When a club is desperate for wins to make a push for the playoffs, it doesn't matter if it win by an inch or a mile.
On Wednesday night, the Portland Timbers dug deep within themselves and found a way to pull out their second consecutive win. The Timbers beat Chivas USA 1-0 at Jeld-Wen Field before an announced sellout crowd of 18,627.
'I said to the guys at halftime that it might be one of these nights that we're going to have to grind it out,' Timbers coach John Spencer said. 'We certainly did that.'
The three points could not have been more important. Portland came into the match trailing Chivas by two points in the MLS standings. The win catapulted the Timbers (9-12-5, 32 points) ahead of Chivas (7-9-10, 31 points) and put Portland in a tie with the New York Red Bulls for the 10th and final playoff spot.
Portland took the match to Chivas USA early. The Timbers put pressure on the ball and forced Chivas to react to them. The Timbers just could not find the last pass to put the ball in a dangerous position, though.
'Again, we started the game off well,' Timbers captain Jack Jewsbury said.
The Timbers dominated the half, outshooting Chivas 10-4.
Portland's hard work finally paid off in the 44th minute. Defender Mike Chabala lined up for a corner kick on the right side. He sent a beautiful, arcing pass to the right elbow of the 6-yard box. Defender Eric Brunner had begun charging in as the ball took flight. He beat everyone on the pitch to the pass. Brunner lunged forward and sent a vicious header to the far post. Chivas USA goalkeeper Dan Kennedy had no chance, and Portland was up 1-0.
"I noticed that they left a huge gap in the near post,' Brunner said. 'So I told 'Chewy' (Chabala) the next one look near post if they're not covering it. He hit the ball there, and I made the run there. I didn't think it went in. I kind of did a double-take on it."
The tide of battle began to turn in the second half. Chivas USA began pressing the ball forward. Although the visitors dominated possession, a good portion of their control was outside of the danger zone. When Chivas did move into a place where it could hurt Portland, the Timbers' backline closed down and did not allow a clean look at goal.
'We were hanging on,' Spencer said. 'It was there for everybody to see. They (Chivas USA) are a very resilient group.'
With Chivas USA pushing the ball, Portland was able to use a few counter attacks to give themselves chances at goal. The Timbers finished the match outshooting Chivas 17-12. Portland's best chance to score in the second half came when midfielder Diego Chara pushed a shot in the box wide left in the 74th minute.
'We had a couple of good chances that we might have (used to) finish the game off,' Spencer said. 'Diego had one that slips past the post.'
As the clock ticked closer and closer to the 90-minute mark, Chivas began to throw all 10 players up the pitch. With the Timbers playing back on their heels, Chivas seemed to become a constant threat to score.
'All they were trying to do was just lump the ball in the box, so naturally you've got to try to drop and try to get numbers around the ball,' Spencer said. 'If you don't win the first one, or you do win the first one and it drops down in the box, then you've got to have numbers around the ball. It's just a natural habit for players.'
Chivas USA's last chance to score just a moment before stoppage time ended was perhaps its best opportunity of the match. Midfielder Laurent Courtois received a pass in the 6-yard box. With no defenders marking him, Courtois had an open look at goal. He knocked a pointblank header wide right by a country mile, though.
'The second half we weathered the storm a bit,' Jewsbury said. 'The last chance at the end, we wish that hadn't come about. But at the end of the day, we kind of lucked out on that one and got out of here with six points out of our last two home games, which was crucial to get back in the playoff race.'
To stay in the playoff race, Portland will now have to prove itself on the road. The Timbers will play their next two matches at D.C. United this Saturday and at Philadelphia Union on Saturday, Sept. 10.
'(D.C. United) is another difficult place to go to,' Spencer said. 'A club with a lot of tradition. Now traveling, we're going to have to show a lot of character to get something for the game."