PORTLAND, Ore. – One thing you can count on from Will Johnson is urgency. And in the fiery midfielder’s return to the lineup from a broken leg suffered late last season, that’s precisely what the Portland Timbers got in their 1-0 win Wednesday night over D.C. United at Providence Park.
And it couldn’t have come at a better time.
Portland came into the match at the bottom of the Western Conference table, having lost two straight games for the first time this season. And the determination to turn things around was clear right from the start, resulting in a fifth-minute goal from Maximiliano Urruti that wound up being the game-winner.
“First half I thought was very aggressive, and that’s key,” head coach Caleb Porter said in his postgame comments. “You can lose energy when you’re not getting results, and when you do that you’re dead in the water. And that’s not going to happen here.”
Porter had stressed the importance of scoring the opener – or at least not conceding an early goal, as they did in their previous two losses – coming into the game. And while Johnson, Portland’s captain the past two seasons and one of Porter’s signature acquisitions when he took over in 2013, may not have had an impact on the score sheet, the team’s response to their latest adversity is perhaps no coincidence.
“The only thing that matters tonight is not about me, it’s about three points for this club,” Johnson said after the match, icepack affixed firmly to his affected leg. “We needed it badly. We need to get going in the right direction, quickly. We spoke a lot about urgency this week, and I think that’s what you saw at the start of the game.”
Johnson wasn’t the only newcomer to the starting XI who provided a spark.
Porter also rotated in four reserves – forwards Urruti and Gaston Fernandez, winger Dairon Asprilla and center back Norberto Paparatto – with playmaker Diego Valeri out with a sprained ankle and the team playing the second of three games in a week’s time.
Portland will next travel to face the Colorado Rapids on Saturday.
It was Fernandez, making his first start of the season, who pounced on a loose ball on the right wing and whipped in a perfect cross to set up Urruti’s goal. Asprilla fired off three shots, two of which required superb saves by D.C. goalkeeper Bill Hamid. And Porter said Paparatto, also making his first start, “was one of our best players tonight.”
“That’s another good thing when you rotate your team, you know you’re going to get guys who are hungry and have something to prove,” Porter said. “We talked about after Toronto, a few guys will be rotated in this game, a few guys will be rotated next game, and depending on what we see, that might determine lineup choices moving forward.”
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com.