Photo by Steve Dykes/USA Today Sports
By FRANCO PANIZO
Turning to the third player in the depth chart of any position is something typically not done until well after the season has begun, but the Portland Timbers are already dealing with that very predicament before the 2015 season has even begun.
Having lost starting holding midfielder Will Johnson to a broken leg late last season, the Timbers were planning to begin the 2015 campaign with Ben Zemanski as Johnson’s fill-in. Those plans were abruptly altered this past weekend after Zemanski suffered a torn ACL in a preseason match.
The injury came exactly two weeks before Portland opens its season at home against Western Conference foe Real Salt Lake, but the Timbers are confident that the next man up can do the job.
“With Will Johnson and Ben Zemanski out, in theory we’re going three deep there but we still have a Jack Jewsbury who was an All-Star at one point in that position as a central mid,” head coach Caleb Porter told SBI by phone. “He’s one of the most experienced players in this club’s history, and, honestly, on a short, condensed time to get ready for that game he’s a safe bet.
“You know what you get, he’s not going to go in a home opener and really do anything surprising in a negative way, and he’s a good player, he’s solid, he’s smart, he’s got good feet. He’ll actually come and play deep and he’ll build up like a (No. 6). He’s smart positionally, and that allows (Diego) Chara to play like the (No. 8).”
The 33-year-old Jewsbury saw time during the 2014 season in both defense and midfield, but it was the latter role that he played well in en route to earning a spot on the 2013 MLS All-Star team. He should feel plenty comfortable as a central midfielder after spending a chunk of his 12-year MLS career there, and will allow the Timbers the luxury of not having to force someone out of position to fill the injury-ravaged spot.
“We went right into that when we lost Ben and we’ve played Jack over the course of his time here and the course of the time that I’ve been here in that role quite a bit,” said Porter. “He does really well as kind of that true six that comes in between the centerbacks and links play. Interestingly enough, it might give us some of that built-in balance, and at times we’ve struggled with playing two holding mids that both like to push on and play like No. 8s.”
With Johnson and Zemanski joining star playmaker Diego Valeri (torn ACL) on the sidelines for at least the first month of the season, there is the chance that the Timbers could be forced to dig even further into their depth chart should Jewsbury pick up an injury or suspension.
If that were to occur, it appears that rookie midfielder Nick Besler would be next in line.
“Even losing Ben, we feel like Jack is slightly ahead of Nick but ironically I think Nick almost reminds us a lot of a young Jack Jewsbury,” said Porter. “I think he’s a guy that’s eventually (going to contribute), whether it’s this year or next year or the year after.”
For now, it will be Jewsbury that will have to help the Timbers get through the opening weeks of the season. Porter is confident that the veteran will get the job done during the stretch that also includes Western Conference showdowns against the LA Galaxy, Sporting Kansas City and the Vancouver Whitecaps.
Not just because of Jewsbury’s experience and ability, but also because of the way the Timbers play.
“We feel like we still can manage it and win games. I feel like we have depth,” said Porter. “We also play more of a team game. We’ve never been a club that’s relied solely on individual kind of talent.We have a talented roster, but we don’t have a more talented roster than let’s say a Seattle or an LA Galaxy or a Red Bull or Toronto. We’re not that type of club.
“We’re kind of, say, a bottom-end club in terms of buying, but we’re kind of top-third and because of that we have to maximize the sum of our parts. … We play more of a team game.”
joe has got a point that I’d like to believe. I’m interested to see how that works out, and at this point, why not? However nagbe doesn’t have all the qualities of a defensive CM. If chara slots into the 6, then we need a box to box, and yes nagbe can make that run and even aid that transition through the CM, but I don’t see his ability to boss the play or stretch the width with vision passing. He needs a wing to function. Nagbe is not a pirlo nor does our style fit a pirlo cdm, not to say we couldn’t adapt to his talent, but his style is a square peg in our 4-2-3-1. Bradley, strootman, kitchen are the styles we need at the 8, albeit varied quality. Looking at what we have jewsbury is a safe play and likely what we’ll see. What about a nanchoff opportunity? He has more midfield boss in him and just needs a tap on the shoulder to compete. Nagbe should stay wide or slot in at CAM #10 in place of Fernandez until Valero returns.
So the answer to Ben going down is not throwing a new guy that is young enough to run our up tempo offense, which requires a highline and being able to track back on a counter attack but put in a 33 year old player who does not have enough youth left in him to go box to box.
This is preseason, you either need to throw besler in with the lions or you need to try and play a player, who I think has all the qualities to be the best cdm in mls, next to Kyle beckerman, and we all know who that is. NAGBE!!!!!
Imo nagbe has shown that he is not a good fit to play on the wings. Asprilla has steped up and shown he brings more value to that position than nagbe. He has pace and agility, but does not hide from the chance to shoot like a frightened turtle.
But nagbe like so many have stated has all the qualities to be a great cdm. Many justified his value of being on the field last year even while not scoring was his ability to take pressure and link play from midfield and the attacking third. That sounds like a cdm to me. He needs to be central. I don’t understand how porter has not looked at nagbe and thought “he could be the pirlo of our team”
Jurgin will probably use nagbe as a cdm. I think he is the best to link up play and find that final pass into the attacking third.
I agree with Joe. Chara does not have the offensive skills to be an effective, creative 8. But he is a bad-ass 6. Put Nags in front of him and Asprilla on the wing, and we’ve got a dynamic team again, even without Will and Valeri. Plus, Nags in the cdm spot will enable Fernandez to push up further where he is more productive.
Still, Besler needs to see some minutes. Hopefully tonight.
Caleb Porter, Translation: “oh s*#t. Oh no no no no no no no….” This team is in trouble.
Let’s party like it’s 2011, yo!