Ben Zemanski in action vs. Vancouver Whitecaps (February 2015)
Craig Mitchelldyer / Portland Timbers

Portland Timbers confirm Ben Zemanski ACL injury, ponder potential replacements

PORTLAND, Ore. – The bad luck that plagued the Portland Timbers in the final month of the 2014 season apparently has carried over.

Midfielder Ben Zemanski will join Will Johnson and Diego Valeri on the shelf to start the season after he went down with what was later confirmed by head coach Caleb Porter as a torn ACL in the 23rd minute of the Timbers' opening match, a 1-0 loss to the Vancouver Whitecaps, in the Simple Invitational preseason tournament Sunday evening at Providence Park.

Zemanski was expected to replace Johnson, who suffered a broken leg on Sept. 27 against Toronto FC, in the starting lineup as a defensive midfielder alongside Diego Chara. Valeri also tore his ACL in the Timbers' season finale last year.

“It’s tough,” Timbers center back Nat Borchers said. “You never want to see guys go down like that, especially a player like that, like Ben, who’s the heart and soul of this team.”

Zemanski crumpled to the turf contesting a 50-50 ball and was replaced by Timbers veteran Jack Jewsbury.

“We do have depth,” Porter said. “We’ve got a couple of options, and we’ll look at those options. And we still have a couple of weeks to circle the wagons and figure out how to manage it.”

Jewsbury, who has been with the club since they joined MLS in 2011, played as a central midfielder his first two-and-a-half seasons in Portland before moving to right back early in Porter’s tenure. Jewsbury was expected to back up Alvas Powell at right back this season.

Porter also mentioned recently drafted midfielder Nick Besler and George Fochive, a 2014 SuperDraft pick, as possible replacements.

“I thought he did pretty well,” Porter said of Jewsbury. “We do have other options … if we keep the same system.”

The injury comes at an unfortunate time for Zemanski, who was recently lauded by Porter, his college coach at Akron, for being at the top of his game earlier this preseason.

“Ben’s been tremendous,” Porter said early last week. “He’s as fit as I’ve ever seen; he’s as sharp as I’ve ever seen. I’ve known him a lot of years, obviously, and he’s in his prime right now, I think he’s always had energy and fitness, but he’s starting to settle tactically. And I’ve been really pleased with where he’s at.”

While Zemanski's injury resulted from an innocuous challenge near midfield, there was plenty of physical play in the match against the Timbers' Cascadia rivals. Portland were cut down to nine men after both Rodney Wallace and Liam Ridgewell were sent off for receiving second yellows in the second half. In all, 11 cautions were issued in the match.

“It’s tough,” Porter said. “I thought there were a lot of unfortunate things today, especially when it’s a preseason match. You’re trying to get ready for the real games, games that count. You want to approach these games like it’s a real game, but isn’t a real game, it doesn’t count. And I thought the way that it played out was unfortunate.”

Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com.

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