The Portland Timbers pointed to one-sided statistics and their second-half effort as signs that things were not quite as futile as they seemed for most of Sunday's 90 minutes at Providence Park.
But the frustrating truth was that aside from two attempts that hit the goal frame Portland never really troubled D.C. United goalkeeper Bill Hamid in a 1-0 win for the visitors.
The result leaft the Timbers at 13-12-4 (43 points) and just above the seventh-place playoff line in the MLS Western Conference. With its second consecutive win, D.C. United improved to 12–10-9 (45) and climbed to fifth in the East.
An own-goal in the 25th minute proved to be the difference as the Timbers faced the familiar challenge of trying to break through an opponent putting nine and 10 players behind the ball to protect a lead.
As in their previous three home losses this season, the Timbers could not create the needed high-quality scoring chances.
Coach Giovanni Savarese said he was "disappointed, because the guys played very well and we didn't get anything for what we did."
Playing without two of their designated players, the Timbers had the ball for two-thirds of the match, most of that time in the attacking half. They had a 23-6 advantage in shots, but only a 4-2 on-target edge. They sent 23 open-play crosses into the box, but only three were at all problematic for the disciplined defending of DC.
Sebastian Blanco (calf injury) missed his second consecutive match, and Brian Fernandez remained out with a stomach virus. As well as D.C. United defended, those players might not have been difference-makers. But a lineup featuring rookies Marvin Loria and Eryk Williamson with little-used Andy Polo couldn't find a path through an organized defense of eight or nine players.
"That's the most difficult thing to improve in soccer," Valeri said about the challenge of scoring against packed-in defenses. "If someone has that secret, they probably win every championship. The only way is to be more calm, be more precise.
"All the rest we did really well. We moved the ball well, we possessed well."
The own-goal came when Ulises Segura had a lot of room to deliver a cross from the right side of the penalty area. Clark appeared positioned to cut off the low ball, but defender Bill Tuiloma made a sprawling attempt to clear the ball and deflected it into the goal.
Tuiloma said he felt he needed to cover the near post with Segura in space on the right side of the box.
"I just thought I had to cover that near post, but unfortunately it went in the wrong net," Tuiloma said.
A D.C. corner kick in the 39th minute might have produced a second own-goal before halftime, but Eryk Williamson was judged to have cleared the ball before it completely crossed the goal line. Clark misjudged the initial ball and had it bounce back off of him and toward the goal. Replays from ESPN's cameras on each post appeared to show the ball completely across the line from one angle but seemed inconclusive from the other, so the initial decision of no goal stood.
Portland created a few half-chances in the first half, with a Valeri header off of the post in the 16th minute the closest to a goal.
Right back Jorge Moreira, whose cross set up Valeri's header off the post, had a cross float off the crossbar that was the closest Portland came to a goal in the second half.
Savarese had only five substitutes dressed. Defender Zarek Valentin's wife gave birth Saturday, and he was not available. Savarese said it was his decision not to dress Dairon Asprilla.
With five games remaining, the Timbers maintain control of their fate.
"We're in a good situation still," Savarese said.
The games come fast, with the New York Red Bulls in Portland at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, a key match against Minnesota United at Providence Park at 1 p.m. Sunday and a 7:30 p.m., Sept. 25 match against New England capping a 10-game run of home games.
Savarese said he "hopes" Fernandez can play on Wednesday and listed Blanco as a "maybe."
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