The names change, but the song remains the same.
Injuries and a suspension forced the Portland Timbers to replace two key players and adjust their formation, but their unbeaten streak and road success just kept on rolling along after a 2-0 victory Saturday over D.C. United at RFK Stadium.
“The changes that we make are not too drastic because we know the players that we have are going to come in and maintain that same level and bring in their own different type of energy,” said wide forward Rodney Wallace - who kept his own personal redemption story going with his fourth goal of the season in the 21st minute of the game - in a phone interview with MLSsoccer.com. “We’re all one, we’re all together here, and if one guy is hurt, the next guy is ready to play.”
Attacking midfielder Diego Valeri picked up a hamstring injury in training this week and wasn’t available. That forced head coach Caleb Porter to tweak his usual 4-3-3 formation into more of a 4-4-2 look, with Darlington Nagbe and Wallace at the attacking wings and Frederic Piquionne getting his second start of the season alongside Ryan Johnson up top.
Center back Mamadou “Futty” Danso was also out, serving a suspension for a red card he picked up in last weekend’s 2-2 tie against Vancouver, leading to the first start for newly signed defender Pa Modou Kah.
It all translated to their franchise record 11-game unbeaten streak and second road win, keeping Portland the only MLS team unbeaten on the road this season.
“Basically, our approach was to get the three points,” Wallace said. “It feels good to be on this team, it feels good to be around great players, players who want to win. We’re a motivated group.”
And even though Portland’s usual possession advantage didn’t manifest itself this time – D.C. held 52-percent of the possession – and the shots were 17-12 in favor of the home team, the Timbers made the most of their chances.
Nagbe doubled the Timbers’ lead in the 72nd minute with his fourth goal of the season and goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts was easily able to clean up D.C.’s two shots on goal.
“It wasn’t an easy game by any means,” Wallace said. “We respected our opponent, but we had a job to do.”
For Wallace, the goal was particularly sweet considering he spent his first two seasons in MLS with United in 2009 and 2010 after starring at nearby University of Maryland. His goal eclipses his career high of three goals set in 2009.
“It’s a good feeling,” Wallace said. “Every player wants to get goals, so I just have to keep going. I’m not satisfied. We still have a long way to go. We just have to keep working hard to maintain our form.”