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How opportunist Rodney Wallace earned an unlikely starting spot for Portland Timbers

BEAVERTON, Ore. – Through his first two years with the Portland Timbers, Rodney Wallace never truly found a home. Was he an outside defender, a central midfielder, a wing or a forward?

Now, nearly two months into his third year with the club it seems he's found his spot. The Costa Rican international has played eight games at forward, and started the last four. And his two goals is already just one shy of his career high set with D.C. United in 2009 and his two-year total from the previous two seasons with Portland.

His last goal – a 58th-minute strike that gave the Timbers a 3-2 road victory over Sporting Kansas City last weekend – was one of the biggest of his professional career. He also scored as a second-half substitute in Portland’s 1-1 tie at Seattle in March.

So what’s been the difference?

READ: Timbers all smiles after win in Kansas City

“The way we’re attacking this year is more fluid,” Wallace told MLSsoccer.com. “We have a lot of chemistry with the attacking guys … I’m just trying to get behind the defenders as much as possible and create some chances and get in crosses and shots on goal.”

Wallace was mostly used as a defender under former head coach John Spencer. But when current head coach Caleb Porter began evaluating his new team’s talent, he said he tried to view each player without preconceived notions. Wallace has lined up on the left flank as one of three forwards in a 4-3-3 formation, behind striker Ryan Johnson and alongside Darlington Nagbe, in the last four games.

Heading into Thursday’s game against New England at JELD-WEN Field (10:30 pm ET, Univision Deportes), he’s just one more dangerous piece in Porter’s attacking arsenal that is third in MLS with 14 goals scored and a welcome surprise after a season-ending injury sustained by forward Bright Dike in the preseason.

“I’ve just tried to evaluate these players based on what I see and feel from them every day in training,” Porter said. “And [Wallace] has been one of the most consistent guys, day in and day out, in training. And then when we put him in games off the bench he always performed well.”

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Against Kansas City, Wallace was one of the most dangerous players on the field. He led the team with three shots, all on target.

“You start to see things, patterns of players performing well and it gives you trust that they’ll do it,” Porter said. “And then when you give them an opportunity, like we did, to start a game, and they continue to play well, we had all the evidence we needed to put him in the game and obviously also keep him in the game because he’s played well.”

Timbers captain Jack Jewsbury said Wallace worked hard this offseason to improve his fitness, and that his time with the Costa Rican national team – he famously scored the winning goal in Costa Rica’s 1-0 win over the US in a Sept. 2011 friendly – has also helped.

“I think just getting comfortable with his role in the formation has really helped him,” Jewsbury said. “He’s really come on for us, and obviously getting the goal to get three points in Kansas City was huge. I’m really happy for him.”

Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com.