New personnel, formation may be turning Portland Timbers' fortunes around

Even as the chances kept coming and the frustration kept building for the Portland Timbers during Wednesday’s CONCACAF Champions League match against C.D. Dragon of El Salvador, there were at least a couple of signs that the Timbers might be able to find answers for the home stretch of this Major League Soccer season.

One piece of evidence was the left back position. Vytas Andriuskevicius, the Lithuanian signed by Portland last month, played the whole match in his first start for the Timbers. As coach Caleb Porter noted, Andriuskevicius gives the Timbers something they’ve lacked all season: a left back who can trouble defenses with crosses and by linking up with Darlington Nagbe.

“It does help a lot having an attacking left back that can serve balls in, can overlap. That changes a lot of dimensions for us,” Porter said.

One of those dimensions is the option of playing with two strikers. Porter said he inserted Jack McInerney alongside Fanendo Adi on Wednesday to get another goal-scorer in the lineup. McInerney’s goal, off a play that started with Adi holding up the ball and laying it off to Diego Valeri, was another sign that the Timbers might be close to a breakthrough.

It was the fourth career CCL goal for McInerney, whose 24th birthday is Friday. Despite playing mostly as a late-match substitute, McInerney has scored seven goals in all competitions this season and narrowly missed several others – including his shot off the cross bar in stoppage time on Sunday at Kansas City. Having come to Portland in the offseason – his fourth team in the last three seasons McInerney said he is building chemistry with playmaker Valeri.

“Goal today [and] had a good chance last weekend where Valeri played me in. I think we’re starting to click,” McInerney said, adding that Valeri and Adi are players that draw attention from defenders. “One of these games we’re going to get three, four goals and they’re going to start piling up.”

Valeri, from his perspective, said he enjoyed playing underneath a striker partnership of McInerney and Adi.

“They understood each other really well and we created a lot of chances from that,” Valeri said.

Valeri said he likes playing with McInerney and that their chemistry is improving. It is a connection, Valeri said, that will get better. It is only a matter of time.