TUKWILA, Wash. — An unlikely pairing is emerging as a key component of the Timbers' first XI.
Portland surprised the host Seattle Sounders, 2-0, at Starfire Stadium in the Cascade Summit opener on Friday night, thanks in big part to the enterprising combination play of right back Steve Purdy and flank mate Sal Zizzo, who lined up in front of Purdy in the midfield.
WATCH: Full match highlights
The Timbers edged ahead in the 21st minute after Purdy and Zizzo combined on the right wing before Zizzo fed striker Kenny Cooper. Though Seattle goalkeeper Kasey Keller got a hand on Cooper's initial shot, trialist Jorge Perlaza was there to tap in the rebound.
"Steve did a great job of winning the ball," Zizzo said. "I kind of made a run outside and made a give-and-go with Steve. I saw Kenny at the top off the box, and I tried to lay it back to him as best I could. He hit it well out of the air."
Zizzo joined the Timbers after starring as a US U-20 international in the 2007 World Cup. After making his senior US debut and enjoying a brief stint in Germany, he returned home in 2010 under high expectations and was allocated to Chivas USA.
However, he failed to make an impact with the Goats and was traded to Portand during the offseason. Timbers head coach John Spencer admitted his club had chased the 23-year-old midfielder for six months.
"A lot of people probably raised an eyebrow when we got him, thinking, 'What's this kid done in the game?'" Spencer said. "But I think he's got a bright future. All we've got to do is get him 90 minutes fit, get him a little stronger and get him used to playing games week-in, week-out."
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Purdy also had a shot at Germany before failing to stick at FC Dallas. In 2010 he became a key player for the D-2 Timbers, though he usually started at center back.
Last sumer, then-Timbers coach Gavin Wilkinson — now the team's technical director — converted Purdy to a right back, where he looks to have locked down the position.
At least for now.
"He's a tremendous athlete and has actually, in my eyes, been the most consistent performer in preseason, but you've got to keep it going," Spencer said. "But you can't play well for three weeks of the year and think you've had a good season."
Purdy made a key block on Steve Zakuani's second-half effort on Friday, and overall the Purdy-Zizzo partnership kept the Seattle winger frustrated through the match, often forcing him inside where he became less effective.
"Zakauni has great speed, we all know that," Purdy said. "The main thing for us was to contain him as much as possible. In the second half he actually played inside a lot, and we were able to neutralize him a bit."
Zizzo was often seen tracking back to defend behind Purdy, and the pair seemed to enjoy good chemistry despite playing just a handful of games together.
"We've been linking up in training and we've been able to get that chemistry on that side," Purdy said. "We know out strengths — that's speed and running into spaces. I think we gave each other a really good chance to use our strengths."
Aside from helping shut down one of the league's most feared wingers, Zizzo himself looked dangerous when moving up the flank into attack. He completed his impressive outing by assisting Cooper's stoppage-time strike.
"Today, [the partnership] was the best it's been," Zizzo said. "Steve played very well against Zakuani to shut him down, and together we did a good job double teaming and working hard offensively."
The Timbers next take the field against the Vancouver Whitecaps on Saturday at 7 pm ET (streamed live at www.portlandtimbers.com), while the Sounders have a day off before wrapping up the Cascadia Summit on Sunday at 6 pm ET against Vancouver (streamed live on www.soundersfc.com).