PORTLAND, Ore. – Portland Timbers defender David Horst said there’s a little more hop in the step of players at training this week after their victory on Sunday over rival Seattle.
That's especially true of Horst himself.
The big center back scored the first goal of his five-year MLS career, the game-winner in the 2-1 victory at a raucous JELD-WEN Field. And it was also his second full game back after returning from offseason hip surgery.
“Six months ago, I never thought I’d be playing in that game,” Horst said. “It’s a testament to our training staff getting me back healthy and getting me in that game. It’s a great feeling in that aspect, and I couldn’t ask for anything else.”
Anatomy of a Goal: Horst against Seattle
Injuries have plagued Horst throughout his career. Last year, he missed most of the first half of the season with a sprained ankle and then the hip injury that eventually required surgery.
He returned to the starting lineup on July 30, and the Timbers defense immediately improved. But he was playing through pain and was in and out of the lineup for the final month of the season.
His first two starts this year – against Seattle and in a 1-0 loss June 17 against the LA Galaxy – have marked the first time Horst has played pain free in a long time. He also played 45 minutes May 26 in a 1-1 tie against Vancouver.
“I definitely feel healthier, which has been a long time because I was struggling with that hip injury most of last year,” he said. “I’ve just got to be more careful, just have prepare a little differently, stretch more than I used to do. I’ve just got to keep taking care of myself.”
And keeping Horst on the field is obviously in the Timbers’ best interest.
At 6-foot-4, 210 pounds, Horst is one of the team’s most physical defenders. Add Hanyer Mosquera (6-1, 175), Mamadou “Futty” Danso (6-3, 185) and Eric Brunner (6-4, 170), and Portland has one of the most imposing backlines in the league no matter who starts.
That showed in the rough-and-tumble Seattle game, with a Horst- and Danso-led backline that held the potent Sounders offense to just one goal. Horst said it was that type of complete shift that finally told himself his swagger is back.
“It definitely helps out a lot,” he said. “Seattle is not only our biggest rival but a very good team in this league, so to play that way against them it definitely helps out a lot to, like I said, keep the confidence going.”
Timbers head coach John Spencer has been complimentary of his team’s defense as a whole. He pointed to the last six games, in which Portland have allowed just four goals, as evidence.
“I’ve said time and time again, with the way we’ve been defending, if we just put the chances away we’d have a lot more points on the board,” Spencer said. “I think with the quality we have, we’re five or six wins behind were we should be. But the table doesn’t lie.”
Goalkeeper Troy Perkins certainly likes what he’s seeing from the backline.
“All our center backs have been incredibly physical and tough this year,” he said. “And that’s what you want. You want two guys in the middle are going to go around banging heads.”
And with another crucial Western Conference game on Saturday against Colorado, Horst is hoping to stay on the field doing just that.
“It’s just a great feeling being back,” he said.
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.