By MIKE DONOVAN
PORTLAND, Ore.- For the final 15 minutes of its Saturday night match with D.C. United, it looked like the Portland Timbers would see another match that slipped out of their hands and leave them without a win in their first nine matches.
But Maxi Urruti struck in the fourth minute of stoppage time to deliver a palpitating 3-2 victory to the home side to the relief of the Rose City. Gaston Fernandez and Futty Danso added goals for Portland, while D.C. United notched its goals from Davy Arnaud and a Danso own goal.
Urruti, who came on a late substitute, scored his second goal of the season after he one-timed a rebound past a sprawling Bill Hamid. Urruti used his knee to redirect a Valeri cross but his effort ricocheted off the post. The ball fortuitously bounced straight back to Urruti, who put his rebound past a helpless Hamid.
The Timbers are hoping that the last-minute victory is the springboard they need to have a successful season.
“It’s three points but sometimes it feels like more and I think this is one that feels like more,” head coach Caleb Porter said. “I think it will lift the group, they will play freer, more confident.”
Urruti’s second goal of the season sent Providence Park into delirium, one night after Damian Lillard’s series-winning three-pointer captivated sports fans in the Rose City.
“That’s tough to top, but I think we came pretty close,” Michael Harrington said. “It’s been great for the city, these last couple of nights.”
Portland needed Urruti’s heroics after they again allowed a late equalizer. This time it came 12 minutes before the final whistle when Danso headed the ball into his own net after jostling with D.C. United’s Cristian to reach a corner kick.
Porter admitted that the late tying goal felt like “deja vu” for a club that has let in a league-high six goals after the 75-minute mark this season. But Portland finished the game with a flurry, firing six shots at goal in the final five minutes of the match.
“This team still believes. We’re still a very mentally tough team,” Porter said. “It’s the type of result that really catapults a team in the season. It’s a season-changing result.”
Just 34 seconds after the opening kickoff, Gaston Fernandez scored for the second consecutive match. Darlington Nagbe forced a D.C. turnover and played the ball ahead to Diego Valeri whose cross found Fernandez ten yards from goal. The Argentine flicked the ball in the air to himself and finished with an over-the-head kick. The goal was the fastest in Timbers MLS history.
D.C. United answered when Arnaud fired an audacious 35-yard attempt that used a massive Diego Chara deflection to leave Donovan Ricketts helpless. The goal came after D.C. United had threatened on numerous set pieces in the first 20 minutes.
For the first time in regular season play since 2011, Danso put his name on the scoresheet when he fired home a Valeri corner kick with a well-placed kick. The Gambian defender, who was allocated to D.C. United out-of-college before being waived, is the longest tenured Timber having signed with the club at the beginning of their 2009 USL campaign.
After leading the league in assists last year with 13, Valeri went assist-free in his first eight matches in 2014. The Argentine DP had two assists on Saturday night and had the original cross on the buildup to the winning goal.
” For me, man of the match was Valeri, even though he didn’t get a goal,” Porter said. “That might be the best performance I’ve seen out of him since I’ve had him here. He’s a big-time player and he brought it tonight. We need our big-time players, our attacking guys like him to bring it and he certainly did.”
D.C. was without regular starters Eddie Johnson and Sean Franklin due to injuries. The loss ends United’s five-game unbeaten run and while they were unable to earn any points, D.C. had chances, taking 17 shots and earning eight corners in the hostile Providence Park environment.
United thought it had earned a penalty kick in the second half when Ricardo Salazar pointed to the spot after Danso blocked a shot in the box. After consulting with the referee’s assistant, Salazar reversed his decision and decided not to award the spot-kick. Replays seemed to indicate Danso’s face not hand blocked the ball from going towards the net.
While the Timbers will breath a sigh-of-relief, giving up another late equalizer was not what the team would have hoped for. Luckily for Portland, Urruti saved the day with his late game heroics.
“We’ve been wanted to get this ‘W’ for a long time now and it came,” Harrington said. “And it came in front of our fans and we wanted to celebrate that with them a little bit and just enjoy the moment.”
Portland became the first MLS team to ever score a first-minute goal and a stoppage-time game-winner in the same match. The Timbers will hope to carry their momentum into their next match, a tilt with the LA Galaxy next Sunday. D.C. United, meanwhile, will look to get back on track at Philadelphia on Saturday.