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Gauntlet thrown, weight lifted as Portland Timbers attack finally clicks for Caleb Porter in first win

BEAVERTON, Ore. – As the weeks piled up without a win for the Portland Timbers in 2014, head coach Caleb Porter made very clear what his team’s biggest issue was.

Outside of a 4-4 draw against the Seattle Sounders in early April, the vaunted attack of 2013 was just not producing goals at a rate that satisfield Porter: eight goals in eight games.

He threw down a gauntlet of sorts: that the Timbers' season rested on that group getting it together – before it was too late. They answered the call with Saturday night’s dramatic, stoppage-time 3-2 victory over D.C. United.

“That group has been challenged,” Porter said. “I’ve challenged them, people have questioned them, and I think they showed what they’re capable of when they’re clicking on all cylinders. Individually and collectively, the front four guys in particular were very good. I think that was a big reason, obviously, we won the game.”

Striker Gastón Fernández – who earlier in the week was named the starter atop Porter’s 4-3-3 formation after being used in multiple roles, including three games as a substitute – scored the quickest goal in club history just 34 seconds into the match, his team-leading fourth of the season. Late substitute Maximiliano Urruti blasted in the winner just before the final whistle, his second strike of the year.

The goals bookended a set-piece goal by center back Mamadou “Futty” Danso. More importantly, in a game that had both possession and a number of dangerous chances for Portland, it showed that perhaps things finally are coming together as the Timbers’ new pieces find their place.

“There’s a bit of [chemistry] that plays into it, but I thought we got it right [Saturday],” Porter said. “A big part of that is that we had some time together.”

That also included the first start since March 22 for winger Steve Zakuani, who paired along with Darlington Nagbe on the flanks, with Fernández up top and attacking midfielder Diego Valeri, as usual, running the show.

Porter said Valeri was the “man of the match” and that Zakuani was “very dynamic individually.” But more than the performance on the field, getting multiple goals for just the second time this season and the first win nine games into the year “will definitely lift a weight,” Porter said.

“Although this next game is not going to be any easier, we’ll play a little more free and relaxed, which means we will play better in the next game,” said the second-year boss as the team got back to the training field Tuesday ahead of Sunday afternoon’s home showdown with the LA Galaxy (2:30 pm ET, NBCSN). No matter what you say or do, when you’re not getting results, you start to feel a little bit heavy. Even though we played well, we have the ability to play better, and we will play better.”

Ported also admitted that the team's slow start played into his thinking when he subbed Urruti for right back Jack Jewsbury in the 83rd minute, going to a three-man back line in a tie game to try and get Portland's first win. Even before Urruti’s game winner, Will Johnson, Fernández and Valeri all had good looks while pouring on the pressure.

“Prior to the game, one of the things we talked about and decided on, with the situation we’re in, it’s worth it to risk a point to go for three,” Porter said.

That gamble paid off with new life for Portland in 2014.

Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com.