PORTLAND, Ore. – A central defender isn’t usually the obvious choice to take a penalty kick.
But in the Rose City, everything seems to be working. So when a Monarcas Morelia was whistled for a handball in the box in the 40th minute of their exhibition match Wednesday night against the Portland Timbers, it didn’t seem at all odd when defender Mamadou “Futty” Danso stepped to the spot and coolly converted for the only goal in a 1-0 victory at JELD-WEN Field.
Danso, the most veteran Timbers player, who has been with the team since before they joined MLS in 2011, even pulled rank and called off midfielder Michael Nanchoff to take the kick.
“It was my decision,” Danso said. “I think [the coaching staff] would want somebody else to take it, but the guys who are here know that I’m going to take PKs and they were not worried about it at all.”
Yes, it’s all strawberries and champagne in Timbers camp these days. And the Danso penalty kick, while it came in a meaningless game in front of just 13,124 fans, is just one more move that has worked for the Timbers and head coach Caleb Porter.
In the larger scheme, Porter kept his side unbeaten in their last 19 games across all competitions – and he did it with mostly bench players and just a handful part-time starters. By the end of the game – with Morelia playing with 10 after the Ramirez red – Porter had subbed in three academy players, with the youngest being 17-year-old Jesse Garcia, who will be a senior this fall at Century High School in nearby Hillsboro.
“I thought we really played our style,” Porter said. “There were a lot of guys out there who haven’t played together, guys who haven’t played much, in the end we had three academy guys and a U-23 player on the field. It was great for them to get that experience. They’re up and coming players with this club, and we wanted them to get them some time if we could. And we were able to do that, so that’s a positive.”
It was also a win against a quality Morelia side of Liga MX that trotted out mostly starters for the first half. Portland outshot them 8-6.
“We still had the better of the game, even before the red, I thought we were controlling the game,” Porter said. “To me that was very pleasing. We were possessing the ball, passing the ball, they had very few chances. And that’s a very good team.”
The Timbers return to MLS play on the road Sunday against the Columbus Crew.
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com.