By Jordan Littman, The Baltimore Sun
9:38 PM EDT, July 18, 2013
Two months ago, Maryland men's soccer coach Sasho Cirovski had dinner with Portland Timbers coach Caleb Porter at a restaurant in Dallas. It was a meeting of chance, as Cirovski was traveling and Porter's Timbers were playing there.
The two coaches discussed a wide variety of topics, including one that piqued Porter's interest. They were talking about midfielder Rodney Wallace, a former Terp under Cirovski who's now on Porter's roster in Portland.
"He couldn't sing his praises enough," Cirovski said.
It comes with good reason. Wallace — who will play for Costa Rica in Sunday's Gold Cup quarterfinals against Honduras at M&T Bank Stadium — has career-highs in both goals (4) and assists (5) this season for the Timbers, despite having played just 14 of 19 possible games.
Wallace, who moved from Costa Rica to Rockville when he was in elementary school, was taken by D.C. United with the No. 6 overall pick in the 2009 Major League Soccer SuperDraft after he helped the Terps to the 2008 NCAA title.
After being traded to Portland in late 2010, he has found his footing in the MLS and is having what Porter calls "a breakout year."
It hasn't come easily, though. And between injuries the past few years and splitting time between his club and national teams, it's been especially difficult for Wallace to find consistency with Costa Rica.
Though he was on the team's roster for its three World Cup qualifying matches in June, he didn't make it onto the field once. And despite the fact he has started two of Costa Rica's three Gold Cup matches, he was taken out in the second half in both occasions.
"It's different systems, different teams and different environments; you just have to be able to adjust to each environment and at the same time stay grounded and maintain your style of play," Wallace said. "It's definitely a hard adjustment, but at the same time it's always exciting and it's always a good challenge."
Wallace is used to facing obstacles. In his first season with D.C. United, he started 25 games and scored three goals, adding three assists. His second year, he broke his leg after 11 games (all starts) and was declared out for the season.
Five months later, the club shipped him away to Portland. And while he didn't match his first year's productivity in 2011 or 2012, he has excelled under Porter. Part of that can be credited to a position change Porter instituted this season.
"Like most players, if you get them in the right role they will come to life," Porter said. "And I think moving him to the left winger position in a 4-3-3 has brought his best qualities to the surface where he can perform with a level of comfort and flow."
That position change hasn’t occurred on the Costa Rican team, however, where he plays center and left midfielder in a 4-4-2 formation.
Wallace has shown flashes of excellence — he scored the only goal in a 1-0 exhibition victory over the United States in September 2011 and scored the game-winner in a Copa Centroamericana semifinal against El Salvador in January — but it hasn't transitioned on a full-time scale.
"Personally, and especially in qualifiers, I haven't gotten as much of a run as I've wanted," Wallace said, "but it takes time and I'm not in any rush.
"I'm just waiting for my chance to perform, and at some point that will come."
That opportunity could come Sunday at 7 p.m., when Wallace's national team plays close to home in Baltimore.
With his parents, sister and friends expected to be in attendance, he hopes he can finally bring his success full-circle.
"I'm not letting the highs get too high. I'm just controlling the situation and taking each opportunity day-by-day," Wallace said. "I'm not rushing anything, I'm not getting too far ahead of myself, but I just want to keep reaching my goals."
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