Diego Chara has made a career as the Portland Timbers' disruptor and mistake eraser. On Sunday, Oct. 11, the 34-year-old Colombian added set-up man to his role as the Portland Timbers won their fifth consecutive Major League Soccer match with a strong second-half performance.
Jaroslaw Niezgoda scored twice early in the second half and Felipe Mora scored off the bench in a 3-0 win over the San Jose Earthquakes at rainy Providence Park.
With seven games remaining in the abbreviated regular season, the Timbers are tied on points with Seattle atop the Western Conference. Portland and Seattle are both 9-4-3 for 30 points from 16 matches, but the Sounders have a nine-goal advantage on the goal-differential tiebreaker.
Timbers coach Giovanni Savarese continues to praise his club's commitment and unity, but said it must continue to focus on improvement.
"We just have to continue to make sure that we don't feel that we've arrived," Savarese said. "We need to continue to be better in every area."
On Sunday, the Timbers were much better in the second half, after an inconsistent and scoreless 45 minutes.
Niezgoda scored a header 35 seconds into the second half and added a second goal six minutes later to give Portland confidence against a San Jose club that had won its previous three games.
Savarese was satisfied with the first-half possession and buildup from goalkeeper Steve Clark and the back six, but felt his team needed better movement in the attacking third.
"We didn't have the movements that we needed (in the first half). In the second half we gave better and more clear information (about) what we were looking for," Savarese said. "At halftime the guys were able to see the clear pictures and the mobility was much, much better."
Niezgoda's goal 35 seconds into the second half started with a crisp series of passes in midfield. A combination near the right touchline between Diego Chara and Eryk Williamson sent Chara dribbling into space. Chara delivered a nice right-footed cross that Niezgoda was able to direct back inside the right post with a header from near the penalty spot.
"When you start the half with a goal like Jaro finished with a great pass by Diego Chara, then you build in confidence and (the goal) confirms that you are doing the right thing," Savarese said.
In the 53rd minute, Niezgoda made it 2-0 by converting a gift.
Diego Chara sent a ball into the box for Diego Valeri, who would have had an excellent chance had the ball not skipped away. Earthquakes' goalkeeper James Marcinkowski slid out to collect the ball but mishandled it, eventually giving Niezgoda a free shot from the top of the 18-yard box.
"Great feeling for me. To score goals for a striker is very important," said Niezgoda, who became the fourth Timbers player to reach five goals this season.
It wasn't a perfect effort, as San Jose had a goal called back for offside, Carlos Fierro missed badly on an open chance and Clark was forced into seven saves, several of them challenging stops. But the result was the third consecutive shutout for Portland in games at Providence Park.
Three times in the second half, San Jose appeared ready to slice into that lead. In the 60th minute, Clark made a reaction stop on a Tommy Thompson header. In the 60th minute, Fierro was open from 12 yards out but rushed his attempt and sent it well high. Moments later, Clark pushed aside a drive from Cristian Espinoza. On the resulting corner kick, the Earthquakes put the ball into the goal, but defender Tanner Beason was judged to be offside when he put the finishing touch on a ball that would have ended up in the goal anyway.
That break aside, Clark deserved the clean sheet after a series of big stops, beginning with a reaction save early in the match to deny Chris Wondolowski's close-range header from a corner kick.
Portland's depth continues to show itself, and Mora finished off the win by scoring his seventh goal in nine games on a far-post header in the 86th minute. That pretty play developed with Marvin Loria sending a ball through the defense that Diego Chara collected near the byline with room to make a delicate chip across to the open Mora. Chara's second assist of the night was his team-leading sixth this season, a career high.
Mora has scored in three consecutive matches for the second time this season. He joined Valeri and Jeremy Ebobisse with a team-high seven goals in MLS regular-season matches.
Ebobisse entered in the 60th minute, his 73rd consecutive appearance across all competitions. That's a new club record, surpassing the 72 consecutive appearances for Darlington Nagbe.
Williamson will miss Portland's 6:30 p.m. Wednesday game at Real Salt Lake after picking up his fifth yellow card of the season early in Sunday's match.
Gresham native Marco Farfan, a natural left back, made his second start at right back this season.
"I think we have an amazing group and any time we step on the field we should be confident and expect to get a result," Farfan said. "But getting a couple of wins in a row, it definitely boosts the energy and the confidence of the group as a whole."
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