In Saturday night's match against D.C. United we saw the Portland Timbers take a very different approach to the game, ceding possession in favor of a direct approach that took advantage of the weakness of United's defense. It was a big change from the tactics that Caleb Porter and his squad have employed so far this year, and one that should give their opponents pause when preparing for the Timbers.
Of course, this also open things up for the rest of us to speculate in the face of a US Open Cup game against the mostly unknown Wilmington Hammerheads. Not only are the tactics up for questioning, but the starting lineup could have a very different look as well with Caleb Porter's comments after practice yesterday indicating that the Timbers would look to get some of the team's bench players starting minutes.
There are still some questions as to who will be available for tomorrow's match as the team still has several players recovering from injuries that the team may not want to push ahead of next week's match against the Chicago Fire.
- Diego Valeri is the biggest concern for the Timbers as the Argentine midfielder continues his recovery from a hamstring strain suffered last week. Valeri practiced on Monday, and looked good doing so, but the team may want to be cautious with his return.
- Michael Nanchoff is another player who returned to practice yesterday and looked to be fully recovered from the injuries he has been working through, the latest of which was a bruised heel. The bigger question on Nanchoff seems to be his match fitness after what has seemed like an injury plagued month.
- Pa Modou Kah was the latest Timbers centerback to pick up an injury after an Achilles knock suffered against DC United slowed him down yesterday. For Kah, the Timbers need to balance acclimating him to the team and getting him in synch with his fellow defenders with not aggravating his injury.
The Timbers have had a few mainstays that have grabbed most of their late game substitutions and those players seem likely to get the start against Wilmington. However, which bench players that we have not seen could make an impact tomorrow?
Kalif Alhassan and Frederic Piquionne lead the team in appearances as a substitute. Alhassan has four starts in eleven appearances while Piquionne has two starts in eleven appearances. The only other player to even come close to those numbers is Ben Zemanski with two starts in nine appearances. However, there is a dark horse candidate here as well in Jose Adolfo Valencia who has made five appearance for the team but has not yet gotten a start.
On the other end of the bench are the players who have only ridden the pine, hardly getting on the pitch but regularly featuring in the available subs. Sal Zizzo, Ryan Miller, and, to a lesser extent, Michael Nanchoff round out this group. between the three of them Zizzo, Miller, and Nanchoff have not seen the pitch since mid-April.
While Porter did say that the team would look to get the reserves some minutes, he also made it clear that the team fielded would be a mix of regular starters and reserves. So, who stays and who gets the week off?
An added wrinkle comes from the international call-ups to several Timbers players. Although it sounds like Rodney Wallace, Donovan Ricketts, Ryan Johnson, and Futty Danso will not leave until Thursday they will all be facing at least one international match-up, in some cases two, while they are away from the team.
The rest of the starters seem to be in fine fettle, although there has been some speculation about heavy legs starting to be a factor for the fullbacks, with Michael Harrington in particular coming under scrutiny during the last three games.
With all these possibilities in front of us it seems like we should really get down to it and do some speculating. Let us see your projected line-up and predicted result in the comments. Bonus points (in the game of life) for the reasoning behind your picks.