EDIT: Steven Evans was not included in the potential defensive midfielders below and, as of Wednesday's practice, Taylor Peay has rejoined the Timbers from the Orange County Blues.
The Portland Timbers will leave on Thursday for Boston where they will take on the New England Revolution this Saturday. The next day the Timbers will fly on a chartered jet south to the kinda-sorta South American nation of Guyana to take on Alpha United in CONCACAF Champions League play, leaving behind the starters from Saturday's match and running out a whole new starting XI.
The question, then, is who will be in each of these groups? Below we break things down by position and give some thoughts on who might end up where. Take a look and share your ideal XI's in the comments.
Available: Donovan Ricketts, Andrew Weber, Jake Gleeson
Without a doubt the easiest position to predict, the Timbers will play Ricketts at keeper in their league match on Saturday and send Weber as the starter against Alpha United with Gleeson as his backup. Anything else would be very surprising.
Available: Michael Harrington, Danny O'Rourke, Jack Jewsbury, Jorge Villafana, Alvas Powell
The fullback position for the Timbers has been a revolving door for this Timbers this year with players exiting the starting line up as soon as they enter it. For this week's pair of matches it seems likely that the Timbers will want to keep Michael Harrington, the team's most consistent contributor on the outside of the defense this year, with the first team playing against the Revolution.
Picking who to pair with Harrington, however, will be difficult. O'Rourke, who was originally intended as primarily a backup for the fullbacks before his long stint in the center of the pitch, is the probable partner for Harrington, Who the Timbers will want to keep on the left, ruling out a partnership with Villafana.
Powell is the wild card here. Will the Timbers trust him to make good judgements and good plays against Alpha United, or will they pull one of the Timbers' other fullback-capable players like Jewsbury or even Zemanski to cover the position?
Available: Liam Ridgewell, Norberto Paparatto, Pa Modou Kah, Rauwshan McKenzie, Danny O'Rourke, Bryan Gallego
In the center of the defense, the Timbers will need to carefully choose who to match up with Ridgewell against the Revolution. Following the team's successful defensive performance against the Revolution, it seems like that Paparatto will again be Ridgewell's partner. However, facing off against a team like New England that are less reliant on crossing the ball into the box to generate their attacking chances, the Timbers may decide to save Paparatto for
Wednesday Tuesday and instead go with Kah who has recently returned from a long time off while dealing with achilles tendinitis.
Whichever of those two players does not partner up with with Ridgewell on Saturday should be expected to be paired up with McKenzie against Alpha United.
O'Rourke is another real possibility in the center of the defense, but his versatility will likely see him moved to the fullback spot for the second game in a row.
Available: Will Johnson, Diego Chara, Ben Zemanski, Jack Jewsbury, Danny O'Rourke, Bryan Gallego
Whoops, I forgot to add: Steven Evans
The biggest question for the Timbers' defensive midfielders is not if Johnson and Chara will start against New England (they will), but if either will make the trip to Guyana. If there is any player on the team that could pull double duty between Saturday and
Wednesday Tuesday it is Johnson, Porter's avatar on the pitch. Johnson has done it before this year, featuring as the main first-team player in the Timbers' early US Open Cup efforts.
If Johnson does not go to Guyana then the Timbers will likely move Jack Jewsbury into the midfield, a spot he has featured in several times this season, alongside Zemanski. Where this could get changed up is if the Timbers feel the need to play Jewsbury at fullback, rather than Powell.
Available: Diego Valeri, Gaston Fernandez, Rodney Wallace, Steve Zakuani, Michael Nanchoff
Questionable: Darlington Nagbe, Kalif Alhassan, Schillo Tshuma
Valeri will play in the Timbers' league matches. As the beating heart of the Timbers' attack, Valeri will be saved for the team's vital league matches and will not be subjected to the 3000+ mile, thirteen hour flight to play Alpha United. The supporting cast around him, however, will need to be balanced if the Timbers want to have a chance for three points in both matches.
Fernandez seems likely to be held in reserve for the match against Alpha United where he will pull the strings of the attack.
Splitting up Valeri and Fernandez will leave the Timbers' with some holes to fill and how they do so will largely depend on the health of several players. Nagbe, who has been out for the last three weeks with an MCL strain, has been working his way back into the Timbers' practices and, according to Porter on Monday, could be available for the matches this week. In this case, it seems unlikely that the Timbers would take Nagbe all the way to South America so soon after potentially returning from an injury. If Nagbe is ready to start against the Revs the Timbers could get the old band back together with Nagbe, Wallace, and Valeri across the front of the midfield.
Another of the Timbers' injured attacking midfielders, Alhassan will be in a similar situation. If he is able to play, however, he seems like a much more likely candidate to take to Guyana, having been out injured for only one week. Similarly, Tshuma, who is back from his loan with the Orange County Blues, took a knock at practice but was not in danger of getting in to Saturday's game in New England. If Tshuma is fit enough to travel with the Timbers, expect to see him as a substitute against Alpha United on Wednesday.
Available: Fanendo Adi, Maximiliano Urruti
Still the Timbers' most thin position, something that has been a concern for the team since the beginning of the season, the Timbers only have two real options that are out and out forwards. Fernandez could be added to this list, but the likelihood of him stepping into another role seems too great to list him as a real possibility.
Determining which player will fit in which game of the Timbers' road trip will largely be determined by the supporting cast that they are given. Adi seems likely to match up with Wallace and other players that can run off of his hold-up play, while Urruti has show his ability to play quick combinations with players like Fernandez.
On Loan: Taylor Peay
Injured: George Fochive
The lists above are missing two players still, Peay and Fochive. Peay had not joined the Timbers as of Monday's open practice and could be staying with his loan side, Orange County Blues, who are scheduled to take on the Charleston Battery on the road this Wednesday before returning to California to host the Sacramento Republic on Sunday. Peay could still join the Timbers before either leg of their trip, but as of yesterday he was not yet with the team.
Fochive, meanwhile, has been back with the Timbers for several weeks now and is rehabilitating a knee injury suffered while on loan with Sacramento. Although Fochive has made definite progress, there has not been any indication that he will be fit and ready to contribute by the time the Timbers leave on Thurday.