The Portland Timbers host yet another US Open Cup opponent tonight, this time from the second division of U.S. soccer: the Tampa Bay Rowdies. It's been a long time since the Timbers and Rowdies met in competition. In fact, the last time they both met was during the old NASL era in the 1970s-80s. Not that it really matters much, just an interesting factoid.
Here's the breakdown:
The Timbers begin tonight a busy stretch of 4 games in 12 days. Two of those games are against dominating teams either this season or in season's past: FC Dallas and the LA Galaxy. So while it's would be easy to expect that the Timbers will go all in tonight against the Rowdies, my thinking is that the Timbers will break up the allotment of players a bit.
Up top, expect the attack to be led by Frederic Piquionne just as he did against the Wilmington Hammerheads. There was no doubt that Piquionne's performance was the difference maker through the night. That said, while Piquionne certainly had a great game, the Hammerhead's keeper made some glaring gaffes which made it so much easier for him to score. Don't expect the Rowdies to offer up a similar silver platter.
As for the rest of the spots? Well expect a mix of regulars, subs and reserves to start. here's what Will Johnson had to say about it:
"I don't know about putting one competition before the next, but it's not really humanly possible for a guy to play four games in 12 days, or so, at a high level," Johnson said. "So we need to manage minutes. I don't think that's putting importance in one thing over the other, I think it's making sure we have enough quality guys to win every single game that we play."
In a video interview, Caleb Porter alluded to as well, but did make special mention that they won't be taking tonight's game against the Rowdies lightly. That's a good assessment to make considering this was the team that sent the Seattle Sounders crashing out of the tournament.
Here's my expected starting lineup:
Milos Kocic; Ryan Miller, Andrew Jean-Baptiste, Pa Modou Kah, Michael Harrington; Sal Zizzo, Will Johnson, Diego Valeri, Ben Zemanski; Darlington Nagbe, Frederic Piquionne
Though, as a disclaimer, I would like to note that the lineup could be wildly different.
Tampa Bay Rowdies
I don't know much about the Rowdies, unfortunately. The state of our second division here in the United States makes it difficult to follow the progress and key players of clubs in the lower leagues unless you're an active fan of them, as many of us can attest to from the Timbers USL days.
What I can tell you, however, is that the Rowdies are in this competition to win it. Currently, through the Spring season, the Rowdies are thoroughly mid table. However, they have quite a scorer on their hands in Georgi Hristov, a player who has scored 6 goals across all competitions. It's also worth noting that Hristov got the game winner against the Sounders in their Open Cup match. Definitely something to keep an eye on as the Timbers take the field tonight.
Aside from that pay attention to the Rowdies' current keeper: Diego Restrepo. The guy came up huge for the Rowdies against Seattle with plenty of clutch saves including one penalty kick save. Obviously every game is different, but it's clear this guy has some skill if he's able to save a PK from Obafemi Martins.
The Portland Timbers have a busy schedule over the next two weeks. In fact, tonight's US Open Cup game and the next three regular season games could make a huge impact on the season for the Timbers. Obviously nothing will be decided, as the Timbers will still have a couple more games left in the Open Cup and a few more games to win (not draw) before clinching a playoff spot, but given the tight scheduling in a short time there's real progress to be made here.
It all starts tonight though.