The Mess in the Midfield: What to Do?

Steve Dykes-USA TODAY Sports

The Timbers could be missing as many as four of their possible holding midfielders for Sunday's match. What should they do?

Diego Chara: suspended.

Will Johnson: day to day.

Ben Zemanski: day to day.

Jack Jewsbury: day to day.

The Timbers, after enduring injuries to the defense, injuries to the forwards, and more injuries to the defense, are now into the injuries to the midfield phase of the season. With a big game this weekend against the Timbers' Cascadian rivals the Seattle Sounders, the timing of the Timbers' sudden dearth of holding midfielders is about as bad as it could be.

Assuming that Chara, Johnson, Zemanski, and Jewsbury all are out for Sunday, which is not much of a stretch of the imagination, who do the Timbers' play at holding mid?

The Options

Kalif Alhassan

Why? The Timbers need someone who can hold the ball and Kalif can hold up the ball. If he can avoid getting too cute with his possession, Kalif has the vision and passing ability to take a team apart from a holding midfield position.

Why not? Defensive effort. The biggest knock on Kalif has always been that he phones it in on defense and, although he has markedly improved in his defensive efforts this season, he is still not the guy you want chasing people down to win the ball back.

Rodney Wallace

Why? More than any of the others who could step in, Wallace is a known quantity. He has lined up as a CM for the Timbers several times, most recently in a three game run at the end of 2012, where he acquitted himself well. Wallace also made an appearance there for the Timbers during the 2013 preseason during the team's training camp in Tucson, AZ.

Why not? Wallace is much, much better as an outside midfielder than he is in the center of the pitch, especially when being asked to hold the ball up rather than go at the defense. He could fill in the position, but the Timbers would lose out on the left flank because of it.

Steven Evans

Why? He is a playmaker. Anyone who has watched Evans with the U-23s or reserves knows that he is capable of sublime passes, tenacious tackling, and the occasional mind-blowing volley. He may not be the fastest player on the pitch, but Evans' work rate, positioning, and occasional nose for goal bring to mind the qualities that have made Will Johnson such a success for the Timbers this year.

Why not? Inconsistency and a lack of familiarity with the position. Anyone who has watched him has probably seen plenty of too long crosses, fouls, and shots shanked well wide of the net. They also probably saw him playing as an attacking midfielder, his position until Caleb Porter started converting him over to a holding midfielder this year.

Alvas Powell

Why? Powell is young, strong, and can cover ground like nobody's business, plus he has been mentioned as being able to play as a holding midfielder by Caleb Porter previously. In the game against Real Salt Lake we saw him make some excellent tackles and bursting runs forward that could really frustrate Seattle. (Plus, this.)

Why not? His positioning needs work and he has a penchant for ball-watching. Powell's passing skills are also untested, having completed about half as many passes as Michael Harrington against RSL while missing twice as many. The Timbers will need a calm, accurate passer to hold onto possession in the midfield against the Sounders.

The Reality

Of Will Johnson, Jack Jewsbury, and Ben Zemanski, at least one will probably be back and able to play against Seattle.

Alvas Powell and Rodney Wallace are both too vital in the roles they already occupy to bring into the middle, especially if Seattle plays the 4-4-2 diamond that many have been speculating about. The Timbers will need good wide players to spread the Sounders out and hit them on the flanks.

That leaves Kalif Alhassan and Steven Evans. Given Kalif's goal on Wednesday, Porter's recent praise of his work in practice, and the fact that he is slightly less inconsistent in his play at this point than Evans, it will have to be him filling in Chara's spot against the Sounders.

Who do you think will end up forming the Timbers' midfield pairing against Seattle? Or will it be a pairing at all? Let us know in the comments.

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