Portland Timbers depth strengthened following return of Gold Cup call-ups

Caleb Porter likes options.

And when the Portland Timbers faced a number of absences due to international duty over the last month, his side hasn’t missed much of a beat.

Forward Ryan Johnson busy with Jamaica World Cup qualifiers? Just toss in Frédéric Piquionne and watch him score the game winner against FC Dallas in a US Open Cup quarterfinal.

Captain Will Johnson out while playing with Canada in Gold Cup? Just insert Ben Zemanski at the central midfielder position and beat the LA Galaxy.

So now that Timbers players are slowly starting to trickle back to camp for the second half of the season, Porter is faced with a challenge any coach would love to have: What to do with all these players?

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For the Timbers’ game Saturday against the Philadelphia Union (4:30 pm PT, KPDX, 750 The Game / La Pantera 940), their captain and midfield inspiration will be back at the helm. But Porter will also have some choices to make – namely what to do at forward.

Piquionne, acquired early in the season to combat injuries, is clearly rounding into form after joining the team followed a quiet spell with his former club, West Ham United. In his last six games, he has four assists and a goal in a mostly off-the-bench role. He also scored four goals in Portland’s opening US Open Cup victory over the Wilmington Hammerheads on May 29.

“I had not played for a long time in England,” said Piquionne, who played in two Gold Cup games for Martinique before they were eliminated. “And Caleb was clever with me so I could get more fitness and get to 100 percent. Now I’m feeling very good, and in the last five or six games, I scored five times and give some assists, so I’m feeling really good at the moment.”

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And Johnson is at the top of his game, as well.

He scored his sixth goal of the season in Portland’s thrilling 2-1 victory last weekend against the Galaxy, a total tied for the team lead. Porter said he likes what both forwards provide: variety.

“Piquionne is a little bit more of a linking hold the ball up No. 9, pretty clever, technical,” Porter said. “Ryan is more of a hard running, physical, pressing [player] and can still link. But Piquionne probably doesn’t run guys over as much as Ryan Johnson, doesn’t look to probably press quite as hard. Ryan Johnson doesn’t look to come and link and connect as much as Piquionne.”

There’s no telling which player will start against Philadelphia. And they were actually on the field together for the first time in the LA game, when Piquionne subbed in for forward Kalif Alhassan in the second half.

“You’ve got two very good guys who fit our system, but they’re just a little bit different in what they do,” Porter said.

But there’s one thing that will remain the same, no matter who is on the field, and that’s the style of play you’ll see from the Timbers.

“It’s always the same thing, we have to press high, we have to work hard on the field and play together and tight,” Piquionne said. “On the road we have a good team, so I think if we play together on Saturday we’ll get a good result.”

Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com.