The Portland Timbers are already having a great season in MLS. They've made it further than they ever had in the U.S. Open Cup. And they're well on their way to going farther than ever before in a single season at this level. Tomorrow night, however, represents their biggest challenge yet this year. Coming off an extremely busy schedule, the U.S. Open Cup game is the team's fifth game in just about two weeks time, the Timbers will have to play a very strong side in FC Dallas. Not to mention the fact that its a road game.
No matter what Caleb Porter says, at this point, there's gotta be some wear on the players.
Here's the breakdown:
Coming off a decisive 3-nil victory over the Colorado Rapids will certainly aid their confidence as the Timbers surged to the top of the standings (or near the top). Still, those games matter little in the U.S. Open Cup. Tonight the Timbers' will be forced to put it all on the line if they want to continue on in the U.S. Open Cup.
Looking to the back line, the Timbers are heading into tomorrow night's game a bit lucky. Futty Danso was left off the Portland Timbers' starting squad against Colorado. That move may turn out to be a big win for them tomorrow. While Futty was available for the game, he was held out of the starting lineup. This may have been due to this upcoming midweek U.S. Open Cup game.
That said, with Michael Harrington still not fully recovered, the left back situation remains in Jack Jewsbury's hands. Jewsbury, however, has put in a lot of minutes over the last couple weeks and could either be held back entirely from the game, or will have to muster up the strength for one more game before a nice long break.
Looking to the midfield, you can see similar problems emerging. Diego Chara, Diego Valeri and Will Johnson have all put in considerable time and minutes into games over the last two weeks. While Porter has used Valeri sparingly for this exact reason, Johnson and Chara have been used with every regular MLS season game. Do they play tomorrow night, though? I don't know.
Up top, the Portland Timbers get a bit of a break. Aside from Darlington Nagbe, who again has started most games over the last couple weeks, the return of Rodney Wallace will surely provide some relief. The fact that Porter has successfully used Ryan Johnson and Frederic Piquionne in an alternating pattern should also be a huge gain for the Timbers.
Here's my predicted starting lineup:
Anything less than this and I can see FC Dallas steamrolling the Timbers.
I won't comment much on FC Dallas today because we just went through this process a little over a week ago. All this information should be pretty fresh for everybody even if they only watched the game. That said, there are some notable changes.
First, looking at Dallas' schedule shows that they've had a bit of an easier go of it than the Timbers. Where the Timbers are on their fifth game since June 12th, Dallas is on their fourth. That single game will undoubtedly make a difference. Additionally, Dallas' last game was on Saturday, not Sunday like the Timbers are forced to endure. That might not sound like much, but it's a days worth of of extra rest that the Timbers' don't have.
But now for some good news. Unlike the Timbers, Dallas doesn't have a bye week scheduled this weekend. As such, they're looking at the possibility of either expending their best players in a U.S. Open Cup and possibly dropping points in the regular season or vice versa when they travel to the Philadelphia Union this weekend. They could certainly win both games, but the tight scheduling definitely works in the Timbers' favor for once.
Finally, just two player updates. First, according to Dallas media, left back Matt Hedges will be out for the U.S. Open Cup game. That's good news for the Timbers as Hedges can be quite distracting. His replacement, Walker Zimmerman, might also be out. I can't confirm it, but he is listed as "QUESTIONABLE" on the MLS injury list.
Second, Blas Perez has definitely returned to his team. Whether he plays tomorrow night or not, I don't know. But that was a player the Timbers didn't have to deal with the last time the two sides met so it's a noticeable variable. Kenny Cooper, for his part, should be back as well though I'm not sure of his current status.
The Portland Timbers can definitely win tomorrow night, but weariness will be an issue heading in. If, however, the team can muster one more game and field mostly starters, this Portland side could well be on their way to the semifinals of the tournament. Speaking of which, should the Timbers win they will, once again, be forced to travel away from home depending on who wins in the Real Salt Lake vs. Carolina Railhawks U.S. Open Cup game (hint: it will be Real Salt Lake). All this goes to show that regardless of current season stats, the Timbers have a long road to silverware.