PORTLAND, Ore. – Rodney Wallace couldn’t have picked a better time for his first goal of the season.
The Portland Timbers defender (above right) struck in the 78th-minute to rescue his team from defeat against bitter Cascadia rival Seattle Sounders in front of a sold-out home crowd at JELD-WEN Field. The 1-1 draw on a warm, late-summer Saturday afternoon in the Rose City put the Cascadia Cup’s destiny in Portland’s hands heading into the final month of the regular season.
Of course, a victory would have sealed the 2012 title, but under the circumstances, the Timbers were satisfied to walk away with a well earned point and poll position.
“Playing in front of these great fans against your rival, it’s a great feeling,” Wallace said after hoisting the traditional log slice in front of a gracious Timbers Army. “It’s always good to get the point when you’re a goal down. “
Wallace started the match playing a stop-gap role at left back, a position left up for grabs heading into the week after normal starter Steven Smith was suspended for yellow card accumulation. To top it off, he had just returned to Timbers camp Wednesday after serving national team duty with Costa Rica, coming on as a 72nd-minute substitute for The Ticos in their 1-0 loss in a World Cup Qualifier Tuesday against Mexico.
But the first start since Aug. 15 for the jack-of-all-trades fourth-year player – who has started as a defender, midfielder and forward for the Timbers this year – didn’t disappoint.
“I thought Wallace tonight showed a lot of energy and defensively did a good job,” Timbers interim head coach Gavin Wilkinson said. “He was very, very involved going forward. … I thought Rodney as a left back did a tremendous job.”
The goal came with the Timbers pushing forward in desperation after Seattle forward and Portland nemesis Fredy Montero struck gold in the 57th minute for his 12 goal of the season. On a Jack Jewsbury corner kick in the 78th minute, Wallace skied above the Sounders defense to nod the ball low and into traffic. Seattle's clearance attempt ended up just inside the post.
“It was just a set play that we’ve been practicing, and it went the right way for us,” Wallace said.
Wallace also was up to the task defensively, holding the potent Seattle attack to just three shots on goal, along with centerbacks David Horst and Hanyer Mosquera and right back Kosuke Kimura.
“It was a good performance,” Wallace said. “Obviously there are things I can improve on every time, but from here on it’s just one of those things where I have just have to move forward and keep it going. This isn’t anything to be super excited about. We still have many games to go, and I still have to improve myself every single day.”
And with matches, on the road, against Seattle and Vancouver still remaining on the schedule, the Timbers can hoist the Cascadia Cup with a win and a Seattle loss in one of their two remaining Cascadia matches. Portland has yet to win on the road this season in 13 tries.
“We have to just build from this,” Wallace said. “Unfortunately we didn’t get the win, but we just have to keep fighting and grinding it out.”
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.