Experience, years with Sporting KC hone defender's game

by: COURTESY OF JOHN LARIVIERE - Portland Timbers defender Michael Harrington gives the back line some welcome consistency and experience.For five years, defender Michael Harrington was a mainstay on the back line for the Kansas City Wizards/Sporting Kansas City. From 2007 to 2011, he played in 138 matches and made 119 starts. In 2012, though, Harrington fell out of favor with Kansas City and appeared in only 11 games.

That experience helped Harrington develop the consistency that has made him a mainstay with the Portland Timbers.

“You know that with one bad game your job can be in jeopardy,” Harrington says. “This is a results-based business. It’s ‘what have you done for me lately,’ and lately is the game at hand.”

Timbers coach Caleb Porter says he likes how steady Harrington has been this season.

“I’d rather have a guy who’s a 6 or 7 out of 10 every game than a guy who’s an 8 one game and then a 2 or 3,” Porter says. “Michael is pretty much a 6 or 7 every game. He defends well in his channel. When he steps into the attack, he can help us keep possession and at times bring some things in the final third.

“He’s been around the block. He’s played a lot of minutes in MLS, a lot of games.”

Harrington, 6-0 and 170 pounds, came to Portland from Kansas City last offseason in exchange for allocation money.

“I was very excited,” Harrington says. “I had a good run in Kansas City. I loved my teammates and coaches there. They really helped me get better and become a good solid player in this league.

“And it’s great that I was able to come here and get a shot to get back on the field. It was a blessing that I was able to come here and have the opportunity to play for Caleb and a great group of teammates.”

Harrington has started all but one match this season (he missed the June 23 game against the Colorado Rapids because of injury). He has one assist and has been a shutdown defender on a back line that features a great deal of youth and turnover, with other defenders battling injuries.

Harrington admits he has had to adjust so he is ready again to play every week during the eight-month MLS season.

“It’s experience, knowing how to take care of your body, what you need to eat and drink, and how much sleep you need, and all those things really factor into whether you’re able to sustain yourself,” he says.

Harrington also says Porter’s faith in him has been critical to his success.

“Caleb has given me a lot of confidence,” Harrington says. “He’s shown that he believes in me and trusts me. That’s big for me as a player. It helps me go in, week in week out, and be confident in what I’m doing and my skills.”

Harrington, a North Carolina alum, has adapted to Portland’s possession-oriented system, which can leave the back line vulnerable at times.

“The system fits me,” he says. “In Kansas City, we played a similar style. That made the transition easy for me.”

Although he is only 27, Harrington’s experience allowed him to step into a leadership role with the Timbers.

“Toward the end of my run in Kansas City, I felt like even though I wasn’t playing, I was still becoming a bit of a leader with the experience I had acquired,” he says.

The Timbers are coming down the homestretch and are trying to make the MLS playoffs. Portland has six regular-season games remaining, starting with Friday’s 7 p.m. home game against Colorado.

“It’s important to not let success early in the season affect what you’re going to do this weekend,” Harrington says. “It gives you confidence, but you always have to have that hunger and awareness that this game coming up is the most important. That mentality and preparation is what breeds consistency.”

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