.
Head coach Caleb Porter called the planned move for Wednesday's match at Chivas USA (10:30 pm ET; MLS Live) “counterintuitive,” but considering their current stretch of games – three in eight days that started in New York – he said there is no other way to approach it, because this isn’t your normal three-game week, either.
Following their cross-country trip to play the Red Bulls, the Timbers hopped a plane straight to Los Angeles for Wednesday’s Western Conference matchup with Chivas USA. After that game, Portland will head home for a Cascadia showdown Sunday against the Vancouver Whitecaps. On top of that, both opponents have additional rest, as Chivas will head into the game with 11 days rest and Vancouver with a week to prepare.
“It is what it is, but it is challenging,” Porter told MLSsoccer.com in a Tuesday phone interview. “For me, it’s obviously something that needs to be looked at in the future, because we’re playing two league games and we’re playing two league teams that are completely fresh, and we’ve traveled clear across the country back and forth.”
Porter said his staff laid out a plan to rotate the squad, one he will “follow to a T,” despite the temptation to stick with the same squad that came back from a 1-0 deficit at Red Bull Arena.
“I really looked at this trip, even though it’s challenging, as a positive to build our depth, grow our group and even create some more chemistry and spirit because we traveled 23 guys, and we’re all together for a week, and it gives us more time for almost like in-season bonding,” Porter said. “I really looked at it as an opportunity to come together.”
If all that were not enough, the Timbers' roster is also depleted due to injuries and a suspension.
Porter confirmed that left back Michael Harrington will miss a third consecutive game with a sprained ankle and also said central midfielder Ben Zemanski, who started the previous two games in place of an injured Diego Chara, sustained a concussion against New York and will be out for at least two games.
Chara will be available this week, albeit with a cast on his broken hand, but right back Alvas Powell is with the Jamaican national team and will likely still have at least one game remaining on his two-game suspension when he returns.
“That even makes it more challenging,” Porter said. “But we’re confident the group we go with Wednesday will be fresh, hungry and flying.”
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Adding to its depth, Portland announced on Tuesday the signing of versatile defender/midfielder Danny O’Rourke, who had been on trial with the team the previous two weeks. But the biggest positive Porter can point to at the moment is the road win earned last weekend, one he hopes will build momentum.
“This group is extremely hungry right now,” Porter said. “We needed that first signature result, and to do it on the road is huge – we know we can win at home – so we’ll use that. That’s one you file away.”
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com.