PORTLAND, Ore. – While Caleb Porter is never one to show his hand before a match, all signs point toward a very different look for the Portland Timbers in Friday’s MLS showdown with Sporting Kansas City (8pm PT, KPTV, TICKETS), even though Portland handed SKC a 3-1 defeat in the US Open Cup on Tuesday.
The Timbers did not travel six potential starters – midfielders Diego Valeri, Darlington Nagbe and Diego Chara, defender Pa Modou Kah, forward Rodney Wallace and goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts – for that game, sparing them a narrow recovery time and two long flights ahead of Portland's return to league play after the World Cup break.
Sprinkle in the fact that key players such as defenders Michael Harrington and Rauwshan McKenzie and striker Fanendo Adi came off the bench in the Tuesday match, and Portland are likely to have a completely fresh group that takes the field against a shorthanded SKC side.
“You want to be prepared for the second game, and you want to have options for the second game," Porter told media after a Thursday training session at Providence Park, referring to the back-to-back matchup. "It’s nice to know we have some fresh options and that the physical side of things won’t be as much of a factor.”
There may also be a different look, tactically, from the approach taken in the USOC game. On that night, Porter was content for the Timbers to move away from their signature possession-based attack to sit back and look for opportunities on the counter. It worked to perfection, as Gaston Fernandez scored two goals for the second consecutive Open Cup game.
With attackers like Valeri, Nagbe, Chara and Wallace potentially back in the fold Friday, coupled with the fact that they are at home, it seems likely that Portland be more aggressive.
“There are little wrinkles and tweaks that we throw on in terms of our game plan,” Porter said. “In that game we felt with the heat, the way they play, that it was the best way to approach that game. That was the first game, and maybe the second game we do some different things. I’m sure you’ll see some different things, maybe some different players.”
Porter was especially pleased with Tuesday’s defensive performance, as Kansas City failed to score from the run of play. Defense has been an Achilles heel for Portland at times this year, leading to Wednesday’s announcement that the Timbers had signed former English Premier League defender Liam Ridgewell to a Designated Player contract. Ridgewell is not yet available for the Timbers, but Porter remains encouraged by Portland's defense.
“Even without him we defended really well in that game,” Porter said.
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com.