BEAVERTON, Ore. – The calendar shows a 21-day gap between Major League Soccer games for the Portland Timbers, one in which the team has only one commitment: Wednesday’s fourth round U.S. Open Cup match in Tacoma, Washington, against Seattle Sounders FC (7:30pm PT, ESPN+). With a victory in two days, though, the Timbers’ schedule suddenly becomes much more daunting, turning a quiet period into a management challenge.
“We don’t have MLS competition (at the moment),” Timbers head coach Giovanni Savarese said on Monday, alluding to the break MLS is taken for CONCACAF’s Gold Cup. That means, to him, “it’s the perfect time to be able to play the players” who’ll give Portland their best chance on Wednesday.
“But then we have another U.S. Open Cup game, God willing,” Savarese explained, alluding to a potential fifth-round match around June 19 should Portland win this. “Then, we have three games in a row in MLS. So there are a lot of matches. Everybody needs to be ready to play, and everybody’s going to be important.”
If the Timbers advance Wednesday in Tacoma, they could play four games in 11 days starting on June 19, with MLS’ June 22 return seeing a mid-week trip to Montreal sandwiched between matches at home. Most of the current 21-day gap on the calendar will have passed by then, even if It leads to one of the most hectic stretches of the season.
“There are going to be moments that players are going to have to rotate and be prepared for certain games but not others,” Savarese admitted. “That’s why we need the entire group to be ready.”
Ah, yes. That R-word: rotation. Two players (Andrés Flores and Andy Polo) are away preparing for major international tournaments. Two more (Marco Farfan and Eryk Williamson) are with the U.S. under-23s. Other players, like starting center back Bill Tuiloma, are dealing with injuries. The Timbers have 28 players on their roster and the ability to make emergency callups for Open Cup, but with T2 relying so heavily on MLS players this season, the options on USL-only deals are limited.
Add in the travel element, one that could see the team go road-home-road-home over that 11-day stretch, and workloads will have to be monitored.
“Now that we have more matches at home, in the moments that we do have to travel far away, as we will when we go to Montreal, we need to be smart,” Savarese said. “Because it’s very difficult to play three matches in a row, especially when you have to travel all the way to the East Coast …
“It will be important for us that some players like [Sebastián Blanco], who will not be available against Houston, will be available after. We need to rotate to be able to play.”
Blanco’s one-match suspension for yellow-card accumulation, set to be served on June 22, will be factored into the team’s plans, but those plans change drastically if the Timbers don’t defeat Seattle. And with numerous Sounders away on international duty, preparing for that task comes with special challenges.
“We still have an idea based on the guys that haven’t traveled,” Savarese said, when asked about scouting the Sounders. “We can look into it and think ‘this could be how the lineup is going to look’ and prepare for that.
“It’s a little more difficult, because maybe those players don’t have as many matches as other players. But nevertheless, it’s our job to create a good picture of what we think is going to happen. The guys also have to be prepared for that.”
The game will mark the fourth time the Timbers and Sounders have met in Open Cup since Portland joined Major League Soccer in 2011. The first three meetings took place at the Starfire Sports Complex in Tukwila. Wednesday will be the teams’ first at Cheney Stadium in Tacoma.