How Depth is Hurting the Portland Timbers

Injuries, Ricketts’ suspension forcing lineup changes
by Ray Marcham   |   Friday, March 28, 2014

Green Logs - a column on the Portland Timbers & the Portland soccer scene

The stumbling start to the Portland Timbers season has already shone the spotlight on what could be a vital issue for the club.

Then again, it’s the same issue that almost all MLS sides deal with thanks to the $3.1 million salary cap – depth, especially on the long end of the bench.

While past history shows that the loss at Colorado on Saturday really should not have been a surprise, it also exposed a few of the depth issues that the Timbers are dealing with. While coach Caleb Porter and his staff may have no concerns about that depth, supporters may be right to be a little nervous for a few positions.

The most obvious place of concern is between the sticks. The red card that Donovan Ricketts received for his challenge on Deshorn Brown became the least of Portland’s worries, as the veteran goalkeeper was taken from the field on a stretcher after the play. Ricketts had yet to participate in training as of Wednesday. That really doesn’t matter, in a sense, since the MLS Disciplinary Committee added on a second game to the red card suspension, meaning he will miss the home Cascadia Cup match against Seattle. Anything after that will depend on the seriousness of his leg injury.

Of course, the red card means Andrew Weber will be the starting keeper for the Timbers at FC Dallas on Saturday and against one of his former club, the Sounders, on April 5. His backup, at least for the Dallas match, likely will be Daniel Withrow, who was with Columbus last season after 4 years at Marshall University. Withrow only played in 4 matches for the Crew in 2013, a friendly against Wigan Athletic and 3 reserve matches.

The depth at goalkeeper is an area that we’ve discussed here before, and the uncertainty of Ricketts’ injury beyond the standard red card suspension brings that up again. The stated 3rd-string keeper, Jake Gleeson, is getting ready to start the USL Pro season with Sacramento, where the Timbers have loaned him for the season. While Gleeson will stay in Sacramento for as long as possible so he can get consistent playing time, his time in the California capital may be limited if Weber doesn’t impress.

Another area where depth might be an issue is on defense. There are already 2 starters dealing with injuries, as Pa Moudu Kah missed the Chicago match after leaving the Philadelphia game early with a hamstring injury. But he was back in the starting lineup Saturday, mainly because Norberto Paparatto sat out the match with a groin injury.

The injuries to Kah and Paparatto have given Futty Danso a chance to be back in the starting XI, and he’s been decent. Alvas Powell saw his first action of the season late in the Colorado match, playing 11 minutes.

But there are questions beyond the top 5 on the Portland defense (Michael Harrington, Jack Jewsbury, Paparatto, Kah and Danso). Beyond Powell, the only other listed defender on the Timbers roster who is actually in Portland is Raushawn McKenzie, who has played 1 first-team match for the Timbers since coming over from Chivas USA in 2013. Two of the club’s younger defenders are on loan in USL PRO; Bryan Gallego is at Sacramento (with Gleeson) and Taylor Peay with the Orange County Blues (with another highly-regarded Timbers prospect, Schillo Tshuma). Jewsbury is still listed on the roster as a midfielder, despite his now-steady role in the backline.

The situation is a bit better among midfielders and strikers. Porter has been alternating Stave Zakuani and Maxi Urriti, subbing one for the other usually about 60 minutes in and adjusting as needed. Kalif Alhassan has been recovering from a groin strain and hasn’t played since the opener against Philadelphia. The recovery for Rodney Wallace from his ACL injury is on schedule, and that will be good news later in the season. Most of the others up front look to be close to healthy.

It might better now to go through this now than later. Portland will enter the US Open Cup in May, and that could add matches through the summer. Then there’s the CONCACAF Champions League, and those group stage matches begin in August. Once those competitions get underway, the Timbers’ depth will get its test, as the players who usually don’t see much first-team action will be relied on to allow Portland to survive and advance on in those tournaments, along with the standard MLS season grind.

And it’s that grind that the winless Timbers are most concerned about. With Weber in goal on Saturday and the status of Paparatto still uncertain, the group of Harrington, Jewsbury, Kah and Danso will be under extra pressure to slow down 1st place FC Dallas, which is off to another strong start with 2 wins and a draw in 3 matches. Of course, if the Portland offense can convert opportunities into a goal or 2, that will help greatly and help the Timbers get at least a point.

It would also ease the pressure a little bit as Seattle Week commences.

NEXT UP: March 29 – Portland Timbers vs. FC Dallas, Toyota Stadium, Frisco, Texas. 8:30 p.m. EST, ROOT Sports NW, MLS Live.

Ray MARCHAM

Nationality:
USA
College:
Washington State
Club Domestic:
Portland Timbers
Club Foreign:
Arsenal
Cascadia native and a fan for as long as he can remember, Ray was brought up on the old NASL. Learned to love MLS. Wanted to play like Clive Charles. Then like Tony Adams. Only dreams, of course.
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