Challenging stretch for Portland Timbers results in more opportunities for players

U.S. Open Cup and MLS schedule create slate of 4 games in 12 days

PORTLAND, Ore. – When Ben Zemanksi scored in the Portland Timbers’ 2-2 draw Saturday against the Chicago Fire, he became the seventh player on the team to record a goal this season.

The former Chivas USA midfielder, who was making his third start of the season for his new club, has been one of a handful of players who have contributed to the Timbers’ impressive depth, cited by head coach Caleb Porter as a key to the team’s early success.

That depth will most certainly come into play as Portland kick off a brutal stretch of games, starting with Wednesday’s Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup game against the Tampa Bay Rowdies at JELD-WEN Field  (7:30pm PT; Ticketswebstream, 750 AM The Game / La Pantera 940).

“We’ve got a squad and we’ve had to use our squad quite a bit for different reasons and guys have come in and given us boosts in games and now they get an opportunity to earn more minutes,” Timbers captain Will Johnson said after Tuesday’s training session at JELD-WEN.

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After Wednesday’s game against the NASL side, which Porter has made clear is a priority for the club, the third-place Timbers play host to first-place FC Dallas in a nationally televised showdown Saturday at JELD-WEN Field (2:00pm PT, ESPN, 750 AM The Game / La Pantera 940). Portland will then travel to face the LA Galaxy next Wednesday, before returning home to play the Colorado Rapids four days later.

To top it off, the Timbers will be without a number of players for both matches due to international commitments.

“Whenever you have guys out of the lineup on international duties or injuries or anything like that you need other guys to step up and help the team continue to get points and continue this good run of games,” Zemanski said. “I’m looking forward to stepping up for the team and doing my part to help out.”

Johnson said the next 10 days will “define our season.” He also said the starters can’t do it alone.

“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.”

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When Porter addressed the team at the beginning of the week, Johnson said, he said it was a chance for more players, like Zemanski, to step forward and be heard.

“[Wednesday’s] game is all about opportunities and taking them when they come, you never know when you’re going to get a chance, and there will be some young guys who get some minutes tomorrow,” Johnson said. “And if you do well on Wednesday then there are three games next week that the coach is going to look to put you in. He’s spoken about that, and guys are very aware.”

Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com.