Timbers rock Galaxy
If Saturday was any indication, home field struggles are a thing of the past for the Portland Timbers.
Four delectable goals and some fierce work to own the midfield added up to an impressive 4-0 win over the Los Angeles Galaxy — a performance that had Providence Park rocking.
Cristhian Paredes was a stud from whistle to whistle, scoring two goals and bossing the midfield. Diego Valeri scored a nifty goal on the counterattack, and Jeremy Ebobisse got into the act with a late header.
Timbers coach Giovanni Savarese praised the discipline of his side against one of the better attacking opponents in MLS.
"We played a very good game against a very good team. Tonight, just proud of the performance," Savarese said.
The Timbers improved to 9-8-4 (31 points). They are seventh in the Western Conference. The Galaxy are 12-9-1 (37) and are third in the conference.
This is the first time in 2019 the Timbers have been above the seventh-place playoff line. They are tied on points with Real Salt Lake but have played one fewer game.
This is the first MLS win for Portland without midfielder Diego Chara in the starting lineup since July 5, 2015. Chara was suspended for yellow-card accumulation for Saturday's match. Portland lost or tied the previous 21 regular-season matches Chara did not start. He did play 14 minutes off the bench on July 7 in the win at Yankee Stadium.
In Chara's absence, Renzo Zambrano played a steady match in front of Portland's back line and Paredes, 21, from Paraguay, played the best match of his MLS career.
The first Paredes goal opened the scoring in the 37th minute. After an efficient switch from left to right through midfield, Jorge Moreira swung a perfect ball into the 6-yard box. The ball was too high for Brian Fernandez's near-post run, but Paredes got his head to it before defender Daniel Steres.
"Once he started finding the gaps, moving the ball well, then he had the confidence to go a little bit more into the attack," Savarese said. "I felt that moment was perfect for him to be in the box and to capitalize on that cross and score a very important goal for us."
Galaxy superstar Zlatan Ibrahimovic had a chance to level the score moments later, but Steve Clark made a big one-on-one stop, and moments later it was 2-0.
"I didn't have any other option but to just stand him up. I just stood him up, and luckily he hit it into my body," Clark said.
Seconds later, Valeri was working magic at the end of a long dribbling run into the penalty area. A couple of nice touches from Paredes started the counter, and Valeri was able to push the ball past a scrambling Steres and score his sixth goal of the season from the left side of the penalty area.
Valeri drew a yellow card for pulling off his jersey in an uncharacteristically emotional goal celebration in front of a revved up crowd.
The 2-0 lead was nice, but didn't feel particularly safe with the dangerous Galaxy on the pitch. L.A. did create some danger, none bigger than in the 75th minute, when Uriel Antuna appeared ready to find an open goal before Clark raced from left to right to make a sprawling save.
"I read the play and was able to get across and use my speed, which I like to do," Clark said. "I know it was a big save, and I was feeling good afterwards. I was celebrating."
So was the throng at Providence Park, as a chant of "Steve" echoed through the building.
"That was a big moment," Clark said. "Also when we scored the second goal I was running around celebrating. We're having a lot of fun. I think sometimes with all the pressure things get lost. This is fun. I don't get to do this forever, and I'm enjoying every second of it."
Paredes made sure the Timbers and their fans would leave happy with a delicate half-volley finish beyond the reach of Galaxy goalkeeper David Bingham in the 81st minute. He has four goals this season and five in his year with the Timbers.
More than the two goals, Paredes' energy and decision-making alongside Zambrano was significant. And both played most of the match with yellow cards.
"You try to be smart about it. Once you know you have a yellow card, you have to calm down and play more responsible," Paredes said through an interpreter.
Ebobisse jumped to finish a cross from Jorge Villafana to cap the scoring in the 87th minute.
By then, the Galaxy were down to 10 men as Efrain Alvrez was shown a red card in the 84th minute by referee Allen Chapman for contact to the head of Portland's Mavin Loria.
Ibrahimovic also will miss Friday's showdown with Atlanta United for yellow-card accumulation after venting to Chapman in the 76th minute. After the whistle, Portland's Dairon Asprilla and L.A.'s Diego Polenta were given red cards for a violent confrontation.
Clark finished with six saves in the Timbers' fourth shutout of the season. He credited the play in front of him — especially from Larrys Mabiala and Julio Cascante — for containing Ibrahimovic and company.
"They're super physical. They're big boys, and they're strong men. They were the stars tonight," Clark said. "I know center backs go unheralded, but they were fantastic."
The Timbers will play 11 of their 13 remaining league games at home. But their next two are at Minnesota United, on Aug. 4 for MLS play and on Aug. 7 in the semifinals of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup tournament.
After that, the Timbers will play 10 consecutive league games at home over a 47-day stretch between Aug. 10 and Sept. 25.
Chara will represent Portland at the MLS All-Star Game on Wednesday at Orlando. The MLS All-Stars will take on Spanish power Athletico Madrid (5 p.m., FS1).
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