Timbers beat Red Bulls
Diego Valeri had a goal and assist and the Portland Timbers found a way to win a difficult battle on Friday night at Providence Park.
Valeri scored in the 65th minute and set up Darren Mattocks for the finishing blow in stoppage time for a 2-0 Major League Soccer win over the New York Red Bulls.
The victory — at least temporarily — moves the Timbers even with three other teams atop the Western Conference standings with 37 points. Portland (10-9-7) has played two more matches than Houston, Seattle and Sporting Kansas City.
Houston and Sporting KC play on Saturday and Seattle hosts expansion Minnesota on Sunday.
New York lost for only the second time in its last 10 matches in all competitions and is 12-10-2 for 38 points, fourth in the Eastern Conference.
Friday's match was more about will than it was about skill as both teams asserted themselves with upfield pressure that made it difficult to build long stretches of possession.
Valeri's latest piece of magic was set up by Diego Chara, who sprinted past Kemar Lawrence to chase down the ball deep on the right wing. Chara drove a low ball toward the penalty spot where Valeri expertly redirected it past a diving Luis Robles.
"I know Diego (Chara) is very good with that kind of swinging pass when he can kick the ball, so I was ready for that," Valeri said.
It was Valeri's 14th goal of the season, matching his Timbers career high from last season. He also tied Fanendo Adi atop the club's all-time career list with 51 regular-season goals.
The work was far from done, though. Portland played the final 15 minutes down a man. Larrys Mabiala was shown a red card for denying a goal-scoring opportunity by fouling New York's Gonzalo Veron just outside the top of the penalty area.
On the ensuing free kick, Fidel Escobar's shot whistled just outside the post.
Jeff Attinella, playing for the injured Jake Gleeson, made three second-half saves. The most difficult was a reaction block on a point-blank header from former Timber Sal Zizzo in the 90th minute.
Mattocks scored his second goal on the final play of the night. But it was Chara and Valeri who made it happened.
With the Red Bulls throwing everyone forward for a late free-kick chance — including former University of Portland keeper Robles — Chara chipped the ball over a challenging New York player then found Valeri behind the defense. Valeri played the ball to Mattocks, who scored before Robles could scramble back into position.
The Red Bulls rested several starters after playing 120 minutes in a Tuesday U.S. Open Cup victory, and Timbers coach Caleb Porter was glad star forward Bradley Wright Phillips did not play.
Still, Porter said New York was the best opponent his team has seen this season and showed its quality depth on Friday.
His Timbers showed the grit that has at times been missing this season.
"We've all talked about how we need to close out games. Well, we closed out the game and found a way," Porter said. "Forget the football and the pretty and this and that, we showed today as a team we can be mature in closing out a game and getting three points."
They did it without injured Gleeson, Adi and Liam Ridgewell. They did it playing with 10 men for the final 15 minutes, during which Alvas Powell and Vytas entered the game as substitutes.
Powell replaced Zarek Valentin, who started at right back with Mabiala and Lawrence Olum as center backs and Roy Miller at left back. Porter said he went to that back four because they had played well together several times, including the memorable win at Vancouver.
"It wasn't the prettiest football, but we needed a hard-fought, gritty win like that," Valentin said. "I think that's what the doctor ordered for our team."
Porter said the game was never going to be artistic with the Red Bulls' physical personality and with both teams wanting to pressure each other all over the field. The Timbers had only 45 percent of possession and completed only 61 percent of their passes. But they won 70 duels for possession compared with only 48 for the Red Bulls.
The Timbers are back in action on Wednesday when Colorado visits Providence Park at 7:30 p.m. Portland will then play three consecutive road games starting August 27 at Seattle.