PORTLAND, Ore. – When Mamadou “Futty” Danso took over one of the Portland Timbers’ starting center back spots for the stretch run and MLS Cup Playoffs in 2013, he was lauded for bringing to the mix a calm, veteran presence.
And alongside fellow Gambian-born back Pa Modou Kah at the other central defender position, forming what quickly became known as the Great Wall of Gambia, results quickly followed.
After Danso took over full-time Sept. 20 for Andrew Jean-Baptiste, who has since been traded, the Timbers posted clean sheets in five of their final six regular-season games. Over the offseason, however, Portland brought in highly touted Argentine Norberto Paparatto to start in Danso’s spot, seemingly relegating the 30-year-old to a reserve role once again.
But after a frustrating start to the season, culminated by a 4-4 draw April 4 against the Seattle Sounders, head coach Caleb Porter called upon Danso again, benching Paparatto for Saturday’s game against Chivas USA.
“I just felt we needed a move to get the chemistry right and get that tightened up,” Porter said. “And I thought that was much better, and I thought Futty had a good game.”
The Timbers came close to posting their first clean sheet of the season, if it weren’t for a late Chivas USA goal when forward Erick Torres ran unmarked onto the end of a Leandro Barrera cross, leading to a 1-1 draw. Porter said, aside from being unluckily punished for the one mistake of the night, the entire backline performed much better than they did when they allowed two late Clint Dempsey goals in the Seattle game.
“I thought Mikey and Kah had a good game,” Porter said. “It’s just, like I said, a shame, because we gave up the one goal and that’s their job, to stop those plays. But I thought overall that those four guys had a very good game.”
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And with a central defense that was so solid at the end of last season back together again, coming off a solid performance, Porter feels confident as they continue to search for their first victory of 2014 heading into Saturday’s road matchup against Real Salt Lake (9:30 pm ET, MLS Live), a rematch of last year’s Western Conference championship that RSL won handily.
And with a four-goal performance two weekends ago, followed by a solid defensive outing but with little offense, Porter said his team now needs to put it all together.
“We’ve played well enough to win every game, but at the end of the day we probably didn’t win any of the games because we didn’t put together a complete performance,” Porter said.
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com.