The Importance of Rodney Wallace

The Costa Rican’s return has been crucial in Portland’s turnaround
by Ray Marcham   |   Tuesday, October 14, 2014

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

If any one thing has been driven home in the roller coaster season that the Portland Timbers have had in 2014, it is the importance of Rodney Wallace to the club.

His return from a serious knee injury has been a major key for Portland in its playoff drive. His current form, having scored 3 goals in the last 2 matches against San Jose and allowing Diego Valeri, Fanendo Adi and Maxi Urruti to get more open shots, might be his best as a Timber.

Wallace has had five goals since August, and has become the disruptive force that fans have been used to seeing as his game has matured. He’s also added speed to the wings of the Portland offense, allowing the middle to open up more.

It’s fair to wonder what the Timbers could have been like if Wallace had been healthy all season. That he had ruptured an ACL in the final match of the 2013 season, the 1-0 loss to Real Salt Lake in the home leg of the Western Conference Finals on November 24, wasn’t even revealed until the Timbers had picked Steve Zakuani in the MLS Re-Entry Draft on December 12. It was believed that Portland had taken Zakuani in hopes that he could fill in until the summer, when Wallace was expected to be back.

By time Wallace made his 2014 MLS debut, starting and playing 65 minutes in a 1-0 home loss to Sporting Kansas City on June 28, Portland was in dire straits. In the first 4 months of the MLS season, the Timbers had 4 wins, 8 draws and 20 points in 17 matches. They were struggling to stay out of last place, and Wallace’s return was very welcome, even in a loss.

But Wallace was ahead of schedule and had a few matches in before the SKC match. He had a two-match loan spell with Arizona United of USL Pro, and had played in the Timbers’ US Open Cup match against Orlando City U-23s on June 17. When Wallace came into the USOC match, the ovation from the Timbers Army may have been the biggest of the season at that point. He had been greatly missed.

What Portland has done since Wallace’s return has been a massive improvement. Since July 1, the Timbers have gained 25 points in 15 matches, including 7 wins and 4 draws. Wallace has played in 14 of those matches (he missed the September 7 match against San Jose while he was with the Costa Rica national team in the Copa Centroamericana) and has started in 9 of the last 10 he’s played in. His impact has steadily gotten stronger, and along the way the Timbers have gotten better.

Wednesday night’s 3-0 win over San Jose is a prime example of Wallace’s impact. His goal just before halftime brought the Timbers out of a funk and gave them confidence going into the locker room. He also drew a penalty that was converted by Valeri for a 2-0 lead, and when San Jose defenders converged on him as he shot the ball in the 73rd minute, it left Valeri alone in the middle to calmly put the rebound into the net and clinch the much-needed three points for Portland.

It showed what the Timbers missed badly for the first half of the season. Zakuani never played as well as was hoped, and eventually had his season ended early because of injury. Darlington Nagbe has yet to score a goal in the 2014 MLS regular season, and while he’s been at times deadly accurate with his passing (he has seven assists, his best for an MLS season), teams had fallen off of him a bit and started stacking up the middle a bit more. Wallace’s return to form has forced teams to spread their defense and defend him closer on the wing, and that has opened up the middle for Valeri, Adi, Urruti and even Liam Ridgewell to score goals.

That Wallace is right now at 100 percent is huge for Portland, and it’s not just because of his goal scoring. He’s also been able to quickly get back on defense and help disrupt attacks along the wings. He may be even faster than he was before the knee injury, and that is huge for the Timbers as they go into the final two matches of the MLS season.

How the Timbers’ offense has played since Wallace’s return has shown just how much he was missed. The quickness he brings to the left wing, the ability to create shots and his improved defensive skills has brought a dimension to Portland’s play that was missing while he was gone.

Right now, Rodney Wallace is playing his best soccer of the season, and it’s happening at the perfect time. His value to the Timbers at this point is immeasurable, and if Portland makes the MLS playoffs, he could be seen as a major reason why, alongside Valeri’s brilliance.

If nothing else, Wallace has shown how much he was missed earlier in the season.

NEXT UP: October 17 – Portland Timbers vs. Real Salt Lake, Providence Park, Portland, Ore. 10:00 p.m. EST, NBC Sports Network.

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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