By MIKE DONOVAN
Needing a victory to stay in the thick of the Western Conference playoff race, the Portland Timbers blew past an undermanned San Jose Earthquakes squad to move one step closer to the postseason.
Diego Valeri had a pair of goals while Rodney Wallace added one of his own as the Timbers shut out San Jose, 3-0, Wednesday night at Providence Park. The victory moves the Timbers (11-9-12, 45 points) into the fifth and final playoff spot, two points clear of the Vancouver Whitecaps, who have played one fewer match.
The duo of Wallace and Valeri were the catalysts all game long for Timbers with each player putting four shots on target, while both players had a part in every single goal on the evening.
Wallace, who missed the first 16 games of the season due to offseason ACL surgery, has scored three goals in his last two matches.
“It was a great performance (by Wallace),” Valeri said. “I’m really happy for him because I know how hard he’s worked to get back from his injury.”
Minutes after the second half restart, Valeri chipped his penalty kick right down the middle and past goalkeeper Jon Busch, who dove to his right. Valeri’s spot kick came after Wallace was ruled to be taken down by Jason Hernandez during a Portland free kick.
Twenty minutes after his spot kick, it was again Valeri who found the score sheet, putting it home after Busch made a diving save on a Wallace shot. The Argentine now has 11 goals to go along with his 14 assists, both of which lead the team.
Valeri returned to the Portland lineup after missing last Saturday’s match due to yellow card accumulation. His re-insertion sparked a Timbers offense that saw Portland fire ten shots on goal and 20 shots overall.
“He’s been fantastic,” Liam Ridgewell, who was wearing the captain’s armband for Portland, said. “When Diego is in the team, it’s very good for us.”
Wallace put the Timbers ahead just before halftime when he used his favored left foot to blast the ball past a diving Busch. After notching two goals against San Jose on Saturday, the Costa Rican International again scored, this time putting the finishing touch on a sequence of nice passing by Fanendo Adi, Valeri, and Darlington Nagbe.
“It was a very important goal to get us started,” Wallace said. “What we needed was a goal. We built up a good play and I was able to finish.”
Adi almost put the Timbers ahead minutes before Wallace’s goal, but the Nigerian was denied by a leaping Busch. Portland forced Busch into seven saves on the evening, constantly threatening the 38-year-old’s goal.
Adam Jahn, who received his first Major League Siccer start in 2014, rattled the woodwork late in the second half for San Jose, but it was much too little, too late. In fact, Donovan Ricketts finished the evening with zero saves with the Earthquakes failing to register a shot on target.
While the Timbers were without usual starter Alvas Powell due to his call up by Jamaica, it was nothing compared to the group of players San Jose was missing for the match. Chris Wondolowski, Victor Bernandez, Cordell Cato, and Atiba Harris were all missing due to national team duty. In fact, due to international absences, injuries, and suspensions, San Jose (6-14-11, 29 points) had only four players on its bench for the match, instead of the usual seven.
“Sometimes these are the games where you let your guard down,” Porter said. “I think it says a lot about our hunger right now, our focus.”
The Timbers now have eight days off before taking on Real Salt Lake in Portland’s home finale. During Portland’s time off, the Whitecaps will take on the Seattle Sounders in a Cascadia clash, leaving Portland in the unusual position of cheering for Seattle.
“As far as I know Vancouver is just playing another team, not sure who they are playing, but I hope that other team beats them,” Porter said.