Portland Timbers midfielder Diego Valeri (pictured) has scored 14 goals in 51 all-time MLS regular season games. (Photo: Craig Mitchelldyer)
PORTLAND, Oregon -- Don't discount the Portland Timbers from the MLS post-season picture just yet. Last Friday, against Western Conference rival Colorado Rapids, the boys in green and gold proved resourceful in a 2-1 victory. The 2014/15 CONCACAF Champions League qualifier now sits just three points off the playoff pace, going from being in danger to being dangerous.
Falling in line with the theme from this season, it was Portland’s offense that saw its hopes rise against Colorado. The 61st minute insertions of Maxmiliano Urruti and Gaston Fernandez opened up the attack noticeably.
Fernandez, fellow Argentine Diego Valeri and Darington Nagbe combined beautifully and, in the 71st minute, all three touched the ball en route to an Urruti equalizer.
Five minutes later, a curling effort by Valeri from 20-yards out found the back of the net as the Timbers took the lead for good.
"That thing was a thing of beauty," said captain Will Johnson of Valeri's strike. "You don't see goals like that every day."
Underscoring the entire encounter was the debut of former West Bromwich standout Liam Ridgewell, who signed with Portland on June 25 to improve the backline. The central defender played a solid 90 minutes, particularly when Colorado pressed after Valeri's eventual game-winner. Ridgewell interrupted the Rapids' central passing lanes quite easily, helped to switch the field and allowed the Timbers to dominate in possession by a margin of nearly 24%.
Portland's upcoming fixture list includes many of the teams it will need to leapfrog in the table in order to secure a playoff spot.
"We are close," said Valeri. "We know that."