BEAVERTON, Ore. – When the Portland Timbers look back on the 2013 season, which increasingly appears to be headed toward the MLS playoffs, the acquisition of Maximiliano Urruti may just be deemed the move that pushed it over the top.
Urruti played key roles in both of Portland’s goals in their last two 1-0 victories, which has vaulted the Timbers to third place in the Western Conference with four regular season games remaining. And while it’s obvious that more than just one player factored into the two wins, the 22-year-old Argentinean forward has certainly provided a much needed spark to a team that just three weeks ago was flirting with the wrong side of the red line.
“It's the little things he does well, he fits into our team, our system,” Timbers head coach Caleb Porter said of Urruti, who was thrust into the starting lineup less than two weeks after he was acquired in a Sept. 9 trade with Toronto FC. “A big part of what we're looking for out of the individuals is what they do individually, but more importantly we want them to be able to execute the way we want to play and help make the players around them better.”
Urruti, who has slotted in at the striker position, normally manned by Ryan Johnson, who is tied for the team lead with eight goals, scored his first goal in a Timbers uniform in their 1-0 victory Sunday over the two-time defending MLS Cup champion LA Galaxy. And in Portland’s 1-0 victory the previous week over the surging Colorado Rapids, Urruti’s high pressure led to a turnover and a goal for fellow Argentinean Diego Valeri.
“You always want to play well, but I’m very happy I was able to play well in such a quick fashion and be able to come into the team and instill the way I play with the way they play,” Urruti said through a translator Tuesday at the team’s training facility. “It all worked out.”
Urruti’s goal against the Galaxy, a side-footed flick off a second-half corner kick, was a particular expression of brilliance, especially considering the game’s implications in the playoff race. But it’s Urruti’s complete game and how he fits into Portland’s high-pressure possession game that has Porter gushing over his newest weapon.
“He’s a finisher,” Porter said. “It’s not just the goal, but the amount of ground he covers in pressing their central defenders. He worked tirelessly the entire night to be a nuisance on their central defenders. That’s huge in this system, when you play a 4-3-3. If you’re going to be a pressing team, you need your No. 9 to put the work in and make it predictable and chop the field, and he did that.”
That was exemplified in the turnover Urruti created against Colorado. Against LA, he never allowed the Galaxy’s backline or goalkeeper to settle on the ball, relentlessly pressing deep into their own half.
Urruti said it’s a style of play that led his former club, top-flight Argentine side Newell’s Old Boys, to pursue him as a youngster.
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“That’s what they basically wanted me for, and that’s what I adapted to and that’s how I play,” Urruti said. “So coming here, there’s not much of a difference from that. It’s just very important and vital for a striker to cover a lot of ground on defense and that’s what I try to do.”
All factors that led Porter to not only go after Urruti but to thrust him into such a key role during the team’s most critical stretch of the season.
“He's a player, even though he’s young, he has played at a very high level,” Porter said.
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com.