Urruti Starting to Thrive in Current Role

The Timbers’ leading goal scorer makes the most of limited field time
by Ray Marcham   |   Friday, September 05, 2014

Green Logs - a column on the Portland Timbers & the Portland soccer scene

The goal that Maxi Urruti scored against Vancouver on Saturday night, the one that gave Portland a 2-0 lead, was his entire 2014 season in one play.

He was alone in the box after receiving a pass from Michael Harrington. He gained control of the ball, turned, set, shot and scored. It looked easy.

But it that shot hit the underside of the crossbar before going into the goal. A fraction of an inch higher and the ball bounces out without going in. It would’ve been another missed opportunity for the young Argentine forward, and the grumbling would’ve come back.

It has been a mixed bag for Urruti in 2014. The expectations on him have been very high since Toronto brought him to MLS after a long, drawn out negotiation process with his former club, Newell’s Old Boys in Argentina. After all, he was traded for the very popular, but injury-plagued, forward Bright Dike.

On the good side, Urruti leads the Timbers in goals with 9. He’s scored those 9 goals on 14 shots on goal, a very good ratio when he can aim the ball towards the net. He’s also become a bit of instant offense, able to score quickly in his time on the pitch. That has happened when he has started (scoring within the first few minutes against the Whitecaps at Providence Park on June 1) and when he’s come in as a sub (the goal in Vancouver on Saturday came within seven minutes of him subbing in for Fanendo Adi).

But there’s the frustrating side, as well. Out of the 41 shots he’s taken in 2014, 14 have been on goal. There have been stretches where he has not been get a shot on goal, no matter how close he’s been.

What has improved for Urruti this season is his play away from the ball. He’s steadily become a better defender and his passing has become crisper. Although he only has one assist for the MLS season, he’s been able to keep possession in the box on a number of occasions and get the ball to playmakers like Diego Valeri, Will Johnson and Darlington Nagbe.

Other issues have popped up that are very much out of Urruti’s control. He had injury issues that forced him to miss games in July. The sudden rise of Adi in the lineup has also affected Urruti, as he is now part of a platoon with the Nigerian forward. Urruti has started just four of the Timbers last eight matches, but he’s played in all of those matches and has scored in three of them, including two as a sub.

So much is expected of Urruti, yet his playing time is actually quite limited. He has played a full MLS match since April, and has played more than 70 minutes just three times since. Two of those were on the road and in games where he scored, including his 2-goal game on May 24 against New York and on July 27 in Montreal. The third was the 4-2 home loss to Seattle on August 24, a match where he picked up his first yellow of the season and had a few bright spots in an otherwise dismal game.

The impact he’s had in his time on the field is big. Among MLS players who have played at least 10 matches in 2014, only New York’s Bradley Wright-Phillips (0.93) and Seattle’s Chad Barrett (0.87) have a better goals per 90 minutes average than Urruti’s 0.76.

But he is an important cog in the Timbers’ CONCACAF Champions League plans, and that’s one reason why he’s shared minutes with Adi. Urruti scored in Guyana against Alpha United and played a solid match until being replaced by Adi in the second half. He is expected to play an important role in this month’s two CCL home matches, Olimpia on the 16th and Alpha United on the 23rd, and that means his limited time during MLS matches may continue.

The expectations for Maxi Urruti are still high, but he seems to have found a role that he can thrive in. Whether it’s playing 60 minutes from the start, or coming in for a final 20-25 minute stint, he knows that he will be on the field and will be getting chances to make a big impact. He’s making the most of those appearances, and not just by scoring goals.

He also played the full 90 minutes in Portland’s two US Open Cup wins over Orlando City U23s and Sporting Kansas City, playing an important role in the Timbers advancing in the competition. He was injured by time the Timbers were knocked out of the USOC by Seattle, but his role

NEXT UP: September 7 – Portland Timbers vs. San Jose Earthquakes, Providence Park, Portland, Oregon. 5 p.m. EST, ESPN2.

Ray MARCHAM

Nationality:
USA
College:
Washington State
Club Domestic:
Portland Timbers
Club Foreign:
Arsenal
Cascadia native and a fan for as long as he can remember, Ray was brought up on the old NASL. Learned to love MLS. Wanted to play like Clive Charles. Then like Tony Adams. Only dreams, of course.
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