The long and winding road from Portland to Georgetown, Guyana started well before the Timbers boarded the plane on Sunday. This sort of trek requires careful planning in the middle of the MLS season, particularly with a trip to New England on the front end and a home date with Seattle to wrap the busy week.
Timbers boss Caleb Porter said he sorted out how his team would handle the 10,000 or so miles on tap well before the 28-man squad boarded the plane for Boston on Thursday.
"The biggest thing you do as a coach or a manager is you’re a decision maker," Porter said after the Timbers’ 1-1 draw with the Revolution on Saturday night. "There are a lot of decisions every day you make: what are you doing for training, how hard are you training, what are the tactics for the game, what lineup are you playing. For me, it’s nothing different. You’re just making different types of decision in terms of how you manage those three games in eight days, the travel and all of that."
Each of the three encounters — the away date at New England, the CONCACAF Champions League debut against Alpha United on Tuesday (8:00p.m., FOX Soccer Plus) and the high-profile clash with Sounders FC at Providence Park on Sunday – required its own approach, but all of the preparations were delicately intertwined. This is squad management of the highest order, a radical twist on the three-games-in-eight-days gauntlet encountered so often during the MLS slate.
Porter and the Timbers technical staff settled on a fairly straightforward itinerary with the support of investor/operator Merritt Paulson. The expanded squad embarked on the journey to Massachusetts with one eye on the subsequent charter flight to Guyana on Sunday. Porter culled the travel party for the CCL exertions to 18 and shipped the rest of his players home to prepare for Sounders FC.
The decision to split the squad — a reserve-dominated group to tackle the peculiar test on a cricket pitch in Guyana and a more tested selection to prepare and rest for the derby against Seattle — represents a pragmatic nod to the demands.
"We have a group that we’re going to play that will be – for the most part – fresh to hopefully get a result in Guyana," Porter said. "We’ll hopefully have a group that’s fresh and ready to beat Seattle."
If everything proceeds according to plan, then the Timbers will claim victory in Guyana, hop on a charter directly after the match and resume their domestic duties relatively unscathed. There is a lot of ground to cover during this excursion, but the principles remain firmly the same as this exacting week unfolds.
"For me, it’s just squad rotation," Porter said. "It’s normal things that you have to manage in a season. It’s not easy. But you can’t wing it. You can’t just get caught trying to figure it out when it’s too late to figure it out."
Columbus investor/operator Anthony Precourt, head coach Gregg Berhalter and former U.S. teammate Frankie Hejduk presented Landon Donovan with a piece of the net from the over Mexico last September ahead of the Crew’s 4-1 victory over LA Galaxy on Saturday.
Five Points – Week 24
1. Columbus delivers a day to remember at Crew Stadium: The pre-match festivities included the arrival of Andy Loughnane as president of business operations and a presentation to Landon Donovan as his retirement tour continues. And then the home side took the field to wallop LA Galaxy 4-1 in perhaps the best display of the Gregg Berhalter era. Not a bad night’s work, then.
2. Plata flexes his aerial prowess again for Real Salt Lake: There were more than a few talking points to take from RSL’s 2-1 victory over Seattle on Saturday afternoon, but the most impressive feat occurred when Joao Plata eluded everyone at the far post to nod home Luke Mulholland’s free kick and open the scoring shortly after halftime.
Plata’s continued success in the air contradicts his modest stature. He makes up for his lack of size with the same qualities he relies upon to flourish elsewhere: anticipation and timing. His ability to assess the play, move into the right spot and strike accurately once he arrives there reflects his continued development and underscores his persistent threat whether he is picked out on the ground or through the air.
3. Toronto FC buckles under Sporting KC pressure without Caldwell: The lingering absence of Steven Caldwell with a torn calf undermined any TFC chances of procuring a result at Sporting Park on Saturday night. TFC struggles with its communication and its spacing without principal organizer Caldwell to coordinate the efforts. The dearth of cohesiveness ultimately leads the Reds to lunge into challenges (two penalties conceded on the night) or scramble to sort out impending threats.
This problem isn’t something exposed by Sporting KC: Toronto FC conceded 10 goals in the previous six games without Caldwell (and the last five unfolded without regular fullback Mark Bloom, too). The constant stress created by playing Sporting merely highlighted the cracks already present.
4. FC Dallas relies on pace to expose San Jose: This matchup — FCD with its pace on the break, San Jose with its general lack of team speed – always loomed as a potential trouble spot for the Earthquakes. No one in Santa Clara thought it would end with the worst defeat in the club’s MLS existence, though.
Tesho Akindele (first professional hat trick) and Fabian Castillo (first MLS double) tore the Earthquakes asunder with their incisive and timely running in the 5-0 victory at Buck Shaw Stadium. San Jose failed to match the energy expended in the early stages or restrict the opportunities for Akindele and Castillo to turn and sprint at pace toward stretched Earthquakes defense. The entire night provided an exaggerated instruction to show why FCD is currently nursing a MLS-best nine-game unbeaten run and why San Jose is currently on the outer fringes of the postseason chase.
5. Colorado falls behind again, suffers yet another defeat: The once-surging Rapids are flailing around in search of solid defensive ground in a bid to halt their recent downturn in form. The final accounting in the 4-1 defeat at D.C. United on Sunday might have proved somewhat harsh, but the manner of the goals conceded highlighted the inability to avoid critical mistakes and the unsteady nature of the shape at the moment.
One stat just about sums things up at the moment: Colorado conceded in the opening 15 minutes for the fourth straight match. It is a painful habit the Rapids must break, but the road back to stability is difficult with Drew Moor (right knee injury sustained on Luis Silva’s opener) poised to join Shane O’Neill (right knee sprain) on the sidelines for LA Galaxy’s visit to Commerce City on Wednesday.