BEAVERTON, Ore. – When Maximiliano Urruti was given the Portland Timbers' starting striker position atop Caleb Porter’s 4-3-3 formation at the beginning of the season, he inherited the pressure of living up to his predecessor Ryan Johnson’s nine-goal total from 2013.
And after failing to score in his first four games of 2014, that pressure continued to build. It even got to the point where was benched in Portland’s third game of the season, a 2-0 loss to the Colorado Rapids on March 22.
However, after opening his 2014 account in rather spectacular fashion with a curling golazo from the edge of the penalty area in the Timbers’ 4-4 draw Saturday against the Seattle Sounders – which saw Portland’s attack as a whole awake from its early-season malaise – Urruti is hoping those early struggles become nothing but a distant memory.
“I’m happy that my time is starting to come here,” Urruti said. “Things were not happening for me at the beginning, and sometimes as a forward you put a little pressure on you because that’s what you do. So you hope that after the first one, that’s a good sign that many more are to come.”
Even aside from the goal, Urruti’s performance was probably his best of the season and earned high praise from head coach Caleb Porter. He got off a season-high five shots as Portland’s offense doubled their goal output from their first four games. He was also successful in 15 of his 16 passes and his Opta heat chart showed he was all over the attacking half of the field, a key for Porter’s high-pressure system.
“I’m feeling really good about this,” Urruti said through a translator after Tuesday’s training session. “I think the team is starting to feel a little more compacted. I think we’re starting to play the kind of soccer that we want, starting to basically know each other a little better. I think things are coming along.”
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Finding that chemistry in the attacking third has been somewhat of a struggle as Porter continues to search for the right pieces in the puzzle. Since Urruti’s arrival late last year and the offseason additions of fellow Argentine Gastón Fernández and Steve Zakuani along with the departure of Johnson, Timbers players scored just two goals through their first four games.
But Urruti said they’re starting to finally get the chemistry right, a good sign with Portland still in search of their first win of the season heading into Saturday’s home matchup with Chivas USA (10:30 pm ET, MLS LIVE).
And Urruti’s performance was just one factor in Portland’s offensive revival. With Darlington Nagbe and Kalif Alhassan, who got his first start of the season, providing width on the wings, Urruti and attacking midfielder Diego Valeri found the ability to flow freely into open spaces.
Even defensive midfielder Diego Chara was able to find loads of open real estate – to the tune of two goals, his first since 2011.
“I think if the game is open like it happened against Seattle and we can score some goals, I think we can come away with three points,” Urruti said of carrying momentum into the Chivas game. “The most important thing for us is to remain calm and wait for things to come to us.”
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com.