With two consecutive ties under their belt, things may not be entirely looking up for the Portland Timbers, but they are at least getting better.
And they’ll get another boost when they take to the pitch in their next game – Sunday on the road against the New York Red Bulls (4 pm PT, KPTV / Timbers Television Network, 750 AM The Game / La Pantera 940) – with the return of midfielder Franck Songo’o following his one-game suspension for yellow-card accumulation.
Before his absence in Wednesday’s 2-2 draw against Toronto FC – the Timbers first point on the road since May 15 – Songo’o may have been playing as well as anyone in green, a positive sign for a talented player battling through an injury-plagued season.
“I’m healthy, my legs are fine so things are good,” Songo’o said. “I’m feeling good out there.”
The suspension couldn’t have come at a worse time for the 25-year-old Cameroonian playing in his first MLS season after stints in the English Premier League, La Liga and Ligue 1. In Portland’s 1-1 tie against FC Dallas on Aug. 5, Songo’o’s play was a revelation, a flash of what the front office expected when they signed him after he recorded four assists in four preseason games.
Against Dallas, he fired off seven shots, including two on goal, and was clearly the most dangerous man on the field.
“He opened them up,” Timbers interim head coach Gavin Wilkinson said of Songo’o’s performance against Dallas. “For Franck, he’s a special player. We need to get Franck doing that week in and week out because you’ve seen what he can do, and now we have to get him on the score sheet a little bit more.”
WATCH: Songo'o starts counter, feeds Mwanga for goal
The problem for Songo’o has been staying on the field. He has yet to start more than four consecutive games and has only played 90 minutes twice this season, with both of those games coming in the last month. He has just two assists on the season with no goals.
But it’s no coincidence that his two most productive games as a member of the Timbers came against Dallas and in a 1-0 loss July 28 against Chivas USA, both games in which Wilkinson praised the team’s overall performance.
“Every single player wants to do what the coach wants,” Songo’o said. “And even though we haven’t won a game yet [in the six games following the firing of former head coach John Spencer] we’re getting some good games, and we’ve been really dangerous. So hopefully in the next couple games we can get some points.”
Songo’o’s long journey back to full health has coincided with his seemingly perfect fit within Wilkinson’s desire to play a more possession-orientated offense. Songo’o has primarily lined up in an attacking wing position as part of a 4-2-3-1 formation. But he’s not just there to dribble down the wing and send in crosses. His ability to keep the ball and beat defenders off the dribble has been on full display under Wilkinson.
“Anything the coach wants me to do I’ll try to do my best in that position,” Songo’o said. “It’s easier because you play with the ball and you can be more dangerous."
And against New York, Songo’o is hoping to play catch-up on the stat sheet.
“I think definitely I want to get more assists and score some goals, too,” he said. “I want to help my team to get the most points as possible.”
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at email@example.com.