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BY PAUL DANZER/PORTLAND TRIBUNE/Portland refuses to wilt; defensive presence makes the difference at Seattle

Sunday's final 2017 regular-season match between the Portland Timbers and Seattle Sounders was hardly a classic.

Such is the price MLS pays for wanting to get its marquee matchup in before Labor Day, when the casual fans turn their attention to another type of football.

Both teams were playing their third game in 10 days or fewer, and it made for a game where the most compelling moments surrounded decisions by referee Mark Geiger. And for a game that had few highlight-worthy plays (other than for reviewing Geiger's calls).

The Timbers still have only won once at CenturyLink Field in their seven MLS seasons. That the victory came in a 2013 playoff match makes it count a little bit more, though.TRIBUNE PHOTO: DIEGO G. DIAZ - Sebastian Blanco sends in a cross for the Portland Timbers in their victory over the Colorado Rapids last wekk.

Portland should be OK with the tie on Sunday. With forward Fanendo Adi sidelined and suspensions and injuries keeping the Timbers' back six in a constant state of flux, Caleb Porter's crew in 10 days managed to get two vital home wins and a road draw against a talented rival.

After each of the last three games, Porter has focused on his team's grit. In wins over the New York Red Bulls and Colorado at home, Portland maintained a late one-goal lead. On Sunday at Seattle, the Sounders spent most of the last 10 minutes in and around the Timbers penalty area but didn't score.

It was the type of challenge the Timbers wilted under with regularity earlier this season. 

"Even though we didn't win, we didn't give up a late goal, and that's real pleasing from a mentality standpoint," Porter said of the finish at Seattle.

The arrival of Larrys Mabiala has provided a physical and aerial presence that was sorely needed. Mabiala was responsible for seven of Portland's 22 clearances, Roy Miller blocked three shots.

"Our defense played amazing tonight. There were a lot of last-ditch tackles and a lot of guys winning crosses," goalkeeper Jeff Attinella said.

Attinella, making a case to keep the staring job when Jake Gleeson is healthy, twice stopped one-on-one chances for Seattle's Jordan Morris.

"We needed our goalkeeper to make a couple plays, and there have been games where we haven't gotten that," Porter said. "He stepped up big-time and preserved the point for us. If he doesn't make those saves, obviously we're hanging our heads and we're feeling a little different in the match."

Without Diego Valeri being in the best form in his MLS career, Portland probably isn't hanging around the top of the Western Conference. The 31-year-old Argentine has scored a goal in six consecutive matches and is up to 16 on the year. He is making a case to be considered for the MLS MVP award, and is the main reason the Timbers have survived the absence of Adi.

Valeri smashed home his penalty kick at Seattle — after delivering a beautifully weighted forward pass to Darren Mattocks behind the defense that led to the penalty call.

• With a record of 11-9-8, the Timbers' 41 points are second-best in the Western Conference — behind Seattle's 42. But the Timbers' position is at least slightly precarious because they have played more matches than six of the other seven clubs in the mix for the six playoff spots.

The schedule could help the Timbers, though. Three of Portland's final six matches are against Eastern Conference foes — meaning Western rivals won't gain points should the Timbers drop those. Also, many of those extra matches for the other playoff contenders are against each other, so not every team can get maximum points.

• Darlington Nagbe has been named to the United States roster for World Cup qualifying matches on Friday against Costa Rica in New Jersey and on Sept. 5 in Honduras. Nagbe is scheduled to rejoin the Timbers before their next match on Sept. 9 at Yankee Stadium against New York City FC.

• Timbers 2 had their match at San Antonio FC rescheduled for Oct. 11 because of hurricane Harvey. T2 plays at Rio Grande Valley FC on Wednesday and then is at Providence Park at 2 p.m. Sunday against Tulsa. 

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