Ben Zemanski tore his ACL in a preseason game. While nowhere near a sexy player, this season was shaping up to become a massively important one for his career. Will Johnson’s leg break from last season opened up starting time for the young midfielder. After showing well in that last five games of the season, Porter felt confident in Zemanski’s ability in the position, so much so, that they acquired no additional players for the position during the offseason.
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This injury is of course tragic to Zemanski’s career, one where he has already battled back from significant injury. He fought through concussion issues during the 2014 season. This injury is also extremely detrimental to the Timbers. Many fans and pundits had already put two and two together and realized that the team’s performance improved when Zemanski was on the field. For these astute observers, there was a hope that the Will Johnson injury had actually turned into a blessing in disguise by allowing a worthy challenger to the position gain significant minutes. This fored Porter into the positive type of hard decisions that are good for coaches and teams.
Now, the Timbers find themselves in damage control mode. With not enough time to find a replacement and acclimate them to the team, the club is left with two choices: use existing depth on the bench or a change of formation.
The existing depth comes from three possibilities: Jack Jewsbury, George Fochive or Nick Besler. After Besler’s display in the Timbers’ Wednesday preseason game, it is clear the fifth overall selection in the 2015 MLS SuperDraft is not ready for MLS minutes. In the same game and in previous non-league starts, Fochive has shown well, but Porter has expressed his preference for Jewsbury to take the spot, citing Jack and his teammates comfort level with each other as the motivating factor.
The other option, which Porter began toying with on Wednesday night, is a change of formation; Porter set up in an almost flat 4-4-2. This is an interesting option the team should employ, but it will require defensive discipline, especially from fullbacks accustomed to bombing up the flanks. The potential midfield could be an exciting lineup by fitting Wallace, Fernandez, Nagbe, Chara, Urruti & Adi all on the pitch at the same time. Porter could even employ similar tactics by using a diamond with Chara at the bottom and Fernandez at top. The tradeoff being the necessity of increased commitment on defense from the top to the back line.
It’s clear there won’t be an easy solution to this rough patch for the Timbers. Likely, the solution Porter chooses will come in the form of a combination of these two proposals. Will Johnson is getting close to a return and may only miss a few games. The Zemanski injury makes it essential that he returns as soon as possible, instead of gradually coming back into play.
One thing can be assured, Will Johnson will meet this challenge head on and return as soon as humanely possible. Hopefully, the same can be said for Ben Zemanski. Although, a blow to one’s career like this, especially when so close to a crucial turning point, has led many athletes to the difficult decision of retirement. With Rose City and Will Johnson in his corner, let’s see how the kid responds.