PORTLAND, Ore. – Caleb Porter got a call Sunday morning that no head coach wants to get on a game day.
The Portland Timbers head coach’s starting goalkeeper Adam Kwarasey – the hero from the team’s wild shootout victory Thursday in the Knockout Round of the Audi 2015 MLS Cup Playoffs – had become ill overnight. And after receiving treatment from trainers, it was determined he wouldn’t be available for the Timbers’ opener of their Western Conference Semifinal series on Sunday against the Vancouver Whitecaps.
It was a late adjustment in the works that even threw off the Timbers Army pregame tifo honoring Kwarasey, though they quickly and creatively adapted.
But despite all that – in addition to still being without defensive midfielder Diego Chara – the Timbers didn't miss a beat in dictating play, holding near 60 percent possession and pulling out a scoreless draw at Providence Park with backup ‘keeper Jake Gleeson in goal. The draw prevented the Whitecaps from nabbing an all-important away goal heading into the second leg next weekend at BC Place. It was the first team shutout in Portland's MLS Cup Playoffs history.
“I thought he was great today,” Porter said of Gleeson, who has been with the Timbers for five seasons but hasn’t seen MLS actions since the team’s inaugural season in 2011. “We want that out of our young players, when they get the opportunity to step in. … He didn’t have a ton to do, but we he did have to manage I thought he was very comfortable.”
While he hasn’t seen much action for the Timbers’ first team, Gleeson did start 20 games while on loan with Timbers 2, Portland’s USL side, and made 77 saves and posted three clean sheets. On Sunday, the New Zealand international made three saves.
“To be quite honest, we didn’t miss a beat,” said midfielder Jack Jewsbury, Gleeson’s teammate all five seasons in Portland. “Jake’s a guy that got a ton of games with T2, and that’s what that’s all about is getting reps, especially for goalkeeper backups it keeps them fresh. And we’ve seen in training the last couple of months since he’s been back with us that he’s an exceptional goalkeeper and we weren’t nervous at all about him being in there.”
The late switch was just another oddity in the Timbers’ already eventful 2015 playoff campaign. They played 120 minutes in an action-packed, drama-filled shootout win over Sporting Kansas City and had just two days to prepare for the Vancouver match.
Being without Chara, who has a sprained foot tendon suffered in Portland’s season finale, has only added to it. And they seemingly didn’t miss a beat in a defensive battle against the Whitecaps, controlling possession--59.7 percent--and very nearly snagging a late winner when second-half substitute Maximiliano Urruti hit a shot off the goalpost in the 89th minute. In the second half, they outshot Vancouver 7-2 and 11-10 for the match.
“I really liked the fact that even though the fatigue factor was played up, I liked the fact that we’re in a rhythm of playing,” Porter said. “And sometimes when you don’t have a ton of rest it’s better psychologically to just keep playing. And I thought our guys looked comfortable.”
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com.