Photo by Craig Mitchelldyer/Portland Timbers
BY MIKE DONOVAN
PORTLAND, Ore.- There was little finesse when the Colorado Rapids and Portland Timbers met Friday night at Jeld-Wen Field. In fact, only one piece of supreme skill by Diego Valeri turned out to be the only difference between the two clubs.
Valeri’s early goal was the difference as Portland knocked off the Rapids 1-0 and moved into the third seed in the Western Conference playoff race with five games remaining.
Valeri, who was making his first start in three matches after dealing with an adductor injury, displayed his usual array of nice passes to go along with his goal. The Argentine DP is now tied with Ryan Johnson and Darlington Nagbe for the team lead with eight goals and has scored or assisted on 12 of the club’s last 17 goals.
“The thing about (Valeri) is he has those moments of brilliance and that’s what you need from a guy in that role,” Jack Jewsbury said. “I think tonight you saw it again, he made it look too easy. He’s a guy that has been class for us on both sides of the ball.”
The goal came after Maximiliano Urruti forced a poor clearance from Drew Moor. Moor’s pass was headed by Rodney Wallace towards Valeri, who off-the-volley chipped the ball over Clint Irwin and into the net.
“Diego, that was class, you know? Class. That’s what he is—a class player,” head coach Caleb Porter said.
Urruti was making his first start for Portland, while Valeri, Jewsbury and Futty Danso returned to the starting lineup after dealing with injuries. The Rapids, meanwhile, were missing the services of Vicente Sanchez, who scored in the club’s last match but sustained a knock in training Thursday.
Porter turned to Urruti up top instead of Ryan Johnson and Jose Adolfo Valencia, two healthy players who have combined for 23 starts this season. The 22-year-old answered the call by playing a major role in the only goal of the match.
“We don’t score that first goal unless he presses the ball. The whole goal came from his pressure,” Porter said.
After struggling to get out the gate early in recent matches, the 13th-minute goal was a change for the Timbers. It was the second-earliest goal the club has scored this season.
“When you score that first goal and start games with an energy and the right mentality and are proactive, you give yourself a better chance,” Porter said.
Colorado would have conceded a second goal if not for Irwin bailing out his defense by saving a breakaway shot from Urruti in the first half. It was the only save on the night for Colorado’s keeper as the Timbers struggled to get shots on target against the physical Rapids defense. In fact, neither team was able to get a shot on frame in the second half of the match.
“Listen, the game wasn’t pretty the entire game. There were times when it was direct and the ball was in the air. That’s MLS,” Porter said.
The hard-fought affair wasn’t the usual showing for Portland, who trailed Colorado possession and passing stats.
“We got that lead off a great play, and then we locked it down,” Will Johnson said. “We had to grind and fight, it wasn’t neccessarily pretty, but we got the job done. It’s a big result for us.”
The victory moves the Timbers on from a disappointing 1-1 draw Saturday against a last-place Chivas USA side. A team meeting between the matches was a springboard for the club’s turnaround effort, according to Johnson.
“We had a good meeting in the middle of the week where the guys spoke up and we all kind of vented and aired out what we felt needed to change and what needed to be different and I think you saw that tonight,” the Timbers captain said. “Everybody took responsiblilty, they did their job from minute one to minute 90.”
With 46 points, the Timbers now sit one point above the fourth-place Rapids and six points clear of the red line separating which teams make the postseason and which teams fall short. Colorado, who has played one more match than Portland, will have a off-week before hosting the first-place Seattle Sounders at home on Oct. 5. The Timbers, meanwhile, will battle the fifth-place LA Galaxy at Jeld-Wen Field on Sept. 29.