CARSON, Calif. -- The Portland Timbers needed no time at all on Saturday night to claim the Western Conference regular-season title as Diego Valeri continued his mastery of Chivas USA with a pair of goals and a marvelous assist.
The Timbers (14-5-15) tallied three times in the first 34 minutes en route to a 5-0 triumph at the StubHub Center, vaulting past Real Salt Lake (16-10-8) to the top of the conference standings. They'll be the No. 1 seed in the West and begin the playoffs next weekend on the road against one of the LA Galaxy, Seattle Sounders or Colorado Rapids, whoever wins next week's wild-card showdown.
Portland were eliminated from the Supporters' Shield race when Sporting Kansas City beat Philadelphia earlier Saturday and, with a defeat, could have fallen to fourth place in the West, but Valeri struck in the 16th and 29th minutes and beautifully set up Rodney Wallace in the 34th. Ryan Johnson and Will Johnson added second-half goals.
The Timbers tied the 34-game league record for fewest losses, set in 2011 by the Galaxy, and head into the postseason on an eight-game unbeaten streak, with five wins and six shutouts during the two-month span.
Chivas USA (6-20-8), who gave up five goals in three of their last five matches, became the 15th MLS club to lose 20 games in a season. Eight of the marks were posted during the 1996-99 shootout era and another in 2001, when ties were followed by a brief overtime period. The Goats lost 22 games in 2005, their debut season. They had won eight, eight and seven games in the previous three campaigns.
Wallace returned to the Timbers' lineup after missing last week's draw with RSL following international duty, with Darlington Nagbe returning to his normal spot on the right flank. Chivas were again without goalkeeper Dan Kennedy, who is dealing with an abdominal strain, and Carlo Chueca replaced rookie Carlos Alvarez in midfield.
Portland were in charge almost from the start, with Nagbe deciding to pass instead of take a clear shot when one-on-one with Goats goalkeeper Tim Melia in the 11th minute. Melia then stopped Wallace one-on-one at the right post three minutes later.
Valeri, who had scored in both meetings earlier this season with Chivas and assisted two goals in the Timbers' 3-0 win May 12 in Portland, then took over.
He fired the Timbers ahead after he collected a clearance and played the ball forward to Will Johnson, who relayed it to Jose Valencia to the left of the goal. Mario de Luna slid in to knock the ball away, and it rolled to Valeri near the top of the box for a simple finish.
Valeri made it 2-0 after collecting an errant pass from Jaime Frias, the Goats' left back, about 15 yards outside the box. Valeri took the ball toward the top of the box, easily sidestepped the onrushing Frias, and chipped the ball gently over Melia and into the left side of the net.
It was his 10th goal of the season, and Chivas coach Jose Luis “Guero” Real reacted by pulling Frias in favor of Josue Soto.
The third goal was a beauty. Futty Danso played a long ball up the left wing for Valeri, who took it on the bounce, manhandled Soto to get free on the right side of the box, then nutmegged Carlos Bocanegra with a pass into the middle. Wallace's angled touch sent the ball just inside the left post. The assist was Valeri's 13th of the season.
Ryan Johnson tallied on the rebound after Melia parried a Wallace shot in the 72nd minute, and Will Johnson made it 5-0 with a blistering, wobbling free kick from just outside the box in the 76th.
MLSsoccer.com Men of the Match
|Rank||Player||What We Saw|
|1||Diego Valeri||Needed just one half to work his magic, punishing Chivas with two goals including a delightful chip, and rounding it off with a brilliant assist|
|2||Will Johnson||Another all-action performance from the Timbers captain, who rounded off a good showing on both sides of the ball with a fine free kick|
|3||Rodney Wallace||A consistent threat down the flank, Wallace tucked home Portland's third after a busy first half and saw the rebound of his snapshot fall to Ryan Johnson for the fourth|