PORTLAND, Ore. – When you’re approaching a third game in a week’s time, there is often a lot of hand wringing.
On the list? Worries over who’s healthy, who’s legs haven’t turned to mush, whether there is enough mental energy left to keep an edge.
For the Portland Timbers, however, thanks to a carefully planned yet gutsy decision to practically flip the roster in the second of a two-game road trip, none of those worries exist for Sunday’s Cascadia showdown with the Vancouver Whitecaps (9 pm ET; MLS Live).
Motivation certainly won’t be a problem as the Timbers return home riding their first multiple-game winning streak of the season on the franchise’s first consecutive wins on the road to face a regional rival at Providence Park.
“It’s a huge game,” Timbers head coach Caleb Porter said following Friday’s training session. “It’s huge for continuing to build momentum. We have a really good run of form right now, our confidence is at an all-time high right now, our spirit is at an all-time high because e played 19 players last week. So that’s huge because it helps the chemistry.”
The problems exist only in deciding who gets into the XI. And that’s a welcome dilemma considering the group’s current run of form – especially at striker.
Both Maximiliano Urruti and the newly signed Fanendo Adi bagged braces last week, in Portland’s 2-1 win over the New York Red Bulls over the weekend and their 2-0 midweek win over Chivas USA, respectively.
“It couldn’t have worked out any better,” Porter said. “You start Maxi, two goals, it validates the decision. You start Adi the next game, it validates the decision. And now you have a decision to make.”
And that’s not to mention their third striker, Gaston Fernandez, whose late goal rescued a 3-3 draw against the Columbus Crew on May 17. Also, left back Jorge Villafana, who got his first two starts in a Timbers shirt in place of the injured Michael Harrington, who was back at training Friday and Saturday, recorded two assists over the last two games.
“Now we come back to play Vancouver at home and because we approached it that way we can select anybody we want and – with the exception of a couple guys – they only have one game on their legs,” Porter said.
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And an injection of new blood also breathed some life into what was a beleaguered backline coming off the Columbus game. In addition to Villafana, Porter called on for the first time this season center back Rauwshan McKenzie and newly signed right back Danny O’Rourke and also handed the first minutes in nearly a month to central defender Norberto Paparatto. It paid off, with only a penalty kick conceded against New York and their first clean sheet of the season against Chivas.
“We didn’t really have much time together,” said O’Rourke, who last played at Columbus and also played under Porter when he was an assistant coach at the University of Indiana. “But anytime you have four guys who work hard and you have Will [Johnson] and [Diego] Chara in the midfield who are pretty honest, it is fairly easy to click right away.”
The solid run of form couldn’t have come at a better time, either, with high-flying Vancouver coming to town. The Whitecaps are coming off a back-and-forth 2-2 draw last weekend against the Seattle Sounders and play full-out attacking soccer under new head coach Carl Robinson.
“I know they’re talking a lot about coming in and playing their game and going toe to toe with us; that’s great,” Porter said. “Yeah, we like it when teams do that, at home, versus us. And we look forward to that.”
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com.