PORTLAND, Ore. – Caleb Porter knew something had to change – something had to improve.
And after a 1-0 loss May 23 at Toronto FC, the Portland Timbers head coach challenged his team to make that change. They’ve responded – in a big way.
And after Saturday night’s 2-0 win over the Houston Dynamo at Providence Park, they continue to do so, extending their MLS franchise record winning streak to four games (five across all competitions including Wednesday’s US Open Cup victory over rival Seattle Sounders) – all coming on the heels of that loss in Toronto that left them with the league’s second lowest points-per-game total at the time.
Now they’re in third place in the Western Conference, tied with the LA Galaxy, the team they face in an upcoming nationally televised showdown Wednesday night.
“I challenged them,” Porter said in his postgame comments. “It wasn’t me pointing the finger, it was all of us, challenging each other. And I challenged them that things needed to change, things needed to be better, and they stepped up. And the reason they stepped up is because they know now that I can call any guy’s name at any given time, and what’s that created is it’s created a trust.”
That trust Porter is referring to has to do with a change he made after the Toronto loss.
Maximiliano Urruti came into the XI while Gaston Fernandez was handed four straight starts, after he had only played a handful of minutes all season, and Porter began rotating a number of other players in and out of key positions throughout a busy stretch of games.
The response Porter has seen has made a big difference across the whole squad.
The duo of Urruti and Fernandez scored both goals against Houston. In their current winning streak, one of them has either scored a goal or added an assist in three of the four games.
Meanwhile, in the other game, a 2-0 win over the New England Revolution on June 6, Fanendo Adi recorded the game-winning second-half brace off the bench.
For good measure, Urruti added a goal off the bench in their 3-1 USOC win.
“We have 17, 18 guys that have been in the rotation over the last five games, and they’ve all gotten the job done,” Porter said. “So you talk about buy-in, all these buzzwords, team chemistry, spirit, they’re buzzwords, but they’re important ingredients in winning clubs. And we have a group right now that’s very hungry and bought in and they know that I trust them and they trust [me].”
And that will most certainly come in handy in the coming weeks, with the Timbers facing a stretch of four games in 12 days starting with the LA match. Captain Will Johnson, who returned from a broken leg suffered late last season to start in two of the four wins, said it’s created a dynamic in the locker room, the likes of which he’s never seen before.
“I’ve never been in a locker room that has so much continuity, and a lot of it is because everybody is playing games and everybody is helping us win,” Johnson said. “You only squad-rotate if it’s getting you results. You can’t just squad rotate, at this level, just to do it. So there’s no extra pressure on Caleb to run guys into the ground because the guys he’s bringing off the bench are getting the job done.”
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com.