Gutty Timbers advance in playoffs
Elimination soccer is about finding a way.
For the Portland Timbers on Wednesday, that way involved some Diego Valeri magic, some acrobatic goalkeeping from Jeff Attinella and a lot of gutty defending after going down a man.
Valeri scored once in each half and the Timbers withstood a big Dallas push for a 2-1 win at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas that send Portland into the Major League Soccer Western Conference semifinals.
That two-leg series opens with a Sunday match at Providence Park. The opponent will be either top seed Sporting Kansas City or second seed Seattle. If third seed Los Angeles FC beats sixth seed Real Salt Lake on Thursday (7:30 p.m., ESPN2), it'll be Sporting KC. If RSL wins, the Sounders will be the opponent.
Valeri scored a wonderful free kick from 25 yards to put Portland up 1-0 in the 23rd minute after Sebastian Blanco drew a foul. He doubled that lead in the 71st minute by calmly putting the ball into an open goal after a strong play by forward Jeremy Ebobisse.
The Timbers played the final 40 minutes with 10 men. Central defender Larrys Mabiala was correctly shown a red card in the 58th minute after pulling down FC Dallas forward Dominique Badji who was breaking behind the defense.
Dallas defender Matt Hedges scored in the 94th minute to make for a nervous final four minutes of stoppage time for Portland.
"Great energy. And in a difficult situation they were able to sacrifice to make sure that we got the victory against a very good Dallas team," first-year Timbers coach Giovanni Savarese said. "They posed a lot of difficult things on us."
FC Dallas outshot Portland 22-5, but put only six on target. Portland finished with three shots on target, Gonzalez's lone save coming on a Blanco opportunity from a Dallas turnover in the 87th minute.
Attinella made five saves, none of them easy. He made three reaction kick saves, one with his head, and (perhaps most difficult) a jab while diving backward in the first minute of added time to deny a swerving shot from Roland Lamah deep on the left wing.
"I think Jeff got a couple of saves that gave us the opportunity to be now in the (conference) semifinals," Valeri said. "He had a couple of injuries. It wasn't an easy year. So very happy about Jeff."
Valeri, who had scored only one goal in his last 11 regular-season appearances, reminded MLS fans why he won the league MVP in 2017.
Valeri swerved his 25-yard free kick over the Dallas defending wall and under the crossbar. The ball flew inside the left post and out of the lunging reach of Dallas goalkeeper Jesse Gonzalez.
His second goal came 13 minutes after the Timbers went down to 10 men. Attinella sent a goal kick upfield. David Guzman was able to control a second ball and chip a pass forward for Ebobisse. Ebobisse held off defender Reto Ziegler, kept the ball from Gonzalez who came off his line. Ebobisse dropped a pass to Valeri, who took the shot first time to send the ball around the scrambling Gonzalez and away from a pair of defenders.
Dallas, attacking with its speed on the wings, sent 29 crosses into the Portland penalty area and the Timbers' 46 clearances sum up the way the match unfolded.
After Mabiala (who will be suspended for Sunday's match) was sent off, Bill Tuiloma replaced winger Andy Polo as Savarese went with a 4-3-2 formation with Guzman, Blanco and Diego Chara in front of the back four.
In the 81st minute, Savarese inserted Lawrence Olum as a third center back as Portland hunkered down with five defenders, three midfielders and one forward.
"Once we were 10 players, it was mostly sacrifice and discipline, making sure that we cover each other in every aspect and make sure that we frustrated Dallas," Savarese said.
Ebobisse's ability to be an outlet was important throughout the match as Dallas, despite starting nine players who also played on Sunday at Colorado, kept coming at the Timbers. But FC Dallas' speed, which makes it one of the more dangerous counter-attacking teams in the league, was less of a factor once Portland had a lead and was willing to defend its way to victory.
The first half came to an end with a scrum as Chara, apparently reacting to a hand to the face of Jorge Villafana, went chest to chest with Dallas' Carlos Gruezo. Chara and Gruezo both received yellow cards from referee Alan Kelly.
Portland had the halftime lead, but Dallas had the bulk of the scoring chances in the first 45 minutes.
The best of those was a close-range chance in the 26th minute for Michael Barrios that glanced off the head of goalkeeper Jeff Attinella and off the crossbar. The rebound went to Dallas midfielder Santiago Mosquera, who sent an open shot well high.
Ziegler thought he gave FC Dallas a lead in the 12th minute, but a video review showed he was clearly offside on the play, which started with a Dallas free kick.
Dallas dominated possession and had a series of near misses in each half from balls into the 18-yard box.
But the home team didn't find the clinical finishing touch that Valeri delivered for Portland, so FC Dallas saw a season it spent at or near the top of the Western Conference end in knockout round disappointment.
"It means a lot," Valeri said, noting that the Timbers are all in to chase a second MLS Cup championship. "We came here, it's a very difficult place and a very difficult team and we showed character today."