Portland coach Caleb Porter hoping that come-from-behind road win sparks mid-season surge

NEW YORK, NY. — It was late April 2013, the Portland Timbers had just two wins through their first seven games under first-year head coach Caleb Porter and were headed into a daunting road game against Sporting Kansas City.

And against the eventual MLS Cup champions, the Timbers overcame two one-goal deficits in an eventual 3-2 win at Sporting Park.

While Saturday’s road match against the New York Red Bulls didn’t occur under quite the same circumstances – being it’s almost a month later in the year and Portland came in with just one win – Porter said his team’s 2-1 victory at Red Bull Arena reminded him a lot of that game more than a year ago.

“Very similar game, we went down early and battled back,” Porter said in his postgame comments. “And I thought last year it was a real turning point and gave us confidence that we could go in anywhere against any team and get points.”

Much like last year, Portland overcame an early deficit – after conceding their sixth penalty kick of the season, converted by Bradley Wright-Phillips – thanks to a Maximiliano Urruti brace. Last year, Portland went on from that win in Kansas City to capture the regular season Western Conference title. And Porter is hoping Saturday’s result – on the heels of a dramatic comeback in a 3-3 draw last week against the Columbus Crew – provides a similar turning point.

“We can build on this moving forward,” Porter said.

Portland also did something they have struggled to accomplish so far in 2014: held onto a lead, with New York pushing forward frantically. Even in last week’s momentum-building result, Portland squandered an early lead and watched the Crew take two late leads.

That led to Porter handing center back Rauwshan McKenzie his first start of the season, which also happened to be his first minutes since Aug. 30 of last year. Embattled center back Norberto Paparatto also saw his first action since April 5, coming on as a late substitute.

After the penalty kick, which came as the Red Bulls dominated the early action, New York’s attacking pair of Wright-Phillips and Thierry Henry was largely bottled up for the remainder of the game.

“It was a team effort,” Porter said. “In looking back on every player, I thought everybody put a shift in. Rauwshan McKenzie, he went into a difficult situation playing a great team on the road and I thought he was up for it against two of the strikers in the league. And then I thought Paparatto went in and made three or four plays that he needed to make.”

Most of all, collecting all three points after a cross-country road trip against a club the Timbers have never beaten before is just what the doctor ordered for a team that nearly played itself out of contention through early struggles.

“It’s kind of getting hit in the face, but we don’t get knocked down,” Timbers captain Will Johnson said. “You better knock us out if you want to take a punch at us because we’re going to come back fighting, and that’s exactly what we did.”

Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com.