Urruti key piece to Timbers' offensive style

Striker's play makes it more challenging on defenders

By Paul Danzer, Columbian community sports reporter

Published:

 

BEAVERTON, Ore. — On the list of top goal scorers in Major League Soccer, nine names appear ahead of the first Portland Timbers player.

Maximiliano Urruti is that player — tied for seventh with eight MLS goals this season. That total isn't as eye-popping as the 17 goals that New York's Bradley Wright-Phillips has scored. But when minutes on the field are considered, Urruti's production is almost as impressive.

The 23-year-old Argentine has played 858 minutes this season, significantly fewer than most of the league's top scorers. He is scoring a goal every 107 minutes on the field, second only to Wright-Phillips who has scored one goal for every 94 game minutes.

Considering that Urruti is the only player among the top-10 scorers not to attempt a penalty kick — four of Wright-Phillips' goals are from penalty kicks — his productivity is more impressive than at first glance.

"I don't think he's honestly getting enough credit or attention," Timbers coach Caleb Porter said. "I don't know why that is."

Perhaps the answer is that Urruti plays for a club that has built its attack around multiple weapons. Fellow Argentine Gaston Fernandez and Will Johnson each has six goals, Diego Valeri has five and Fanendo Adi four. Or maybe he is simply a young player who is still establishing himself in MLS.

Urruti came to MLS last August, joining Toronto FC after three seasons playing in the top league in Argentina. He played 37 minutes and did not register a shot before Toronto traded Urruti to Portland in a deal that sent popular Bright Dike to Toronto.

Porter said that trade was made because Urruti's combination of work ethic and skill made him a good fit as a solo center forward for the style of soccer Porter prefers. Part of Urruti's job is to cover a lot of ground pressuring opposing defenders, something most traditional strikers are not asked to do.

"He's technical enough to combine and bring the midfielders into the game," Porter said. "He's athletic enough to play on the shoulders (next to defenders), smart enough and intelligent enough in his movement to open teams up."

Urruti's first MLS goal came in his second game with Portland and was the only goal in a September win over Los Angeles. This season his eight goals have come from 12 shots on target. He scored tying goals in each of the last two matches, both Portland wins — one as a substitute and one as a starter.

After starting six of the first seven matches this season, Urruti has played more than half a game only three times in the last 14. An injury limited his availability for a couple of weeks, and the arrival in May of Fanendo Adi meant competition for playing time. Adi, at 6-foot-4, is more of a traditional target forward who provides size around the goal and the strength to hold off defenders while teammates join the attack.

Porter said that playing Urruti and Adi together as twin strikers is an option, though the coach prefers to play with one striker so that opponents cannot outnumber his team in the midfield.

Urruti's connection with the midfield — including fellow Argentines Valeri and Fernandez — appears to be getting stronger.

Valeri is not surprised by the results, and said he is happy for his fellow Argentine.

"We know that Maxi is a great player with quality," Valeri said.

Porter, too, is pleased with what Urruti has brought to the Timbers.

"He's young. He's producing. He works hard. He's got a good attitude," the coach said. "He's got a big future with this club and in this league because he's only going to get better."