The Portland Timbers are in far-flung Guyana today to take on Alpha United in the CONCACAF Champions League, a side that nobody seems to know much about.
With the match coming just three days after the Timbers' 1-1 away draw to the New England Revolution, Caleb Porter has brought a limited roster for this one, sending home a number of his usual first-team players rather than subjecting them to the long journey and extended minutes.
On hand in Guyana are Andrew Weber, Jake Gleeson, Pa Modou Kah, Rauwshan McKenzie, Bryan Gallego, Jack Jewsbury, Jorge Villafana, Alvas Powell, Taylor Peay, Ben Zemanski, Steven Evans, Michael Nanchoff, Steve Zakuani, Rodney Wallace, Kalif Alhassan, Schillo Tshuma, Fanendo Adi, and Maximiliano Urruti.
From this group of bench players, reserves, and young prospects called back from their loans, Porter will have to assemble a line-up and there are two common schools of thought on how he might do so with the players on hand.
First, he could go with his usual "double-pivot" formation, the setup that Timbers fans are used to seeing with two holding midfielders behind a group of four attacking players. In this case, the holding midfielders would almost certainly have to be Jewsbury and Zemanski, necessitating the use of Powell as the Timbers' right back. The set-up would allow Jewsbury to stay at home in front of the defense while Zemanski is given license to roam the field, getting forward in the attack and utilizing his somewhat underrated ability to get forward.
However, if Porter looks at the right midfielders available to him and decides he needs a more steady defensive presence on the right side of the defense, it may fall to Jewsbury to man the fullback position on that side. If that is the case, the Timbers do not have another player truly suited to the holding midfielder role other than George Fochive, who did not make the trip as he is still returning from a knee injury. In this case, Zemanski would certainly be tasked with acting as the lone holding midfielder, staying at home in front of the defense and keeping his moves forward to a minimum.
Although the holding midfielder position will determine the set-up of the Timbers, it is their attacking players who will determine their fate tonight. Players like Zakuani, Nanchoff, and Alhassan are all on the fringes of Porter's usual game-day 18 and should be looking to prove that they belong on the pitch, getting the substitute minutes that will be even harder to come by now that Wallace has returned to the fold and Porter has determined just how to use Gaston Fernandez.
This space for rent.
Seriously, though, information on Alpha United is hard to come by. Michael should have our preview interview up by the time this publishes, and hopefully that will provide some insight into the Timbers' opponents.
Watch it on: Fox Soccer Plus
Kickoff: 5:00 PM PT at Providence Stadium in Providence, Guyana
Portland Timbers: 0-0-0 in CCL play, 1st place in the 2013 MLS Western Conference
Alpha United: 0-1-0 in CCL play, 1st place in 2013-14 GFF National Super League