PORTLAND, Ore. – Portland Timbers head coach Caleb Porter didn't waste a breath when asked about the continued surprising play of Rodney Wallace, following the player's third goal of the season in the Portland Timbers’ 3-0 dismantling of Chivas USA.
“Rodney Wallace is having a breakout year,” Porter said, matter-of-factly.
Wallace’s 34th-minute strike in what would eventually turn into a rout on a cloudy Sunday afternoon at JELD-WEN Field equaled the forward’s career high for a season – set in his 2009 rookie campaign with D.C. United – with two-thirds of the 2013 season still left to play.
The Costa Rican also recorded his second assist of the year – one shy of another career best – when he set up Diego Valeri’s 70th-minute goal to put Portland up 2-0.
And though Portland have played 11 games now, Wallace has just six starts under his belt after spending the season’s first month coming off the bench, a role he became increasingly used to in his first two seasons with the Timbers.
GOAL: Wallace finishes off the counterattack
“I’m not sure why he hasn’t had a breakout year up to this point because I think clearly he is one of the better wingers in the league,” Porter said. “He’s really flourishing.”
Wallace, who has mostly played at full back until this season, just follows up one good game with another.
He came off the bench to score the tying goal in the Timbers’ 1-1 draw March 16 in Seattle. In his fourth start of the season, he scored the winning goal in the Timbers’ 3-2 win at Sporting Kansas City on April 27.
And on Wednesday, he set up Portland’s only goal in a 1-1 draw at FC Dallas when he fed fellow wide forward Darlington Nagbe.
“I think it’s just hard work,” Wallace said. “I think it’s determination right now. We have a good group. We have good chemistry, and we’re all flourishing right now. The thing about this group is, we like winning and it just shows on the field.”
Against Chivas, Wallace turned in his most complete performance.
For his goal, he effortlessly controlled a pass from Ryan Johnson while streaking down the left wing, beat his defender wide and sent a clever, left-footed chip shot over Chivas goalkeeper Patrick McLain and inside the far post.
“It came off our pressure,” Wallace said of the goal. “It’s something we take pride in and something we do in practice. Just pressuring the ball and making sure we have a bunch of guys around it.”
His assist came after several slick passes with Nagbe in the area to unlock the defense for a perfect through ball to Valeri. Wallace had three shots in all and 34 successful passes.
“A lot of our players right now, it’s real simple, they’re enjoying their football,” Porter said. “They’re enjoying it. The more you enjoy playing this game, the better you play. I tell them to go out and be free, just play.”
Wallace pointed Porter’s willingness to give players a long leash, coupled with what he called a good offseason working with the Costa Rican national team, as the main reasons for his breakout.
“Caleb gives you the confidence to go out there and express yourself as a player,” Wallace said. “He tells you not to hold back – do the dirty work as well – but just play free. And that’s something we’ve been doing. … I just felt like last year wasn’t my best year, and I knew I was capable of much more. And I’m just going out there every game and showing it.”
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com.