By MIKE DONOVAN
PORTLAND, Ore. — In a battle between teams fighting for the fifth-and-final playoff spot in the Western Conference, the Portland Timbers had their way with the Vancouver Whitecaps Saturday afternoon, moving the home side above the red line.
Two Fanendo Adi goals in a four-minute span broke the game open while Diego Valeri added a goal and an assist as Portland (9-8-12, 39 points) defeated their Cascadian rival, 3-0, at Providence Park.
After being staked to a lead by a first-half Valeri strike, the Timbers used Adi’s two second-half goals to leave Vancouver (8-7-13, 37 points) on the outside looking in at the MLS Western Conference playoff race. Twenty minutes after the second half restart, Valeri stole the ball from Matias Laba before playing in Adi. The 23-year-old forward slipped the ball past David Ousted and sent the Timbers Army into delirium.
Four minutes later, Adi was at it again, this time using a Darlington Nagbe pass to again find space behind Vancouver’s backline. The goals capped an impressive performance for the Nigerian DP, whose hold play was a key cog in Portland finding space in front of Vancouver’s defense.
“He looked like a man, he was a beast,” head coach Caleb Porter said. “He was going against two of the strongest guys in the league in O’Brien and Waston. Those guys are a tough matchup but I thought at times, he manhandled them,”
With the brace, Adi joins Bradley Wright-Phillips and Dom Dwyer as the only MLS players with four multi-goal matches in 2014. In fact, since joining MLS in May, Adi has only scored in four games but has score twice in each.
“As a striker, when you get the first it is very important for you, you gain a lot of confidence and that’s what happened (today),” Adi said.
For the second consecutive match, it was a Valeri left-footed volley that gave the Timbers the lead. After a quick restart by Will Johnson, an unmarked Jorge Villafana served a cross into the onrushing Valeri, whose shot left Ousted helpless. The goal was the Argentine DP’s ninth of the season and moved Valeri into a tie with fellow countrymen Maxi Urruti for the club lead.
Valeri’s steady late-season form continued as he has two goals and six assists in his last four matches. The 14 assists are good for second in MLS behind Landon Donovan while it also ties the Timbers all-time franchise record for most assists in a season, joining John Bain of the NASL-era Timbers at that mark.
“He’s been instrumental for us this year,” Porter said. “In my opinion, he’s one of the best players in the league, if not the best.”
While the visitors outshot Portland by a 15-to-10 margin, they rarely threatened Donovan Ricketts, who made four saves on the day, but had little to do for the majority of the match.
“I thought it was our best defensive performance of the year,” Porter said. “It was good collective defending, very organized, our shape was very good.”
The Timbers seem to have finally found a consistent back line with Alvas Powell, Liam Ridgewell, Pa Modou Kah, and Jorge Villafana making their fourth straight start together. It was the unit’s second shutout in its four matches and matches the two shootouts the Timbers had in their first 25 matches of the season.
“I think the thing that has been lacking at times, wasn’t lacking today and that has been defending,” Porter said.
Vancouver will look to move on from their fourth loss in six matches when they host Real Salt Lake on Saturday. The Timbers, meanwhile, will host Guyanese-side Alpha United in CONCACAF Champions League play Tuesday, before heading to face Toronto FC on the weekend.
“If we take care of business in the next five, we’re going to be in the playoffs,” Porter said. “But we got some work to do still.”
Here are the match highlights: