BEAVERTON, Ore. – After the Portland Timbers’ impressive 2-1 road win on Saturday at Columbus Crew SC, head coach Caleb Porter reiterated a common line of thinking in MLS.
He said that in a league with comparable talent levels among teams, the difference between success and failure comes down to “the intangibles.”
And against Crew SC, Porter said his team had all those intangibles. That was decidedly not the case just a week earlier, when the Timbers were defeated 2-0 at home by the New York Red Bulls.
“You could see the last game we got all that, chemistry was good, the fight was good, the cohesion was good, every player performed at their potential, that’s important,” Porter said on Tuesday after Portland’s first training session of the week ahead of Saturday’s big match against Sporting Kansas City (10:30 pm ET, MLS LIVE). “You wrap that all together and that leaves a positive performance.”
A big aspect in the turnaround performance, Porter said, was the inclusion of veteran winger Rodney Wallace in the starting lineup. Wallace, who has just one goal this year, regained his spot on the left after playing behind summer signing Lucas Melano for the Timbers’ previous three matches.
“Obviously with every decision that I make, there’s always a lot of layers that go into it,” Porter said. “But we felt with Rodney, his experience, being in a playoff push, his experience playing on the road, playing the Crew, being in games in the trenches in MLS, that that was a factor. … Didn’t hurt. That was a group that we ended the year with last year and we had good success with that group, so we knew there was some natural cohesion.”
It wasn’t just the intangibles that improved with Wallace back in the fold – the defense was markedly better, too. Veteran midfielder Jack Jewsbury, who slotted in for Will Johnson as he continues to be plagued by problems relating to the broken leg he suffered late last year, also helped lock things up in the back.
Porter said he wanted Wallace’s “fight” going up against Crew SC defender Harrison Afful, who he called one of the best right backs in the league.
“We’re not so much better than the teams where we can just show up and get a few good performances,” Porter said. “We can’t just show up and think we’ll attack and some guys defend and some guys don’t. It needs to be 11 guys defending, 11 guys attacking, 11 guys bought in.”
As Porter noted, the front four of Wallace on the left, Darlington Nagbe on the right, Diego Valeri in the middle and Fanendo Adi, who started on the bench against New York, up top was Portland’s first-choice attack for the second half of last season and much of this year.
It wasn’t only Wallace’s defensive attributes that led to his return to the XI, with Porter saying the Costa Rican “won” the job back from Melano during training. Wallace repaid Porter’s faith in Columbus, assisting on Adi’s game-winning goal – his second of the match – on a play born out of “sheer desire and a will to win.”
“I’ve been playing with Rodney for five years now, and obviously when he’s in there I know what he wants to do and he knows what I want to do,” Nagbe said. “And that definitely helps in the attack. He brings that energy that some of us don’t have, even in training every single day.”
Going into a game that Portland had to win to keep their spot as the West's sixth-seed, Porter said the fact that Jewsbury and Wallace have been “in the trenches” throughout a prolonged season and playoff chase made the decision to start them all the easier. It appears that at least Jewsbury will get the call again against Kansas City, with Johnson “weighing his options” with the training staff on how to get back to 100 percent, Porter said.
“Those are two guys that know how to win in this league, let’s be honest,” center back Nat Borchers said of Jewsbury and Wallace. “They’re veteran guys, they know how to get up for games, they know what it takes to get points in this league. And obviously their leadership and their character on the field on Saturday was huge for us.”
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com.