PORTLAND, Ore. – It seemed as though it was just yesterday when the Portland Timbers’ previously impressive roster depth was being challenged by injuries and suspensions.
It led to a rough month of August with Portland posting a 1-2-2 league record in that span. Now, as Portland prepares for a Saturday match at Chivas USA (7:30 pm PT; ROOT SPORTS, 750 The Game / La Pantera 940), it appears as if those worries are over.
The most important return has arguably been that of captain Will Johnson after the midfielder missed four games prior to last weekend’s 4-0 rout of Toronto FC. But a number of players who have missed large chunks of the season are starting to filter back onto the squad.
Defender/midfielder Sal Zizzo started his first game of the season at right back against TFC after missing most of the year and central defenders David Horst and Mamadou “Futty” Danso are raring to get back on the field after lengthy absences as well.
Even the return to health of former striker Bright Dike, who has missed the entire season after a preseason knee injury, allowed the Timbers to pull off a trade this week for Argentinean forward Maximiliano Urruti.
“We’ve been humbled a little bit, we’ve had to fight through some things," Timbers head coach Caleb Porter said. "It’s built our character, it’s increased our depth and I think it’s made us hungrier for this final push.”
The return of Horst and Danso will certainly be most welcome as Portland have been thin at central defense. They’ve relied mostly on second-year pro Andrew Jean-Baptiste and recent acquisitions Pa Modou Kah and Rauwshan McKenzie.
“It’s tough,” said Horst, who has been out since having surgery to repair a displaced tibial plateau fracture of his right leg in early April. “I’m itching to get back. The team has done really well this year, and to have to be able to sit on the sidelines and not be a part of that, you know, it’s been really frustrating. Right now, to see that the team needs help right now with all the suspensions and injuries, and to think that I’m almost there, it’s tough to think about that.”
Horst missed the early part of last season after offseason hip surgery but finished 2012 strong and in the apparent good graces of the recently arrived Porter.
“It took a lot of wind out my sails,” Horst said of his latest setback suffered April 6 against Houston. “But I’m the kind of guy that’s going to put my head down and keep working hard and work to the point of where I was at last year. I’ve got to put my trust in the training staff and fitness staff to get there, and they’ve done that so far.”
Horst has played in the last two Timbers Reserves matches, including 45 minutes Sunday against the Real Salt Lake Reserves. Danso, who has been out since mid-July with a foot injury, has also played in the last two Reserve matches, including all 90 minutes of Sunday’s game.
Horst noted that rehabbing with other teammates – including Homegrown forward Brent Richards, who has missed the entire season with an ACL injury – has helped with motivation.
“Coming in here every day, seeing the guys and seeing how hard they’re working and seeing the blood and the sweat that they’re putting into this year, that motivates me to get back out there to fight along side them,” Horst said.
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com.