Portland Timbers defender David Horst.
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Portland's Horst a big reason for improved defense

PORTLAND, Ore. — As the resurgent Portland Timbers pushed themselves into the playoff race over the past month, the contributions of one particular player have been big — literally.

Defender David Horst, all 6-foot-4 and 210 pounds of him, is the Timbers’ most physically imposing player. And he hasn’t relinquished his grip on his spot since he was inserted into the starting lineup July 30 against Toronto FC.

He has rebounded from an injury-plagued early season and emerged as one of Portland’s most important pieces on the back line.

“I think he’s been excellent,” Timbers head coach John Spencer said. “And I’ve said this since Day 1 that we’ve had him and played in his first game. He’s played ever so well.”

In the last seven games — all in which Horst has started — the Timbers are 3-2-2 and have allowed nine goals.

That’s good for a goals-against average of 1.3 goals per game. In the 19 matches before that, the Timbers' GAA was 1.6 goals per game.

“I just think I bring something different than some of the other guys bring,” Horst said. “I’m a little bit bigger than the other center backs. I bring a toughness to the defense back there. And when we play against bigger forwards like a [Eric] Hassli or [Juan Pablo] Ángel or those guys from Colorado, I think that’s what I bring to the table.”

Horst, in his fourth year in MLS, has been a welcome addition to a revamped defense. Other than Eric Brunner, who has started all but three matches, the starting back line has been an exercise in mixing and matching.

But Horst’s season didn’t start with such promise. He sprained his ankle in April and then suffered a hip flexor injury after colliding with New York goalkeeper Greg Sutton on June 19.

“It’s been a long year of injuries, just getting banged up,” Horst said. “But it feels good to finally get a good run of games and get myself match fit.”

Horst’s physical nature has been distinct, especially at home where the Timbers have three victories in the month of August, highlighted by a 3-0 win over the LA Galaxy.

In that span, two of MLS’ top scorers — LA’s Landon Donovan and Vancouver’s Hassli — left empty-handed with Horst in the lineup.

“He hasn’t let us down on many occasions this year,” Spencer said. “And if he can continue to stay healthy, he can be a very good MLS central defender.”

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