Photo by Portland Timbers
By MIKE DONOVAN
PORTLAND, Ore.- The Portland Timbers used a a cheeky goal and stingy defense to continue their run towards the 2013 postseason at a rain-soaked Jeld-Wen Field Sunday afternoon.
Maximiliano Urruti had the lone goal in Portland’s 1-0 victory over the LA Galaxy that sees the Timbers move four points clear of Los Angeles for third-place in the Western Conference. The victory also moves the Timbers eight points ahead of sixth-place with just four matches remaining in the regular season.
“It was a big step for this club, just moving forward, to continue to prove that we can beat anybody,” head coach Caleb Porter said.
The lone goal of the tightly-fought match came when Urruti, who beat LA defender Sean Franklin to ball, used the bottom of his cleat to knock in a Will Johnson corner kick. It was the Argentine’s first goal since being traded to the Timbers on Sept. 7. For the Galaxy, the goal was the 14th time the club had conceded on a set piece, most in MLS.
Urruti made his second consecutive start for Portland and rewarded Porter’s faith in him by delivering the crucial goal.
“He’s a finisher and it’s not just the goal,” Porter said. “He worked tirelessly the entire night to be a nuisance on their central defenders. And that’s huge in this system.”
The Galaxy had what appeared to be a stoppage-time tying goal, but Robbie Keane’s finish off a Landon Donovan free kick was ruled offside. Replays showed that the linesman ultimately made the right decision. The play was easily the Galaxy’s best chance of the night as both teams seem to struggle with the wind and rain. In fact, the Galaxy went the entire second half without forcing a Donovan Ricketts save.
“When you’ve got two good teams trying to do the same thing—press, push the game—it becomes two alpha dogs butting heads,” Porter said.
Portland could have added another if not for Galaxy goalkeeper Jaime Penedo using his forearm to deny a Rodney Wallace shot minutes after the Timbers’ first goal. The Panamanian goalkeeper finished with two saves in a losing effort.
If the matchup is a playoff preview, the Timbers will head into those matches knowing that they were unbeaten in the season series (2-0-1) against LA and only conceded once in the three matches. The Galaxy, on the other hand, will likely need to figure out a way to stop conceding from set pieces if they are to advance to the MLS Cup for the third straight season.
“Our goal is to not just limp in the playoffs, but get in in a good position. Hopefully in the top three,” Porter said.
While the rain came down throughout the match and made for poor playing conditions at times, some Timbers seemed to enjoy playing in the weather, in front of a sold out Jeld-Wen Field.
“It’s a lot of fun, especially in the rain, and coming away with such a good game and a good goal, the whole thing just feels good,” Darlington Nagbe said.
The Timbers used the same starting lineup for the second consecutive match, while the Galaxy inserted Kofi Opare into the starting lineup for just the second time in his rookie season.
For only the second time this season, the Timbers have won consecutive games. Heading into last week’s match with Colorado, the Timbers trailed both LA and the Rapids in the Western Conference standings.
“These last two games were very important,” Jack Jewsbury said. “A week ago they were ahead of us and we knew these were going to be crucial matches for us for making the playoffs.”
The victory also brings the club’s home unbeaten streak to 13 matches, with the club’s last loss at Jeld-Wen Field taking place on March 9. Portland, which has three fewer losses than any other club, also moved its goal difference to +15 on the season.
“This team has a real belief that we can do something special this year,” Porter said.
Next up for the third-place Timbers is a Cascadia clash with the Vancouver Whitecaps at BC Place on Sunday. Meanwhile, the Galaxy find themselves in a four-game winless run and will take on Chivas USA Sunday at the StubHub Center.