An injury outbreak left the Portland Timbers with the bare minimum of four defenders for Saturday’s key Western Conference clash vs. Real Salt Lake, and that skeleton crew was well tested as the visitors to Providence Park dominated the possession battle and carved out a litany of scoring chances, completing more than 500 passes and directing six shots on target.
Their ability to weather the storm and post a clean sheet might just have saved the Timbers’ season, as they gutted out a 1-0 win that broke their two-game home losing streak and kept them in the thick of the West playoff hunt. Portland currently sit in eighth place, two points back of the playoff line and Minnesota United.
“Yeah, sometimes you just have to win ugly,” said Timbers center back Bill Tuiloma, who partnered with Claude Dielna at the heart of the back line. “This was one of those games were we battled to the end. We stayed compact, stayed composed. I’m just proud of the team, proud of the players that came on. They did the job well. Got the three points, and move onto the next one.”
Three points was essential for the Timbers, who admitted that this weekend’s performance probably won’t live long in their memory beyond that.
“I was really relieved just to kind of get out there with the three points,” said goalkeeper Steve Clark, who made six saves – including a vital one in second-half stoppage time – en route to his 31st career MLS shutout, and fifth of this season.
“I look at the three points, and sometimes I think you look at process and sometimes you look at results. And today I think we’ll just take the three points and continue to work and train this week, get a little rest and prepare for the next game.”
Portland are currently missing Julio Cascante (thigh), Marco Farfan (knee), Modou Jadama (foot), Larrys Mabiala (hamstring) and Zarek Valentin (left upper leg injury) as well as defensive midfielder Cristhian Paredes (“upper leg”) and goalkeeper Jeff Attinella (out for the season with a shoulder injury).
“We have to be courageous because this is where we are right now,” head coach Giovanni Savarese said. “When these moments come and the group steps on the field and gets the job done, it gives you a little bit more of a feeling that we can get through this difficult moment. Hopefully we’re going to get players back and as of now, the guys are ready to play next week. The desire, the energy was great today and that is what we need to continue to have.”
A defend-from-the-front approach combined with what Clark dubbed a “next-man-up mentality” helped protect the back four even in RSL’s periods of dominance, enabling the Timbers to turn the page on last week’s stinging home loss to Seattle.
“Real Salt Lake is a good team. They put some good challenges to us today, but I felt that the team was strong, united, didn’t allow too many options,” said Savarese.
“Every time we had a player there to help and all around it was a great performance. Diego [Valeri] put a magic touch for us to be able to get this win with that great goal. It was a great sacrifice. Guys like [Jeremy Ebobisse], [Sebastian Blanco], and everybody. The amount of work that they put in to make sure we didn’t get scored against, it was fantastic. We needed these three points. These three points keep us closer [in] this difficult table. Everybody is fighting to survive. Everybody is fighting to make the playoff, and today it was huge for us to get this win.”