We all know what is on the line for the Portland Timbers in tomorrow afternoon’s match against the Vancouver Whitecaps: everything.
Of course, all that will be made a little bit more difficult with a handful of injuries and absences keeping the Timbers from their first choice XI. Liam Ridgewell and Diego Chara are confirmed absences for the Timbers, while Diego Valeri’s status remains a mystery after the Maestro was forced out of Saturday’s CONCACAF Champions League draw against CD Saprissa.
Those are three important players.
Ridgewell is the capstone in the Timbers’ defense. More than just a ball-winner, Ridgewell is the Timbers’ organizer on the back line. With Ridgewell in the lineup, the Timbers are 10-8-4; without him, the Timbers are 2-5-4.
Chara is everywhere. One of the league’s leading ball-winners and a prolific fouler — he set the single-season record against the Colorado Rapids last weekend — Chara’s play as a No. 8 has been vital to the Timbers all year. As with Ridgewell, when the Timbers are without Chara they just don’t do so good; although Chara has only missed three games this season, the Timbers are winless in all three, going 0-2-1 without the Colombian Dynamo.
Valeri pulls the strings in the Timbers attack. And in a year when production from the wings has been nonexistent, Valeri has stepped up once again to lead the line, narrowly trailing Fanendo Adi’s sixteen goals with thirteen of his own, as well as seven assists. Those twenty moments mean that Valeri was directly involved in almost half of the Timbers’ goals this season and, while Valeri has been on the pitch for most of the season, when he has not been available the Timbers’ attack, which is otherwise one of the league’s most potent, averages only 0.5 goals per game.
Now, Valeri might yet be available for this match and given the do or die situation that the Timbers find themselves in if he is anywhere near fit to play then he certainly will. That still leaves the Timbers with two changes to make.
Along the back line the Timbers have one likely possibility to replace Ridgewell: journeyman center back Jermaine Taylor. Taylor has stepped up regularly this year for the Timbers, covering for absences from Ridgewell and Nat Borchers before the arrival of Englishman Steven Taylor in August. This will be the Taylors’ first pairing in league play, although the two did lineup alongside each other in the Timbers’ 4-2 away loss to CD Saprissa in the CCL, an outing that did not inspire confidence in their ability to work alongside each other.
However, Steven Taylor was still new to the Timbers and new to MLS at that point, so Timbers fans have every reason to hope that at this point in the season he can step up and lead the back line in the same way that his countryman, Ridgewell, usually does.
Other than Jermaine Taylor, the Timbers could potentially call on the side’s mystery man, Gbenga Arokoyo. Arokoyo arrived around the same time as Steven Taylor, joining the Timbers from Turkish side Gaziantepspor. However, the 23-year-old Nigerian went down with a groin injury ten minutes in to his first appearance with T2 and has yet to see the pitch since, making the XI for the first time this season in Wednesday’s CCL match.
In the midfield, the Timbers will likely need to do some significant adjusting to compensate for the loss of Chara for this weekend’s match. With Jack Jewsbury confirming that he intends to play against the Whitecaps, the Timbers have a player they can depend on to form the base of their midfield, but looking further up the pitch the Timbers will need to make some changes. Perhaps the move that many are looking to immediately is the potential shift of Darlington Nagbe back into the central midfield role that he excelled in last season and looked very good in on Wednesday when he reprised it against Saprissa.
With Nagbe in the center of the pitch by default — rather than just shifting into the center of the pitch from out on the wing — and playing a more defensive role for the Timbers, the side will need to look to someone else to patrol the right wing. Ned Grabavoy seems like the most likely pick in this match as the Timbers look to effectively shuttle the ball up the pitch and connect with Adi and Darren Mattocks in the attack, but Lucas Melano and Jack Barmby remain options as well for the side.
Melano, of course, did himself no favors with a largely ineffective showing against Saprissa that included a mind-blowingly-bad scoop-shot that left the young Argentine holding his head in his hands in disbelief that it went so very poorly, while Barmby generally drew good reviews, despite not being able to assert himself on the match quite to the extent that the Timbers would have liked.
Watch it on: ROOT Sports
Kickoff: 1:00 p.m. PT at BC Place in Vancouver, BC, Canada
Portland Timbers: 12-13-8, 7th place in the Western Conference
Vancouver Whitecaps: 9-15-9, 9th place in the Western Conference