Sal Zizzo has spent most of his soccer career trying to score goals. But there he was on Wednesday, playing the right back position for the Portland Timbers in their Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup victory over the Tampa Bay Rowdies.
“Anything to be on the field. It’s fun, it’s different,” Zizzo said after playing all 90 minutes of the 2-0 win.
It was the first full match for Zizzo since knee surgery sidelined him following the Timbers’ season opener in March. For coach Caleb Porter, the Open Cup game was a chance to get a look at Zizzo in a position where he might help fill a need.
“Part of this (Open Cup) game was to continue to see where we’re at in terms of our depth,” Porter said. “We wanted to see if he’s a guy that we could maybe use at times in the outside back position.”
Zizzo played some at outside back while with Hannover 96 in Germany, but said it is a learning process.
Porter wants his outside backs to get forward on the attack, and Zizzo’s speed would seem to make him a good fit for that part of the job.
“I’m trying to learn, it’s just defense first, defense first,” the 26-year-old said. “As I get more comfortable, then I can go forward a little bit more.”
Zizzo’s work on Wednesday was another example of the way Porter has cultivated depth and versatility on the Timbers roster.
The lineup for Wednesday’s Open Cup match — a tournament Porter emphasizes the Timbers are gunning to win — included more reserves than regulars. But Diego Valeri, Frederic Piquionne, Darlington Nagbe and Jack Jewsbury were among the regulars who played at least part of the game.
“I’m very happy for the guys who played in the game, because some of those guys don’t see the field, some of them don’t even travel,” Porter said. “We trusted our reserves. We knew there would be situations like this where we would need them.”
Porter said he was pleased to get Wednesday’s win without overextending key regulars before Saturday’s showdown against league-leading FC Dallas.
“We really want to make a push for the top (of the standings). We have a great opportunity to do that,” Porter said. “We’re at home, facing the best team in the league right now, and we’re looking forward to that game.”