PORTLAND, Ore. – Rodney Wallace, welcome to the Portland Timbers midfield party.
With his start on the left wing in Portland’s scoreless draw against Columbus last weekend, the Costa Rican international is the latest player to be thrust into the Timbers’ crowded midfield picture. He’s the eighth different player to claim a start at midfield in the team’s first nine games of 2012.
“It feels good,” Wallace said. “It feels natural. I feel comfortable there.”
Wallace’s new position – he started at left back in Portland’s first five games – is part of an overall shift in the lineup that resulted in central midfielder and team captain Jack Jewsbury being dispatched at right back.
And it may have paid dividends, even though the Timbers were unable to find the back of the net for a third straight game – their goal against Sporting Kansas City on April 21 came on an own-goal.
The Timbers fired off 15 shots against the Crew, including seven shots on goal. And Wallace was at the heart of the attack with three shots on goal, including a blast in the 20th minute that required a diving save from Columbus goalkeeper Andy Gruenebaum.
WATCH: Wallace nearly scores vs. Crew
“I thought for long periods of times we dominated the possession, dominated the tempo of the game,” Timbers head coach John Spencer said. “Obviously there were a couple of half-chances in the first half. I thought their goalkeeper, Gruenebaum, pulls off two or three great saves, especially the one from Rodney Wallace.”
Of course, the speedy Wallace isn’t a stranger to the midfield, having spent time there throughout his four-year MLS career. In fact, he came off the bench at forward for the Costa Rican national team and scored a goal in their much-publicized 1-0 victory over the US on Sept. 3 last year.
But this season, Wallace was mostly expected to see time on the back line for Portland. But he feels the competition for positions in midfield has helped keep players sharp.
“I think it’s actually made us a better team,” Wallace said. “It’s competitive and everyone wants to play, so I think mixing it up has made everyone ready to play.”
And now that he’s closer to goal, Wallace hopes he can help the Timbers rediscover their offense and perhaps add to his goal-scoring resume in the process.
“The goals will come eventually,” he said. “I think that we’re doing the right things to get there. They just haven’t fallen, but we know that they are coming.”
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com.