As debuts go, it would be hard to top the stage Steve Purdy found himself upon on June 19.
The Portland Timbers defender saw his first action with the El Salvador national team in the quarterfinal round of the Gold Cup tournament. That the match was played in front of a pro-Salvadoran crowd of more than 45,000 in Washington, D.C., added to the tension.
“I went through my routine and felt good,” Purdy said. “The last time I accepted some of those nervous feelings was when 40,000 Salvadorians in Washington D.C. were singing the national anthem.”
Purdy didn’t flinch. Despite a disappointing outcome — Panama won 2-1 on penalty kicks, then went on to lose to the United States in the semifinals — Purdy was pleased with his performance. Several media reports from the match pointed to Purdy’s play at central defender as a key to El Savadore containing Panamainian forwards Pérez and Armando Cooper.
“The overall experience of that game was just unbelievable,” said Purdy, who returned last week to the Timbers. “It went really well. We shut down a good Panamanian front line. We got a bit unluckly to give up a goal in the last minute.”
Purdy played in the U.S. soccer national system at the under-18 and under-20 levels. But when he was invited to play for his mother’s homeland, he jumped at the chance.
“Style of play and the culture were a bit different, but I was able to adapt and become one of the guys,” Purdy said.
The style of soccer emphasizes more possession and close-range passing than a typical MLS game, but Purdy said he gained confidence over the first two weeks training with his Salvadoran mates.
“The biggest thing for me was to get respect on and off the field, and I think once I did that they accepted me as one of them, and I was able to show them I could help win games.”
Though he speaks Spanish, Purdy said the slang was initially tough to pick up. But his teammates were friendly and helpful from his arrival.
Purdy didn’t get a shot to play until the quarterfinal match because an illness kept him out of the final pre-Gold Cup friendly against Honduras. Purdy said El Salvador coach Ruben Israel was supportive, but didn’t want to force Purdy into the lineup before the defender was comfortable in his role.
At 6-foot-4, Purdy is taller than most Salvadorans, making him a good fit against Panama’s physical forwards.
“When we made the quarterfinals against Panama, I really wanted to play. I felt comfortable, and a couple of days before the game I told the coaches I was ready to go,” Purdy said. “Luckily (Israel) took it the right way and I was able to start that Panama game.”
Purdy played last season with the Timbers USL team, and opened this MLS season as the Timbers starting right back.
He was relegated to a reserve role before the call to play for El Savador, but said he is confident and determined to re-assert himself now that he is back with the Timbers.
• The Timbers announced that their Aug. 3 home match against the L.A. Galaxy will kick off at 7:30 p.m. and be nationally televised on ESPN2.
• The Timbers have announced $40,000 in the Portland Timbers Community Fund grants to 10 youth-focused, nonprofit organizations in the greater-Portland area. In partnership with Portland Timbers Community Fund Founding Partners Alaska Airlines, Burgerville, JELD-WEN and PGE, grants were given to Albertina Kerr Centers, Bienestar, Columbia River United, Columbia Slough Watershed Council, Elevate Oregon, Incight Company, New Avenues for Youth, Inc., The Shadow Project, The Mentoring Project and to the Tualatin Hills Parks and Recreation District.