PORTLAND, Ore. – It was halftime of a crucial Western Conference battle Friday night at Providence Park, and the Portland Timbers trailed the Colorado Rapids 1-0.
The Timbers needed something – anything – to restore hope in their quickly fading 2014 season.
It turned out to be second-half substitute Maximiliano Urruti and star midfielder Diego Valeri who injected life into a game, and perhaps a season, bagging two second-half goals to give the Timbers a 2-1 comeback victory.
“We felt we needed a major change and a major boost,” Timbers head coach Caleb Porter said of his adjustments coming out of the break.
It turned out to be a move to bring on both Urruti and fellow Argentine attacker Gaston Fernandez in the 61st minute that ultimately changed the tide.
Fernandez came on for right winger Steve Zakuani, and Urruti for striker Fanendo Adi, pushing Valeri out to the left, Darlington Nagbe to the right, and leaving Fernandez in the center. It was a move that completely changed the dynamics of Portland’s attack.
“Big time,” Timbers captain and midfielder Will Johnson said of the substitutes. “… No matter who comes off the bench, we need them to make an impact, but those two guys especially, Maxi finding a way to get a goal, and Gaston, he’s so good at finding those holes between the back four and the midfield. And I think we had a little bit of a problem with that, especially in the first 45. Those four guys, they were flying. They could have scored a couple more.”
The Timbers' long-awaited equalizer came in the 72nd minute when Johnson played ahead to Jack Jewsbury on the right wing, as Urruti made a run to the near post. Jewsbury found him with a perfect cross, and Urruti did the rest, beating Rapids goalkeeper Clint Irwin to the top shelf.
Porter said bringing Urruti and Fernandez on together was intended to get them a feel for the game together.
“Sometimes you make subs and you chop it up too much and you never get into a rhythm,” Porter said. “So my thought was bring them both on and let them get into a rhythm together, versus layering it in, so that was the thinking.”
Then in the 77th minute, Diego Chara found Valeri cutting inside from the left wing for a fading blast from distance that Irwin had no chance at saving.
“What was interesting, for some reason, and I think it’s his ability to feel a game and smell where the spaces are, he floated a lot to that left,” Porter said of Valeri. “And so we felt that was the right move to shift him over there. And in the end, he was able to come inside on that right foot and smack a ball and score the winner.”
Perhaps a move and game-changing performance that could change the dynamic of the Timbers season with a crucial road trip to play the Montreal Impact looming next weekend.
“This team, because of what we’ve been through, we’re better, we’re stronger, we’re hungrier, and that’s how we were able to pull that out in the second half because of what we’ve gone through,” Porter said. “And I think it’s what is going to continue to propel us in these future games.”
Dan Itel covers the Timbes for MLSsoccer.com.