PORTLAND, Oregon — With the return of another key piece of the lineup, the Portland Timbers hope to begin climbing the standings.
Captain Will Johnson returned to Portland's lineup to help the Timbers beat Eastern Conference-leading D.C. United 1-0 on Wednesday night.
Johnson missed the first 12 games of the season while recovering from a broken right leg suffered on Sept. 27. He played 84 minutes before being substituted out.
Portland head coach Caleb Porter was pleased with his captain's return. "I thought he played well. He's a confident guy, so he brings confidence and an edge in that midfield," said Porter. "At the end of the game, his leg was a little sore, so we had to get him out," he added. "Hopefully he recovers well and continues to be available for us.
Maximiliano Urruti scored the lone goal in the fifth minute. Gaston Fernandez jumped on a loose ball on the right wing and sent a hard, rolling cross into the box for Urruti to bang home for his second goal of the season.
It was some welcome offense from two lesser-utilized players. Urruti earned his 6th start of the season, while Fernandez had made all 11 of his previous appearances as a substitute. Both earned the start as Porter juggled his lineup during a busy stretch of three games in seven days, introducing five new players to the starting lineup from the previous game, including Johnson.
"That's another good thing when you rotate your team. You get guys that are hungry, have something to prove," said Porter.
Portland (4-5-4) threatened to extend the lead on a few occasions, but D.C. goalkeeper Bill Hamid made several fine saves, most notably on a sizzling shot by Darion Asprilla in the 71st minute and on Alvas Powell's header in the 81st.
"I thought we should have had a couple more. I don't think it was bad finishing. (Dairon) Asprilla had a couple of good strikes, and just, world class saves," said Porter.
D.C. United's best opportunity came in the 31st minute, when a corner kick by Markus Halsti found an unguarded Steve Birnbaum in the area, but the defender's header went wide of the goal.
United dropped to 6-3-4.
Despite the losing result and being hindered by a number of important players missing through injury, D.C. United head coach Ben Olsen was proud of how his team played.
"Overall, very pleased with the group's effort, and for a large stretch of the game, the performance as a whole," said Olsen. "Unfortunately, you have to weather a little bit of a storm early when you come here, and I didn't think we were up to the physicality and the speed that they were early in the game. And it ends up costing us the goal.