Ben Zemanski
USA Today Sports

Trial by fire: Portland Timbers utility man Ben Zemanski making a home at right back

BEAVERTON, Ore. – As Portland Timbers head coach Caleb Porter continues to search for the right balance between attacking and defense, two notable lineup changes have taken place.

One has been adding Jack Jewsbury to the midfield. The other was switching Ryan Miller with Ben Zemanski at right back.

It’s Zemanski’s addition to the starting XI that has been somewhat of a surprise, considering he was acquired from Chivas USA only just before the season began and that he has mostly played midfield in his first three years in MLS.

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“I’d say I’m a little surprised to be there,” Zemanski said from the team’s training facility this week as the Timbers prepare for Saturday’s home game against the Houston Dynamo. “But I’m the kind of guy that, if the team needs me, I’m going to step up and do the best I can do at whatever position they need me at.”

Zemanski first subbed on for Miller, another offseason acquisition who played the past four years in Sweden’s top leagues, midway through Portland’s March 9 game against the Montreal Impact after the Timbers had dug themselves a 2-0 hole.

Up to that point, Portland had allowed five goals in just a game and a half. Since then, with Zemanski starting Portland’s next two games, a 1-1 tie March 16 against the Seattle Sounders and a 2-2 tie last Saturday against the Colorado Rapids, they have allowed only three goals.

“We wanted a couple more guys on the field that bring a little bit of fight and bite and grit,” Porter said of Jewsbury and Zemanski. “Those two guys certainly bring that. I thought they both had good games.”

Despite his inexperience at the position, Zemanski has impressed. He especially showed well against Seattle when he was tasked with matching up against speedster Steve Zakuani - his former college teammate. Zemanski provided a physical presence while also showing the attacking ability that Porter desires from the spot.

“I think he’s done a great job,” said Michael Harrington, who has started all four of Portland’s games at left back. “Especially for a guy who hasn’t been there, he’s normally a center midfielder, to be able to adjust, especially in some of the conditions he has in Seattle and in Colorado, I think he’s done well for us.”

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Harrington said the backline has really jelled in the past two games.

“I really think that we haven’t really quite gotten the credit we deserve defensively this season,” he said. “We’ve just had some tough breaks. We’ve had a couple of silly mistakes, but overall in the game defensively we’re not getting broken down. Teams aren’t breaking us down; we’re kind of almost beating ourselves at times. So if we cut those mistakes out and continue to defend the way we’ve been defending, we’re going to start getting shutouts and start getting wins.”

Dan Itel covers the Portland Timbers for

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