It matters but it really doesn’t; having players injured is part of the game and part of a very long, travel taking its toll, kind of season.
Perhaps we see Capt Will Johnson return, perhaps we don’t – only Caleb and his coaching staff really knows and he won’t be giving up the ghost to anyone until 30-45 minutes before kickoff.
All told, if others are right, that is Johnson, Jewsbury, Zemanski, Piquionne, Dike, Horst and Danso as ‘day-to-day’… In the central midfield area that leaves Steve Evans and Michael Harrington as players who have taken on those typical roles (however limited) provided by Chara and Johnson, in the past this year.
Before poo-pooing the Harrington option let’s not forget he played this role, alongside Evans, when Norwich City came to town awhile ago – and he did do a very good job sustaining that role.
He’s a professional and he has the grit and the pace to take that role while Evans is more akin to Jewsbury (speed wise) but just as good at seeing the pitch. I’d offer he would provide a stabilizing role and anchor himself atop Kah and Baptiste.
Evans plays the game and he doesn’t let the game play him… there’s a big difference between the two and that’s part of the reason why Evans remains with this team while other, younger guys like him, have been moved on. This is a great opportunity for a guy like Evans – I wish him the very best if he gets the head nod!
That’s not to say other players are out of the mix or that the midfield might switch to a bucket 4-4-2 or straight 4-5-1 but I sense Caleb would prefer to make as few ‘organizational changes’ in his attack and defending scheme as possible.
The more organizational changes he makes to his system the greater the potential to negatively impact the ‘still devastating’ attack the Timbers have.
So “if” Harrington and Evans take the ‘two spots’ with Valeri up top in the middle that still leaves the Timbers with Wallace, Nagbe and Johnson up top. As for who slides into the left back spot – that would probably be Miller, who would again play alongside Baptiste while Kah pairs the other side with Powell.
All told that is only two structural changes and it is likely that both Harrington and Evans would rotate in triangle formation with the center-backs and fullbacks as appropriate.
What might be different in this scheme of things is whether or not Portland 1) take an aggressive possession based attack approach, 2) play more counterattacking, or 3) play a wee bit tighter and deeper in the final third.
The Timbers haven’t really done that third option to much this year but they have taken option 2, with a slight direct-attack twist, when on the road and put it to good effect on a number of occasions to include that 3-2 comeback against Sporting.
There is no doubt the energy and passion and adrenaline will be flowing for Seattle given the Dempster-diving homecoming – it’s that type of over-juice that helps feed a sleeping giant counterattack…
Lest we forget Valeri sits on 11 assists while Wallace has 5, Johnson 4 and Nagbe 3. For goals there’s Johnson on 8, Nagbe on 7, Valeri on 5 and Wallace on 5.
All told that still leaves Zizzo, Alhassan, Valencia and McKenzie on the bench as worthy subs who can come in based upon game conditions. That means, if the injuries remain as noted above, Rincon and one or two guys that are day-to-day that are more ‘ready’ than the others.
A greater concern I can see is how well Ricketts feels. He’s been under the radar a bit this week and he did have some leg issues in that home match against Real Salt Lake; lest it gets forgotten that late on Kah and Baptiste were taking long ball kicks from the back and not Ricketts.
Both sides will be pumped given the sellout crowd and national TV audience – this is not just a game about Dempsey; it’s a Cascadia Cup Clash of the biggest sort in a ‘darbee’ match that most everyone tracking MLS will watch.
This game feels to me more like taking on the roll of a ‘cup game’ and ‘cup games’ are one-offs where either team has a 50-50 chance of winning and… in games like these set-pieces can be huge. Given that; previous possession-based statistics have no real bearing on the outcome of a game other than to reinforce what ‘is already habit forming’ for the players taking the pitch.
Seattle have not been the best of teams this year but have hung tough – Portland have experienced early, mid and late game issues that sometimes trend towards mistakes in concentration than outright bad, systematic, play.
Minimizing ‘mistakes’ in concentration is the key to the Timbers success or failure this game. Every time Seattle has the ball I would imagine the 100% focus for Portland will be to win that ball. Defense first – defense second and then attack the final third.
Bottom line at the bottom: Portland will need to be prudent and pick the right opportunities – patience and pressure with no panic should provide possession and perseverance to put one past Gspurning.