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By Paul Danzer/Portland Tribune/Depleted Portland defense blanks Real Salt Lake for important 1-0 win

It lacked style points, but on Saturday the Portland Timbers walked out of Providence Park with the points that mattered.

Diego Valeri scored an early goal and Steve Clark came up big when he had to as the injury-challenged Timbers beat Real Salt Lake 1-0 to halt a two-match skid.

Portland is 12-11-4 (40 points) and eighth in the MLS Western Conference but only three points back of third place and four points out of second.

Real Salt Lake, a team on the rise in the second half of the season, is third in the West at 13-11-4 (43).

"Massive win, because it was a win that we worked for," Timbers coach Giovanni Savarese said.

Valeri scored his 10th goal of the season in the 16th minute, taking a short pass from Andres Flores and firing a 25-yard laser past Nick Rimando and just inside the left post.

From there, the Timbers defended in numbers to make that one moment of magic worth three points.

Real Salt Lake had 60 percent of possession — 62 percent in the second half — and might have taken something from its effort but for a series of mis-hit opportunities.

"We (made) a lot of sacrifice, and that's why we are happy," Valeri said.

The win wasn't secured until Clark's final save. In the eighth minute of stoppage time, he dove low to his left to stop Albert Rusnak's 19-yard free kick. When Aaron Herrera put the rebound well high, Clark raised both arms in triumph.

"I'm going to cover my post and make him beat me over the wall," Clark said of defending the last free kick. "A lot of guys move early and get beat on their goalkeeper side. I stayed, and I got paid for that."

The free kick was the last of a few dicey moments for the Timbers in extra time, including a scramble after Clark came off his line to try to punch clear a ball in traffic neat the top of the penalty area, only to have the ball deflect to his right into a dangerous spot. The Timbers were fortunate no RSL player could get a clean touch to the bouncing ball.

"It was just a simple mistake," Clark said of trying to punch the ball.

Prior to that he made a tip save on a Kelyn Rowe 25-yard shot and made a nice reaction to cut off a Herrera shot in the 80th minute.

RSL's last chance came when Renzo Zabrano was called for a foul just at the top of the 18-yard box. Zambrano, an 83rd minute replacement for Andres Flores to help the Timbers see out the win, hopped up and confronted referee Nima Saghafi, earning a red card for his protest.

Clark finished with six saves, and Portland blanked RSL with Claude Dielna alongside Bill Tuiloma at center back and without any defenders on the bench had the Timbers needed one.

At the final whistle, Dielna fell to his knees and kissed the turf.

"The one criticism I have is maybe we could be a little better on the ball," Clark said. "But overall, it was a good game. I think it's important that we have another week before the next game. Because we've played so many games, we're kind of building up our resiliency again."

The Timbers were seldom on the front foot, but were able to play from out front thanks to another piece of Valeri magic.

"We created a turnover. I was in the range for shooting," Valeri said. He saw several teammates as options but "was in a good zone to try the shot. I was looking at Rimando and tried to put it in that spot, and I got the luck that it went in."

Scoring first was huge for a Timbers team that has recently struggled for goals in home games.

"That gave us calm to manage the game," Valeri said.

The captain said the Timbers might have deserved more out of consecutive home losses to Atlanta and Seattle than it did from this match. But commitment and some desperation added up to a critical result.

"In the last couple of games, we didn't get the points we deserved. Maybe today we didn't manage the game as we wanted and we got the points," Valeri said.

Savarese said his team can make better decisions at times, "but overall the energy, the desire, the commitment, the things sometimes that were a little bit too up and down the last two games today were steady and complete."

The Timbers' defense is ultra thin.

Out with injuries were center backs Larrys Mabiala, Julio Cascante and Modou Jadama and outside backs Zarek Valentin (upper left leg, was listed as questionable but did not dress) and Marco Farfan (knee).

Midfielder Cristhian Paredes (upper right leg injury) also did not dress.

Savarese praised the ground covered by Tuiloma and Dielna and outside backs Jorge Moreira and Jorge Villafana. The coach said "we'll see" if any of the injured players might return for next Saturday's match against Sporting Kansas City.

"We have other guys ready to step in, and we have other ideas to get through the emergency moment we're going through," he said.

Winning with effort while shorthanded should help restore some confidence for the Timbers.

"We have to be courageous. This is where we are right now," Savarese said. "When these (challenging) moments come and the group steps on the field and gets the job done, then it gives you a little bit more feeling that we can get through this difficult moment."

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@pauldanzer


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