PORTLAND, Ore. – Since his arrival in Portland in July 2015, the pressure has been on Lucas Melano to produce, in part because of the Designated Player tag that accompanied his arrival with the Timbers.
Despite some moments of brilliance – particularly a crucial contribution to the Timbers' run to MLS Cup 2015 – the numbers have not quite been there for the speedy Argentine winger. In recent weeks, however, it seems that Melano has turned a corner, culminating in Sunday's two-assist haul in the 3-1 win over the Seattle Sounders.
Melano was a force to be reckoned with and a central part of the Timbers' game plan against the Sounders, setting up their opening goal, a quick break down the pitch before picking out Diego Valeri in space, and third – an end-to-end run finished off by a short pass to Fanendo Adi.
"Luca is really bringing what we thought he could bring in opening teams up and running 40 or 50 yards on the counter," Timbers head coach Caleb Porter told reporters. "He set up two goals."
The criticism of Melano in Portland has long centered around his ability to score goals, but for Porter that is not the priority.
"He will get goals, but I am okay if he doesn't, if he sets up goals," said Porter. "The two goals that he set up really have to do with him. Whether he is the one passing for the goal or he is the one running with the ball, you could argue that what he did on the two goals was more important than actually finishing the play."
Valeri, who marked his return to the Timbers with a brace against the Sounders after spending three weeks out injured, was happy to heap praise on Melano for his assist on the opening goal. Melano raced down the Timbers' left flank, drawing defenders in before picking out Valeri in space in the center of the pitch for the finish.
"He was holding the ball, fighting against two people," said Valeri. "I tried to support him and the ball came to me. It was great because he waited for me. He is so fast – I couldn't follow him, so he waited for me and at the top of the box I just looked at the 'keeper and tried to put it in the back of the net."