Photo by Jaime Valdez/USA TODAY Sports
By SBI SOCCER
The Western Conference playoff race is as close as ever with the 2015 season winding down, and it was not made any more clear Wednesday night at Providence Park.
The Portland Timbers controlled most of the possession and had a handful of chances to leapfrog up the table, but a structured Sporting KC defense and a career-high seven saves from goalkeeper Tim Melia saw the two contenders tie, 0-0.
Both the Timbers and Sporting KC are safely above the red line, with Portland in sixth place after 28 games played. However, the result favors Sporting KC, who ended its three-game losing streak, secured its first road shutout since July 12 and has it sitting in fifth with two games in hand on the Timbers.
The best first-half opportunity for either side came in the 29th minute for the Timbers. Fanendo Adi almost put his side on the scoreboard with a right-footed strike from just inside the penalty area on the right, but Melia poked his left leg out to make a reaction save.
After halftime, it was Adi again who had the next best chance. Just inside the 49th minute, Jorge Villafana sent in an in-swinging cross that met the head of Adi near the six-yard box, but Melia dove to his right and securely caught the effort.
Diego Valeri fed Lucas Melano a pass into the penalty area nine minutes later, but Melia came up big once again, stopping another dangerous opportunity from the Timbers.
Matt Besler, who returned from U.S. national team duty early, started on the evening, and he was involved in the first salient Sporting KC opportunity.
After a long throw-in from Besler, the ball found itself at the foot of Graham Zusi, who ripped a shot on frame, but it careened off of the right post and back into play.
Finally, Melia saved his best late, as he punched the ball from Melano’s run on a Timbers breakaway. Adi was wide open next to Melano on the counter, but he decided to try and round the netminder, and Melia was having none of it.
In stoppage time, Melia made his seventh and final save of the night on a Maximiliano Urruti header.
Sporting KC will visit Orlando City SC Sunday, while the Timbers host the New York Red Bulls the same day.