BEAVERTON, Ore. – The Portland Timbers turned their focus to MLS once again, returning to training this week in preparation for Saturday’s game at the Chicago Fire.
Portland returned from Wednesday’s 5-1 win over the Wilmington Hammerheads in the U.S. Open Cup and a weekend Reserves League game, however, minus a handful of key players called to international duty. It’s business as usual in club soccer, but for the Timbers, one absence will take aim at a particularly thin position: center back.
Veteran defender Mamadou “Futty” Danso was called up Tuesday for The Gambia’s World Cup qualifier Saturday against the Ivory Coast, leaving the Timbers with four options at CB for their starting XI in Andrew Jean-Baptiste, newly signed Pa Modou Kah and Rauwshan McKenzie as well as rookie Dylan Tucker-Gangnes.
Kah and McKenzie were signed within weeks of each other last month due to a host of injuries to regulars. McKenzie is the newest addition, having signed two weeks ago after two different trialist stints with the club.
“I think bringing him in was smart because we were preparing for this situation,” Timbers head coach Caleb Porter said of McKenzie. “When we didn’t sign him initially, I remember telling him, ‘Be ready because something could happen in the future.’”
McKenzie, who started 19 games for Chivas USA last season, has yet to make a first-team appearance but did play in two Timbers Reserves games. He also made a second-half appearance in the Timbers’ USOC game.
Kah was pressed into duty in Portland’s 2-0 win at D.C. United on May 25, due to a Danso suspension, and started alongside Jean-Baptiste.
“The great thing is we’ve been plugging guys in and we’ve still been doing well and that’s been important,” Timbers wide defender Michael Harrington said of the various center back combinations the team has used. “The great thing about our team is we’re a team, and everybody understands their role.”
Goal Cam: Piquionne's four goals in USOC
The Timbers will also be without two of their top four goal scorers in forwards Ryan Johnson (Jamaica) and Rodney Wallace (Costa Rica). Porter appeared to be unfazed when talking about possible alternatives, perhaps aided by Frederic Piquionne’s four-goal performance against Wilmington from spot normally manned by Johnson.
Piquionne has stared three times for the Timbers--two MLS and one USOC--to go along with eleven appearances in 2013 "so we won’t miss a beat there,” Porter said after Tuesday’s session at the team’s training facility.
The obvious replacement for Wallace would be Kalif Alhassan, who was supplanted by Wallace as the starting left-outside forward and has started four games. And goalkeeper Milos Kocic, who started against Wilmington, will replace Donovan Ricketts (Jamaica), Porter said.
“We’re always trying to make sure we’re ready and that we’ve got bullets in the barrel because in this business you never know what’s going to happen,” Porter said. “We have players pretty much ready at every position in case something happens.”
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com.