Larrys Mabiala emerges as set-piece threat, wins derby for Portland Timbers

SEATTLE – Portland Timbers defender Larrys Mabiala was the unlikely hero in a 3-2 road win over the slumping Seattle Sounders on Saturday, scoring a 74th-minute winner in Portland's first-ever regular season victory in Seattle in the sides' MLS era.

The winner capped Mabiala's first-ever MLS brace. He has three goals in his last two games, marking the first time he's found the net in consecutive appearances since the 30-year-old came to Portland last season. All three goals have come from restarts.

“I’m so happy for him,” said Portland forward Samuel Armenteros, who scored a goal of his own in the 57th minute. “Being on the field to score and to hear the stadium go quiet, that is the sweetest feeling."

Mabiala has scored all three of those goals with his head, prompting Armenteros to suggest the defender would be the target of good-natured ribbing from teammates about his hat size on the ride home. Mabiala threw it back, saying Armenteros has the bigger cranium but "doesn't know how to use it."

In truth, everyone on the Timbers could be forgiven for their heads becoming inflated given an unbeaten stretch that is now at 10 matches in the league. Not even a trip to CenturyLink Field, where Timbers had previously gone 0-7-3 in league play since joining MLS in 2011, could stop Portland's momentum.

Amazingly enough, Portland had run off the first eight of those results without scoring a single set piece goal. But Mabiala's emergence as an offensive aerial threat has changed all that. And on Saturday, that allowed the Timbers to depart with a victory despite leaving Sebastian Blanco on the bench and Fanendo Adi off the gameday roster with a thigh injury.

“Everyone was just very focused on the victory,” Mabiala said. After three straight draws, the team “wanted to show everybody we can get three points," he said, "and this was the best time to show people that.” 

Armenteros credited a winning attitude from the Timbers that remained present until the final whistle. 

“The game is 90-plus minutes," he said. "It’s not 70. It’s not 75. It’s not 80. We know to keep on fighting. We score one. They score one. We scored two. They scored two. We didn’t give up and, plus, we have that head of ours. He made the difference today.”